CLINTON — Former staff and students as well as community members spoke out about alleged intimidation tactics used by Superintendent Jim Brewer and other administration at Wednesday’s Clinton school board meeting.
The attendance was so high, a large share of the audience was seated in the commons area while the board met in the library. The meeting was broadcast on a big 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 investigate the administration’s treatment of staff. As people spoke out against administration during the public comment portion of the meeting, those attending in the commons erupted in applause at 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 staff 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?”
“The mistreatment is real. Jim Brewer is not a fit leader,” said former student Brianna Gretschmann.
Gretschmann said students should be comfortable, 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 on an approved leave of absence. Gretschmann said the district lacks mental health services, but is also lacking the stability a young mind needs to flourish. She said she gathered 180 signatures on her 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.
Former Clinton music teacher Donna Hahn said she doesn’t think the current administration understands music or electives. She questioned why administration would remove a teacher and dismantle a team working well together.
“Mr. Brueggen should be reinstated and allowed to 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 quotes from those who urged her to speak out.
She said many staff members were told by Brewer they are replaceable and were mistreated by him and two other administrators.
“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 while some other teachers endured four more years.
Scott Cernek, former teacher and coach, said he had a great career and lots of community support and said he was always treated with respect by Brewer. However, he said 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 valued the feedback given and takes concerns seriously. However, with Brewer’s leadership the district is moving forward with goals and vision. He said the board members realize they aren’t perfect, but are committed to moving forward with a solutions-based approach. He said the board is confident in Brewer’s leadership.