Former staff and students and residents spoke out about alleged intimidation tactics used by Superintendent Jim Brewer and other administrators at Wednesday’s Clinton school board meeting.
The attendance was so high that a large share of the audience had to sit in the commons area at Clinton High School while the board met in the library. The meeting was broadcast on a large screen set up in the commons area so attendees could watch the meeting and adhere to social distancing requirements.
Many of those supporting teachers wore black T-shirts, which one woman said was to mourn the loss of students and staff. One woman said the group is demanding an impartial third-party investigation of the administration’s treatment of staff. As people spoke out against administration during the public comment portion of the meeting, those in the commons erupted in applause for many of their statements.
Julie Barker, a former administrative assistant in counseling and athletics, brought a spreadsheet with her of 163 staff members who left in the past five years, including 92 support staff, 60 teachers and 11 administrators. Barker said 13 employees left the school district last summer and only five received exit interviews.
“It’s time the board starts asking questions, listening, conducting exit interviews and addressing why dedicated staff members are leaving at an alarming rate,” she said. “Why do we have a superintendent that is allowed to bully, intimidate, manipulate and a school board that allows this type of behavior in a superintendent?”
Former student Brianna Gretschmann said students should be comfortable in school, but when she was a student she had a new school counselor each year. She was able to build rapport and trust with band teacher Ben Brueggen, who is currently on an approved leave of absence.
Gretschmann said the district lacks mental health services and is lacking the stability a young mind needs to flourish. She said she gathered 180 signatures on an online petition to remove Brewer and 300 followers on the “Clinton Community Supports Clinton Teachers” page on Facebook where she said she has received numerous comments on Brewer’s leadership.
“The mistreatment is real. Jim Brewer is not a fit leader,” Gretschmann said.
Former Clinton music teacher Donna Hahn said she doesn’t think the current administration understands the importance of music education or other electives. She questioned why the administration would remove a teacher and dismantle a team working well together.
“Mr. Brueggen should be reinstated and allowed to teach the kids,” Hahn said.
English teacher Theresa Wellnitz said she raised questions about staff turnover, Brewer’s view of online teaching and other issues. She said Brewer then began to raise his voice and was belittling. He allegedly told her she wasn’t a good leader and needed to think about her place in Clinton.
“He said my department doesn’t work well together and swore at us,” she said.
Resident Tonya Miller said she had a folder of more than 40 statements from those who urged her to speak out.
She said Brewer told many staff members they are replaceable and that Brewer and two other administrators mistreated employees.
“Exit interviews need to be given, reviewed and taken seriously,” Miller said.
Cathy Cernek, a former teacher and coach who left the district in 2017, said she felt relief after leaving a toxic environment.
Scott Cernek, former teacher and coach and Cathy Cernek’s husband, said Brewer always treated him with respect but that somehow, administration became too powerful.
“There has to be a link between the board and the teachers,” he said.
Board Vice President Gary Gilbank said the board values the feedback and takes concerns seriously. He also said the board is confident in Brewer’s leadership and that the district is moving forward with goals and vision. He said board members realize they aren’t perfect but that they are committed to moving forward with a solutions-based approach.