Don Childs, expert 'fixer' puts stamp on Antigo school district|
|Antigo School District Interim Administrator Dr. Don Childs is a fixer.|
After a 41-year career in education, Childs has made a specialty over the last decade of coming into districts on a short-term basis, filling unexpected vacancies and solving problems.
And in just six weeks in Antigo, he has already started to put his stamp on the district.
“I don’t believe in just being a placeholder,” Childs, who spent most of his educational career in the Chicago suburbs, said. “In this business, if you are not moving ahead, you are falling behind.”
Childs was selected for the interim position in August, following the abrupt resignation of Dr. Steve Smolek in June after just a year on the job.
He came to a district roiled by resignations, a history of unsuccessful referendums to deal with budget and facility needs, and a fractious board of education.
“When I walked in the door, I said discussion of closing schools and holding referendums is off the table,” Childs said. “This community needs a rest. The district needs to re-establish good relations and communications with the community.”
Childs also sat down with each individual board member, committing them to spending an hour of time going over their perceptions and hopes for the district.
“There will be disagreements, but my expectation is we are all going to be civil,” he said. “You can’t expect there to be agreements 100 percent of the time.”
He also began a regular series of workshops with the board, looking at proper governance and establishing measurable goals and directions for students and staff.
“Part of my job is to set the table,” he said. “Once I’m gone, they can carry on as they ought to.”
Childs said Antigo must turn its attention away from conflicts over facilities and spending, which he said must not “become the fodder for conflict,” toward working on areas of true importance, namingly improving student achievement.
It’s not a problem unique to Antigo, he stressed. Educational systems across the nation are continuing to use 20th century methods in a 21st century environment, which requires a much more nimble, individualized approach.
“We need to get focused on that,” Childs said. “We need to see tremendous growth in our students...We need to change the model altogether so we can graduate students who can function in that environment.”
Keys include beefing up professional development, challenging students at all levels, studying research, and doing what works, he said.
Childs spent 31 years in education in the Chicago area before moving north to Lake Mills, where he was administrator for 10 years before retiring in 1994.
He soon returned to the educational fold, working as interim superintendent in Howard-Suamico, Beaver Dam and Waupun before joining the Clinton school district in June, 2012 for a one-year term. He took that job to fill the vacancy caused by a one-year sabbatical for the school’s administrator.
The administrator is married, with five grown children and 21 grandchildren, ages three to 23. Many are involved in the educational field in one manner or another, including a granddaughter who teaches English to schoolteachers in Kurdistan and Iraq.
Due to the temporary nature of his appointment, Childs maintains his home in Lake Mills, while renting a home in Antigo. He enjoys reading, traveling and golf and, in his younger days, played fiddle in a country band.
“I haven’t done that in years,” he said. “It was always fun.”
In six short weeks in Antigo, he said the community has presented some surprises, chiefly in the quality of facilities, including the Clara R. McKenna Aquatic Center and the Volm Theater, which he called “incredible.”
Segments of the community have been incredibly generous of their time, talents and finances to the betterment of the schools, he said. “You just don’t see that everywhere.”
Interim District Administrator Don Childs is putting his own stamp on the Antigo Unified School District after six weeks on the job.
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