In a unanimous decision Tuesday night, the Delavan-Darien School Board voted to send Superintendent Bob Crist to retirement effective June 30, ending his six-year tenure with the school district.
Jill Sorbie, the district’s director of curriculum, will replace Crist starting July 1 as the interim superintendent. The board appointed her unanimously, and the length of her contract will be determined at a later date.
School board President Jeff Scherer said the decision to change leadership comes after “a firestorm of contention” following the district’s failed $3.5 million referendum April 3.
“It is with a heavy heart that we’re doing this,” Scherer told Crist after the vote. “It is not our first choice. It’s just one of those things that happened to an excellent person. You’ve done many, many things here. When something like this happens, it’s just not fun at all. Thank you, Dr. Crist.”
Scherer said the decision to part ways with Crist was “mutual,” coming after hours of closed-session discussions over the past week. On Tuesday night, the board deliberated in closed session for two hours before voting shortly before 9:30 p.m.
Crist’s departure is the board’s latest shakeup amid mounting changes district-wide. Last month, the board voted to shut down Darien Elementary School and lay off 39 teachers. All of the recent decisions are directly related to the district’s failed referendum, Scherer said.
After the meeting, Crist said he respects the board’s decision, saying “when a superintendent makes a lot of changes, some people are offended and don’t like it.”
“I think we’ve improved a lot of areas, here,” Crist said. “I’m extremely disappointed the referendum didn’t pass. The referendum needs to pass this fall. We need to maintain our curriculum and programs we have. I’m very proud of our staff. I think the program improvements, curriculum improvements … it’s a tribute to the entire staff.”
Many in the community blamed Crist for the referendum’s failure and claimed he and the board did not effectively communicate the severity of the district’s funding dilemma to voters. The extreme cutbacks in the past month surprised many in the community, leaving some to call for Crist’s resignation.
In August 2012, the board hired Crist as the district’s interim superintendent, replacing then-Superintendent Wendy Overturf. He was eventually hired as the district’s permanent superintendent in 2013, and the board extended his contract in 2014.
Before Delavan-Darien, Crist was the superintendent of the Wisconsin Rapids School District from May 2007 to June 2010. He began his education career in 1969, teaching physical education. He has worked in school administration since 1978.
Crist touted the district’s 82.3 report card score during the 2016-17 school year, which was the highest of any in Walworth County, as his pinnacle achievement during his six years as superintendent. He also pointed to the district’s dual-language program and “center school” model as triumphs.
“I just appreciate … all the board members, staff, children, students, parents and community members I’ve had the pleasure to meet,” Crist said. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most times here. I wish I was about 55, but I’m not. And I can’t control that part.
“I have to get used to retiring, I guess. There’s a lot of things my wife and I have put off the last several years. I can focus on her and my children and my grandkids and do some of the things we never seem to have a chance to do.”
As for the district’s future, Scherer said the board will be more proactive with public relations and focus on transparency with the members of the community, both of which have been mounting critiques with residents since the referendum’s failure.
“I think we’re looking for a new beginning with a new leader,” Scherer said. “She’s (Sorbie) a positive influence … has a very transparent and open style. We wanted a strong internal candidate that could (move) the district forward. She was the right person at the right time.”