PW-S Board picks business director to lead district

Nettesheim named interim superintendent by officials looking for stability in district rattled by turnover
Ozaukee Press staff


Ozaukee Press staff

A Port Washington-Saukville School Board that last year picked a Minnesota administrator to lead the district on Monday decided to promote from within to replace him by naming Director of Business Services Mel Nettesheim interim superintendent effective July 1.

The board voted 7-1 to offer a contract to Nettesheim, who unlike past superintendents holds a master of business administration degree but has no classroom teaching experience.

Six semesters of teaching experience is a requisite for a superintendent’s license, but according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction an administrative code waives that requirement for business administrators like Nettesheim.

School Board President Brenda Fritsch said Nettesheim is the presumptive permanent superintendent but will have an interim title until she earns her superintendent’s license and because of her relatively short tenure in the district. Nettesheim said she plans to complete the coursework for that license next fall.

Nettesheim, 38, came to the Port Washington-Saukville School District in January 2021 from the Waukesha school system, where she was the director of operations for facilities, and although she has worked here for less than two years, she is the district’s longest-serving central office administrator.

She will replace Dave Watkins, a former top administrator in the St. Paul, Minn., school system who was hired in June 2021, then stunned officials last month by telling them ahead of an Oct. 3 board meeting that he will retire at the end of the school year.

School Board Vice President Brian Stevens said last month that Watkins’ resignation left board members “shell-shocked.”

Unlike last year when the board oversaw a four-month superintendent search conducted by a consulting firm, this year’s hiring process took just more than a month and was done almost exclusively during closed sessions of the School Board, which made it clear last month that it favored promoting an internal candidate.

In Nettesheim — the only candidate interviewed for the job — board members saw a candidate who as superintendent would lend stability to a district that has been rattled by turnover in the highest ranks of its administrators and, in particular, continue a strategic planning process implemented during the Watkins administration.

“My No. 1 objective through all of this has been to keep our current plan in place,” board member Sara McCutcheon said. “We need someone who has intimate knowledge of this plan. We don’t need any more change right now.

“Nothing would make me happier than to have Mel as our interim superintendent.”

Stevens, who voted against offering a contract to Nettesheim, said in an interview that he did so because he believed the board should have conducted a search that included external candidates, especially since Watkins will serve as superintendent through June 30.

“Nothing against Mel,” he said. “I love what she’s been doing, but it’s pretty early in the process and I believe we had time to conduct a full search for an outside candidate before we made a decision.”

When asked if Nettesheim’s lack of teaching experience worried him, Stevens said, “It’s definitely a concern.”

He noted that when district officials held a series of meetings with district and community groups ahead of hiring Watkins they were told that, among other characteristics, employees and residents wanted a superintendent who is well rounded.

“I consider well rounded to include teaching experience,” Stevens said.

Other board members, however, put a premium on the stability Nettesheim would lend to the district as its superintendent, he said.

“Having Mel be able to pick up and run with district initiatives because she’s already involved in the process has its merits,” Stevens said.

Fritsch touted Nettesheim’s accomplishments and said that while she does not have a background in curriculum, the district’s Director of Instruction Tammy Thompson Kapp is an expert in that area and can support Nettesheim in that regard.

“We have two other administrators in the district office who are just elite in their fields,” Fritsch said, referring also to Director of Special Education Brian Sutton.

Among Nettesheim’s noteworthy accomplishments, Fritsch said, is the work she has done to update the district’s website, live-stream School Board meetings and expand the district’s use of social media to communicate with parents and other district residents.

Fritsch also noted that Nettesheim created human resources and community coordinator positions, revamped the employee handbook and, in particular, has been an integral part of the strategic planning process.

“Her experience, her education and her continuing education provides a great base for her to serve as superintendent,” Fritsch said.

Nettesheim, who was interviewed by the board in closed session Monday, said afterward that she brings strong leadership qualities to the district’s top job.

“I really think that one of my strengths is being able to bring teams together and lead,” she said. “I think those who I’ve worked with have found that I listen to people rather than just shut them down and that I have a capacity to develop relationships, not only with our staff but with our community partners as well.”

Although her personal education priority is earning her superintendent’s license, Nettesheim said, she intends to also pursue a teaching license.

“It would be fun to teach a few courses,” she said.

In addition to an MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Nettesheim has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture industries and marketing from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Before working in the Waukesha School District, Nettesheim was the plant manager of facilities at Carroll University in Waukesha.

She lives in Allenton with her spouse and children.

With the hiring of Nettesheim as interim superintendent, the board will turn its attention to the pending director of business services vacancy, although it has not been decided whether the district will hire someone to fill that position, Fritsch and Nettesheim said.

The district has the option of reassigning some of Nettesheim’s duties to other employees, creating a new hybrid position or outsourcing some business administration duties, they said.

“We don’t necessarily have to follow a traditional model as we move forward,” Nettesheim said. “We just have to make sure the needs of the district are being met.”


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