Leadership at Chequamegon schools will see some shuffling around after this school year, thanks to one retirement and a hiring approval by the board of education Jan. 27.
Chequamegon Middle School math teacher John Oswald will become the principal of the high school starting in July. He will replace current principal Tim Kief, who has served eight years in that role in the high school. Kief will then move to principal at Park Falls Elementary School to replace outgoing Marilyn Brink, who is retiring at the end of the school year.
"[Mr. Kief] was more qualified than any of the candidates for the elementary school position, so I offered it to him," explained district administrator Mark Weddig. Kief brings seven years of experience as an
elementary counselor, three as an elementary principal, and time as a kindergarten-through12th-grade principal. "There were many good applicants for the high school position, so this allowed me to put the best candidates in both positions."
Oswald was selected out of a pool of 18 applicants, according to Weddig, who said he was looking for an excellent teacher with at least 10 years of teaching experience and excellent rec ommendations. He also requested candidates to produce writings on proof of student learning and provide data backup of that learning.
The interviewing process narrowed the field of potential candidates down to two finalists, and ultimately, Oswald was selected for his credentials and his long-standing connections in the school district.
The board approved a two-year administrator contract with a salary of $92,000, placing Oswald eighth out of the 10 public schools in the Marawood Conference.
"John is an excellent candidate who meets all of the qualifications for the position and was unanimously recommended by both interview teams," Weddig commented. "He has been an excellent teacher in the district, as well as a highly respected coach."
Oswald is a graduate of Park Falls High School and UW-Superior with 20 years working in the district, according to his district profile. He currently teaches algebra, math, and current events to seventh and eighth-graders. He has also coached for two decades with the middle school football team, high school base ball, and wrestling at all levels. He lists hunting, fishing, and canoeing as hobbies in his free time.
Oswald will depart the Glidden Campus after several years of teaching there. Glidden Campus Principal Kacey Hanson said he'll be sorely missed in the middle school.
"John is a top-notch educator who will be difficult to replace. This is not a reason that he should be held back," said Hanson. "The next best place for a top-notch teacher is in educational leadership so that he can guide and develop educators to also be top of the line."
It's February, but third graders at Park Falls Elementary will soon be eating a fresh salad made from leafy greens they've grown in their classroom.
Students in Linda Hill and Jacob Spies' classes are growing mint, basil, and thyme with a homemade aquaponics set up — a fish tank that supplies nutrients and water to a bed of floating plants. It is a symbiotic environment that benefits not just the plants and fish, but also the students learning about life cycles.
"It is a circulating system where fish waste acts as a natural fertilizer for plants, plants then take up the nutrients and return clean water to the fish," Hill explained in a classroom full of eager young scientists Monday morning.
The aquaponics garden was put together in November with all found objects. The fish tank had been sitting in school storage for nobody knows how long; the plastic bins holding the plants were laying around; the grow light was headed for the trash heap. The only items purchased were the 15 goldfish — a donation from principal Marilyn Brink — and the little clay pebbles as a growing medium for the plants, bought by Hill.
Each day, one lucky kid gets to feed the fish. They do this on a rotating schedule to keep everyone involved. The more the fish eat, the more waste they produce, the more the plants will grow.
But don't feed the fish too much, or they'll die, one student was quick to point out.
Like any ecosystem, balance is important, and the number of fish determines the number of plants that can be supported. The number of plants growing will determine how clean the water is once it's circulated back into the fish tank. The class is getting a pH tester soon to keep more accurate readings on their miniature environment.
The system is simple and can be replicated at any size. In basic practice, the fish tank water is pumped from the fish tank into the plant bed. There, the plants draw out nutrients from the fish waste. Heavier waste settles to the bottom, while clean water surfaces to the top before being cycled back into the tank, full of oxygen for the fish.
Some of the kids have already experimented with their own aquaponics at home.
Hill said the learning implications are far greater than simple ecology. "We focus on health and the benefits of growing organic plants," she said. "One great benefit of aquaponics is that it is adaptable to any habitat, and will improve our use of natural resources ... we are looking at real-world issues such as resource depletion. This gives us the opportunity to integrate social studies lessons into science as we learn about communities, habitats, adaptations, and natural resources."
She paused to ask the classroom how aquaponics could be valuable in desert climates. A few students pointed out deserts don't get much rain, so reusing water would be a good idea.
Fifth graders, learning about life systems in more advanced terms, have visited the aquaponics lab to see science in action.
"The fifth graders had just finished a lesson and activity about pond ecosystems and how ponds don't need filters like fish tanks because they have an ecosystem that involves decomposers, producers, and consumers that all work together," explained fifth-grade science teacher Rebekah Walker. "This relates to the aquaponics because [the third grade] experiment showed that a fish tank can work without a filter too as long as you find a way to make the ecosystem work. In their experiment, they showed how the plants, or producers, created the oxygen for the fish, or consumers."
Aside from the subject crossover, there's also a cooperation lesson on display. The idea would not have come to fruition without the input and help from Brink and custodian Tom Hartman, who connected the pump set up and secured the grow bed. Hartman also keeps the fish fed and the lights on when nobody else is around.
Soon, the class intends to start planting lettuce, and within a month the hope is they'll be eating a salad made from the plants they've carefully grown and nurtured in their classroom all winter.