Sept. 4 will mark the , but also new Superintendent Martin Lexmond’s first year in the district.
Shorewood Patch sat down with Lexmond for a Q&A on how he’s preparing for his new role and the year ahead.
I’ve watched Shorewood from a distance for a longtime. I’ve worked in Milwaukee Public Schools and had the opportunity to become a high school principal, and because of another opportunity decided to stay in Milwaukee doing really interesting work and so Shorewood has always been on my radar. I spent two years in Kohler. If it had not been for the Shorewood opening, I would still be in Kohler. I wasn’t looking for a job, I was very happy in Kohler. I had two really good years, and it was a hard decision. But, when I saw Shorewood open, I thought, this may be the last time in my career that I’ll have an opportunity to get to this cool little school district that is part suburban but also an urban environment.
You’ve been in your post for a couple months now; has there been anything that has surprised you about Shorewood and/or the school district?
I think what is a really encouraging surprise is the amount of expert community involvement. We have the Land Use Committee that’s looking at our Honeywell project and the Ad Hoc Finance Committee that has a lot of very smart people. When I sat in on my first meeting, I was really impressed and made me feel really good that there’s that kind of involvement and that there are real experts at the table.
School's core enterprise is learning, but there is a lot more to the business side of it, and having people that understand the business is really helpful.
What have you been doing over the past couple months to prepare for your new role?
With the president and vice president of the board, we built a transition plan, which is a lot of just getting to know people.
(Village President) Guy Johnson took me on a tour, (Village Manager) Chris Swartz took me on a tour, so I got the whole background on what’s going on in the community. As a superintendent, I know much more about municipal sewers than any superintendent should know at this point, but it’s interesting, it’s important in this community right now. Chris really helped me understand the relationship between the village and the school district, with the parks and that are attached to some of the school properties. I think we will find more ways to share services as we build those relationships.
Is there anything in particular you think you’ll focus on in your first year in Shorewood? What are the top priorities facing the district or what are your goals this year?
Getting the curriculum office staffed and up and running. Implementing state mandates, but I think the other piece is the professional learning that we provide for teachers. So, we are all really learning and growing, but also that we do it in a way that it responds to teachers in different places in their career, have different interests in where they would like to grow in the classroom.
Will the district have an approved before school starts?
It is something we committed to, we being the team that is working on it. But, I don't know. I think the honest answer is that is what we have all committed to and we are hopeful that it is in fact done when teachers arrive. Part of the reality of this is, it's a new landscape for all of us. I have never worked in my whole career in any other environment where it was all collectively bargained, and even in Milwaukee as an administrator that was sort of a quasi collective bargaining arrangement. We are all in new territory, so the reality of a new employee handbook and getting it absolutely right the first time; my guess is we are going to reiterate and reiterate again.
The . Is there anything you would add or change in that proposed budget?
No. I'm not recommending any changes in the proposed budget at this point. And the reason is I have to keep myself in learning mode. It's not a point to start making decisions, but there is a lot of work already in process and I need to understand it before I start making recommendations on what or how things may be different.
What we have done is in working with a couple board members to present the budget that adds a little bit more historical reference and will be more transparent.
How do you feel about the proposed position of a in the district?
I think it's a fascinating opportunity for a public school district. You see that kind of position here and there in private schools, but what I'm more familiar with is you see them more in charter school organizations.
There certainly is a need for it; that really focuses on the relationships with foundations, companies, individuals that would help support a great school system. So, having someone own that is important.
It appears the district may be on the upswing in terms of resident enrollment, but how does the district keep that trend going?
Marketing, so people know the story of Shorewood and Shorewood schools; that will attract people. Some of it is outreach, that is really positive. When we learn of families that are in transition years, meaning their kids might be changing from one school to another, those are the moments to really invite them back to Shorewood schools. And, make sure they get a chance to come to some of the athletic events, some of the plays, so they start to see the school in action and it becomes an option that way. That's a different kind of marketing, but that is part of the approach.
How do you plan to approach budgetary issues in Shorewood?
Some of it is having a lot of people at the table to help in making the difficult decisions. Some of the approach I take to budgets, is budgets aren't necessarily or only about money. They are also about priorities. That's why you want people at the table to really clarify and help bring a common understanding of what are the most important things to do with the money we have. The revenues are limited and probably going down, so it really becomes more important to have a common understanding of what are the most important things.
What do you enjoy most about your new role?
I enjoy the challenge of it, and it is challenging, and starting in a new place. And, the amount of energy it takes; again you're trying to meet a lot of new people and learn new things. That's really interesting to me. I think the most important thing is the opportunity to serve, and to serve all kids, but in particular those kids that have been through the way schools have operated for decades and decades and get left out of the system. High schools for many, many decades weren't designed to have all kids graduated. It wasn't what we wanted from our schools, and it was OK when some kids didn't graduate high school because there were lots of family-supporting jobs. And, so they could go get some training at a job, but those type of opportunities have disappeared. Our expectation is that schools serve all kids until graduation. That challenge is what I find most interesting about the role of superintendent.
Over two decades, you have taught in Denver, CO, took on several roles in MPS, and spent two years in Kohler, before coming to Shorewood. A few readers and residents have questioned whether you're with Shorewood for the long haul. How do you respond?
My intention is that I retire from Shorewood. Partly, I'll answer the question that starting out it takes a tremendous amount of energy to build the relationship and understand the place, and you don't get a lot done in your first year, just because that's an important investment to make, but I liked to get things done. So, that comes a little later on. I shared this with the administration team when we had a retreat, and I listened to them talk about the things they wanted work on and the things they are working on, and I said we have to slow down and understand all of this and make the long-term commitment to this work. So, this is where this idea of this has to be the place where I retire, because it's not only the upfront work.
The second piece is, I certainly understand it's a very fair criticism, when you look at me on paper, it's like, "Oh, he's been all over the place," but two years before Kohler I was in the central office in Milwaukee for seven years. My job kept changing so it looks like I have a lot of jobs on paper, but in essence it was the same job, I was the right-hand for the superintendent and he kept changing my title and responsibilities as he saw me grow.
This really is a long-term commitment. This place needs that and the opportunity is here.