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For schools, Waunakee’s growth brings challenges, opportunities

While speakers at the Feb. 5 Waunakee Chamber of Commerce annual breakfast highlighted the village’s growth, school district Superintendent Randy Guttenberg touched on how it affects Waunakee schools.

“I got into this business because I love kids. I mean that’s why we’re here,” Guttenberg said. “Previous speakers here have talked about the value of youth in our schools. Anybody who works with kids and the schools, you look around and you can see that’s a priority.”

Guttenberg said the district has been blessed with students who achieve at a high level. Waunakee has been at the top in terms of student achievement on ACT scores across the state and the county, and that attracts family to the area.

“We’ve been very fortunate that our kids have done very well,” Guttenberg said, attributing the success to an “awesome” staff and to the community support.

“The kids know that, they feel that, they see it, and it’s present in many of our conversations,” Guttenberg said.

To demonstrate the district’s growth, Guttenberg said enrollment is at about 4,300, an increase of approximately 1,000 students since he started 12 years ago.

“You see the subdivisions that are coming are going to bring kids, and that will bring opportunities for where we need to address some of that growth,” Guttenberg said.

The district has about 580 employees and is growing. One of the district’s priorities is doing a better job attracting and retaining staff.

This year, Intermediate School Principal Chris Hetzel, who has worked in the district for more than 40 years, announced she will retire. Middle School Principal Marcy Peters-Felice also intends to retire at the end of the year, Guttenberg said.

Also to accommodate growth, the district is looking to improve the soccer facilities.

“We’re also at the point of looking at, where do we want to go with facilities?” Guttenberg said. The district has hired Eppstein Uhen architects, the firm that designed the Intermediate School, and Vogel Bros. to put together plans and options to consider for a fall referendum.

The school board will look at the needs, including completion of the Heritage Elementary remodeling and a new middle school.

“So that is a piece that is all being vetted out with our school board right now, and there will be opportunities for the community, community surveys, etc., coming in the near future, but we’re at the stages right now of really trying to throw everything on the table and see what are those things we feel are the highest priority and bringing those pieces to the community for consideration.” Guttenberg said.

Still, Guttenberg said growth continues to keep the school district operating.

“You need student growth under our school funding formulas to continue offering the programs that we do,” Guttenberg said.

Guttenberg ended his comments by talking about the students themselves. He said he has challenged staff to get to know the kids and their stories. At the high school, an effort is being made to give a voice to the students. About 70 clubs are available for high school students with a variety of interests, from ping pong to addressing mental health issues and political interests, with the Young Republicans and Young Progressives. The Black Student Union and Los Soñadores are others.

“These are all places where you look at our kids, you look at our population, and you find those ways that we connect. And that’s really what I think our school district is all about. That’s where you get the best results, and that’s how you continue to improve,” Guttenberg said.

Roberta Baumann
Waunakee Tribune

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