Students, staff, public turn out in droves to support Sukawaty
Board officially accepts his resignation
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — The community showed up en masse Wednesday night as students, parents, and teachers expressed their support for resigning Marshfield High School Principal Steve Sukawaty. With close to 200 people in attendance, the meeting had to be delayed and moved from district offices to the Marshfield Middle School cafeteria.
The board officially accepted Sukawaty’s resignation at the meeting. He had previously verbally resigned and, according to Marshfield School District Superintendent Dee Wells, provided written notice of his resignation late last week. Sukawaty did attend a portion of a closed session meeting of the school board prior to the open board meeting, but neither he nor Wells would comment on why he attended the closed session.
Sukawaty has said Marshfield “is a community that I had hoped to end my career in,” and the community members present for Wednesday night’s meeting reciprocated that sentiment. He has cited personal and professional reasons for leaving the district. He did also speak about personnel turnover in the district as something that has changed from when he arrived in Marshfield in 2012.
Public vociferous in support of Sukawaty
Resident Steve Smith said he has lived in the Marshfield School District for over 30 years, both of his children were educated in the district, and his wife teaches in the district.
“I was pleased to hear that someone of Steve Sukawaty’s character and caliber was able to be secured by the district. We were able to attract someone like Steve Sukawaty,” Smith said. He later added, “I am bothered and disappointed that the conditions in the district were such that Steve was not able to be retained. It makes me nervous for the future.”
“I’m disappointed that some members of the board, at best, passively allowed this or, at worst, actively encouraged this departure,” Smith added.
Enthusiastic cheering, whistling, and clapping followed Smith’s remarks as well as those of others who spoke in support of Sukawaty.
Marshfield High School senior Olivia Haessly described Sukawaty as “highly respected, admired, and (a) loved leader,” as she spoke before the board and public.
“There has never been a day where Mr. Sukawaty hasn’t greeted any and every student with his genuine smile and friendly hellos that clearly indicate his sincere concern for the students at MHS,” Haessly said.
Haessly said that Sukawaty had changed the culture at MHS, unifying the student body as a whole. She also noted the success that MHS has had in academics under Sukawaty.
Haessly cited numbers from a November 2015 press release supplied by Marshfield School District, which said, “No other public high school in Wisconsin has produced more AP State Scholars than Marshfield High School.”
That same press release noted, “At Marshfield High School, 45.1 percent of the 430 students tested in 2015 earned an AP Scholar title — compared to 22.6 percent of the 2.4 million high school students tested worldwide.”
“As a school board, it is your obligation to make well-informed decisions that are in the best interests of the students, staff, and residents of Marshfield. It is my belief — along with the belief of hundreds of other concerned people — that decisions previously made affecting Mr. Sukawaty’s employment security have been based on misconception,” Haessly said.
“If you don’t know or believe that Steve Sukawaty is the best fit principal for MHS, then you don’t know our school. I — along with classmates and teachers — find it absolutely shocking that we will now be losing a truly great asset that has served the Marshfield School District incredibly well,” Haessly said.
Kathleen Mahoney, an English teacher at MHS, said she had been asked “to speak on behalf of the many staff members present.”
“As a whole we are here today because we are confused and concerned. We want to be a part of building and maintaining an excellent school district. We ask that our input be proactively sought so that staff’s expertise and insights can benefit future students,” Mahoney said. “Please take our presence here tonight as a sign that we want to be included in district conversations.”
Wells, Sukawaty weigh in
Wells said that there was not tension between Sukawaty and herself or district administration. She said she thought it was a good thing that Sukawaty received so much support at the board meeting.
“It was very positive. I was very pleased that the student came forward to speak on his behalf,” said Wells.
In reaction to the criticism levied at the board by the speakers, Wells said, “I think it’s always valuable to be honest. … I think there’s always new processes to bring forward.”
Wells spoke favorably about Sukawaty, saying, “He’s one of the most likeable people you’re ever going to meet. I mean he really does have an upbeat, positive attitude in that building.”
With much of the community seemingly behind Sukawaty, his own comments that he wanted to finish his career in Marshfield, and Wells’ positive remarks about him, a reporter asked Wells, “Why would he resign, and why he would leave the district if he was liked here and he liked it here?” Wells said that was a question for Sukawaty.
Sukawaty declined to comment on Wednesday except to say, “I am honored and flattered by the support. I thank the board for the time to speak to them, and I thank them for my time here in Marshfield.”