by NATHANIEL NELSON
Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board member Jeanne Nelson, who has served on the board since 2013, has resigned from the School Board, citing her husband’s declining health and “School Board conflicts which I am unable to resolve.” The board has scheduled a special session on Friday, March 15, to discuss the resignation and nominate her replacement.
Nelson is the third board member to resign in the last three years, following Mohamed Elhindi in 2016 and Karen Coleman last July, and her resignation comes during a tumultuous time for the district. The board is eying $2.25 million in cuts to the district’s upcoming budget, while simultaneously dealing with a search for a new superintendent and pending litigation over the closure of Madison and Rollingstone schools.
“Lately we’ve been less concerned with our children and more about Save Our Schools [the committee that has appealed the school closure]. It’s clearly not about saving our schools, and more about saving our buildings,” Nelson told the Post on Monday.
Nelson, who worked as a teacher for decades before running for School Board, has been a fervent supporter of students and programs since the beginning, as an early proponent of STEM education at Jefferson and the Rios Spanish-immersion program, as well as the district’s AVID and REACH programs. “REACH at the high school is the best thing since sliced bread for our children,” Nelson said in an interview.
At recent board meetings, Nelson has pressed the board to focus on curriculum and students’ needs over “adult needs,” including moving more money toward the classroom, addressing the short length of WAPS’ school days, and advocating for a robust e-learning program for the coming years.
“She has been a champion for all WAPS’ students, particularly in the areas of STEM, Rios, early childhood, and curriculum,” WAPS Superintendent Rich Dahman said in a statement on Monday. “Ms. Nelson has demonstrated that she understands the importance of providing academic support for students and has shown a deep caring for all students. On behalf of the WAPS Board, we would like to thank Jeanne for her years of service to our students, parents, and communities.”
The board will meet during a special session at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 15, in the WAPS district office conference room to address the resignation. According to board chair Nancy Denzer, the board will formally accept the resignation and “entertain names or possible replacements.” Nelson’s term ends in 2020, so the board will select a representative from District Four to serve in her stead until a special election can be held in November.
The selection will be put on hold for a month to allow for a public comment period, and if there are no objections, the seat will be filled 30 days from March 15. “If someone accepts a position in 30 days, no matter what we have to hold a special election in November,” Denzer said of the appointment.
Board member Steve Schild, a Saint Mary’s professor and the longest serving member of the board at eight years and counting, served alongside Nelson for the duration of her tenure. “I certainly respect her decision, but it’s a loss for the board and a loss for the community,” Schild said of Nelson’s resignation.
Schild recalled first meeting Nelson on the board, and how, at the start, the two didn’t see eye-to-eye on many issues.
“Jeanne and I became friends and allies, but a number of years ago, we didn’t always agree on everything,” Schild said. “We kept talking, and I found her as someone whose opinion I valued and respected, and she played a very important role on the board.”
He lauded her tenacity for focusing on programming and students, and said she was always concerned about trying to do the “best that could be done” for students. Even at what would be her last School Board meeting on March 7, Nelson was vocal about her support for students –– on the back of her iPad read a sign that said “Kids come first.”
“She talked more so than any other board members about the importance of remedial help for students who were having trouble, whether that was Title 1 or other help like that,” Schild said.
In her notice of resignation, Nelson said it has been her pleasure to serve district students and the community over the past six years.
“I wish everyone success as you continue to prioritize district work, placing ALL children’s needs before adult wants and egos,” the statement to the board reads.