Jamie Wetig has a plan for his first 100 days if he should be chosen as the new Hays USD 489 superintendent.
Wetig, superintendent at Ashland USD 220, a 1A school in Clark County near the Oklahoma border, was the second candidate interviewed by the USD 489 school board. He met with local media Thursday afternoon during a public meet and greet session.
His plan involves lots of meetings — with business leaders and others in partnerships with the district, and with teachers and staff — in order to be more visible in the community and increase communication.
The goal of that communication, he said, is to ensure the students’ needs are being met.
Wetig said he is actually very happy with his role at Ashland and called the USD 220 school board the “best in the state,” but USD 489 is an opportunity to lead what he said is one of the top districts.
He’s familiar with Ellis County and the surrounding area, as his mother’s family is from Pfeiffer. He attended pre-school at Fort Hays State University while his father studied there and attended kindergarten at Wilson Elementary School. After several years in Ness City, his family moved to Great Bend, where he graduated high school and his parents still live.
“I always had the impression and opinion of both the community of Hays and the Hays public schools as a premiere community and premiere school district,” he said.
His tours of the buildings Thursday proved that correct, he said.
“It would be taking over what I consider to be one of the marquee school districts in the state of Kansas. We can talk about Andover and Maize and Goddard, and Hays needs to be right in that list of school districts that everybody wants to teach at and everybody wants to go to,” he said.
But he recognizes there is room for improvement.
“I think we need to create more opportunity for our students, and we have great programs,” he said of USD 489. “Whether it’s a pathway or an elective, they get filled up right away, so students who want to have those other opportunities then are being turned away at the door because we don’t have adequate staffing.
“My focus or my question to my administrators and to the staff is ‘What do you need?’ and staffing came up in every conversation,” he said, citing need for counselors and nurses at each elementary school, for example.
“We need to have additional electives so we don’t have to fight for traveling teachers consistently and where do we put them in the schedule,” he said.
“We just need to address the people issues, because brick and mortar is nice when it’s brand new, but it doesn’t teach our kids. People make a difference,” he said.
Brick and mortar is a concern in USD 489, as the school board heard Monday night a $29 million facilities plan that could lead to a third attempt at passing a bond.
While Wetig said he doesn’t have experience in ushering through a bond proposal, he has worked with the transition after a successful bond and other facility renovation projects.
He served in administrative positions at Valley Center USD 262 from 2011 to 2016, coming to the district just after a $50 million bond had passed to repurpose the middle school.
Ashland just completed a $2 million renovation project that included new HVAC, new windows and exterior panels, he said.
The results of USD 489’s bond issues tell Wetig more communication is needed before proceeding with a third attempt, he said.
In the first bond election in June 2016, which offered three questions, the proposition of $85.1 million in deferred maintenance and improvements was voted down 56 percent to 44 percent.
The second proposal in November 2017 was defeated by an even larger margin — 61 percent to 39 percent.
“My role in this district before going forward with facilities is to go back and talk with the community and our employees, the staff members, because when you have a bond issue and 1,700 people vote for and 2,400 people don’t vote for it, there’s a disconnect somewhere,” he said.
“I think that means we need to start over. And we need to have conversations with our business leaders, with our parents and with our own staff,” he said.
An important part of correcting that disconnect would be the board being in agreement, he said.
“When I meet with the board tonight, and we go through the interview process, I will let them know the research I’ve done by talking with the community members, business members, teachers, staff, administration. They know that there’s a perception the board is not functioning as a whole,” he said.
“My philosophy is that the way we move the district forward is that we are all walking in the same direction,” he said.
“Disagreements need to happen behind closed doors, and you must always present a unified front. That’s my message to the board,” he said.
Wetig said he learned a lesson about leadership in March 2017 when the Starbuck fire burned 800,000 acres in Oklahoma and Kansas, including Clark County.
The morning of March 6 started cloudy and hazy, but no one expected the blaze, he said. By the time the Ashland district received a call about evacuating, the decision had been made to release early, he said.
The next day, Wetig met with local emergency management officials, although the school district wasn’t part of the county emergency management plan then, he said. There was also nothing in his experience as a school administrator of what to do in case of wildfire.
“I knew we needed to do something. I knew we were the biggest entity in the community,” he said, with the gymnasium, cafeteria and classrooms to offer.
“So I went to emergency management and said ‘What can we do?’ and they were so consumed with putting these strike teams in the areas to put out fires, they really didn’t have any information for me,” he said.
Wetig said he decided the school could use the cafeteria to provide lunch for the volunteer firefighters. That led to housing more than 100 firefighters that night.
“All that started with just one though of ‘how can I help,’ ” he said. “We ended up feeding the volunteers, the firefighters and our community,” for a week, he said.
“So we basically just stepped up in a time that nobody had asked, to make a difference to help in any way we could,” he said.
“Maybe that’s where we’re at here with USD 489. We’re at a situation where we have a great community, great teachers, great students, and we need to come together and look at the needs of our students, because it’s the needs of our students that drives what we need to do,” he said.