By CRISTINA JANNEY
Jamie Wetig, candidate for Hays superintendent, said people matter.
The current Ashland Superintendent, Wetig showed this when his community was hit by a massive wildfire two years ago.
As the fire grew, the school was closed and the town was evacuated. The school district at that time was not part of the emergency management plan, but Wetig felt the district had something to offer in the crisis. He offered to serve lunch to the volunteers and firefighters.
The school district served lunch and then dinner and eventually offered its facilities as an emergency shelter. Over the better part of a week, the district housed 110 people and fed many more.
“All that started with one thought of how can I help,” he said.
Wetig said the fire was an opportunity to volunteer, build leadership and learn how to accommodate and be flexible.
“I think if asked what you learned form the Starbuck Fire, I think I would say the community is resilient,” he said. “What did we learn about the ag community during the Starbuck Fire, not just in Kansas, but all across the country? It is that everyone in the community comes together to support one another. Maybe that is where we are at with USD 489.
“We are in 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 is the needs of our students that drives what we need to do.”
Wetig said he thinks the district has great programs, but it needs to expand them to create more opportunities for students. He said in talking to teachers at Hays High School, he learned Pathways and electives are getting filled up and the programs have to turn students away.
“My question to administrators is, ‘What do you need?'” he said. “Staffing came up in every conversation. We need to have a counselors at every elementary school. We need to have additional electives so we don’t have to fight [for] our traveling teachers consistently and ask where are we going to put them in the schedule. … We need to have school nurses in our buildings. We need to have SROs. We need to address the people issue, because brick and mortar is nice when it is brand new, but it doesn’t teach our kids. People make a difference.”
Weitg, 43, is familiar with Hays. His father attended Fort Hays State University. He attended preschool at FHSU and kindergarten at Wilson Elementary School before his family moved to Ness City. His family later moved to Great Bend, where he graduated high school. He has a bachelor’s degree in education from Kansas State University, a master’s degree from Emporia State University and a administrative endorsement from FHSU.
Previously, Wetig served in Valley Center as intermediate principal from 2011 to 2013 and middle school assistant principal and activities director from 2013 to 2016. Wetig also served as the Atchison County elementary principal from 2008 to 2011.
He said he had not considered other jobs before the Hays superintendent position became available, but he has family in Hays, Russell and the immediate area.
“It would be taking over what I consider one of the marquee school districts in the state,” he said.
As the district comes back to discussions of a third bond issue try in three years, Wetig said the district needs to go back to the community, employees and staff members.
“When you have a bond issue and 1,700 people vote for it and you have 2,400 people who don’t vote for it, there is a disconnect somewhere. If the community is so supportive of our schools — its teachers and its programs, there is a disconnect somewhere. I think it means we need to start over and have conversations with our community, with our business leaders, with our parents and with our own staff.”
Ashland’s elementary and intermediate school are Gemni I schools under the state school redesign plan. The district focused on social, emotional and character development. Children were grouped for twice-a-month student-led character lessons. The district also increased its Career Pathways from three to 11. Students are doing internships and student-led conferences. The district is also considering flex scheduling and a genius hour during which students would pick the topic they wish to study.
He said he liked the Guided Personal Study program already in place at Hays High School.
“I think that we have hit on a lot of things in our school that are best practices, and we have made them better,” he said of the Gemini program.
Kathy Rome, KNEA UniServ director, was at the meet-and-greet with Wetig Thursday afternoon. The Hays school board came to impasse during negotiations for this school year over pay. A federal meditator had to be brought in to settle the dispute.
Wetig was a KNEA student president at K-State, and he said KNEA serves a positive purpose in advocating for education.
He said if a district receives new money, it should consider raises.
“I don’t know what the magic number is, but certainly you want to try to match the average percent increase in the state,” he said. …
“I think you take care of your people first and then your operations second.”
Wetig also said he would work to strengthen board unity.
“Disagreements need to happen behind closed doors, and you must always present a unified front,” he said.
Wetig is the second of four candidates the USD 489 Hays Board of Education will be interviewing. Keith Hall, USD 489 interim director of finance and support services, interviewed for the job on Wednesday. Two more candidates will interview Wednesday, Feb. 6 and Thursday, Feb. 7.
Each day the candidates will meet with parents and other members of the public from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Toepfer Room of Rockwell Administration Center. The names of those candidates have yet to be announced.