Around 25 Clintonville High School students attended the Clintonville School Board meeting Monday, April 13 in an effort to save his job.
Several of them spoke about their disappointment on hearing that the board would be considering the resignation of high school social studies teacher Mark Sparks. Accepting Sparks’ resignation was on the agenda for the meeting.
Junior Emily Klein addressed the board first.
“Many of us just found out today that Mr. Sparks was being cut from the district,” Klein said.
Klein said Sparks is her favorite teacher and makes learning enjoyable for everybody.
“He’s not just an ordinary teacher, he’s more of a friend, he’s a coach, he’s a role model, and if you cut him that would be a very big mistake,” Klein said.
Junior Emma Kumm also spoke highly of Sparks. She said Sparks isn’t just a good teacher, but a great teacher, which she said is hard to find. “They not only help them (students) learn, but they make you want to learn,” Kumm said. “They are not only great educators, but great people. These teachers inspire you and are not only your teacher, but your friend. Mark Sparks is this kind of teacher.”
She added, “He’s a teacher worth the fight and would be a great loss to the school’s faculty. You can say he’s not been here as long as the others but he has inspired more students in a short period of time than many teachers who have taught here.”
Student Emily Krueger told the board that students were informed earlier in the day that Sparks had been asked to resign due to budget reasons. She said this caused a “frenzy” throughout the halls, and students started a petition in an effort to keep Sparks in the district.
More than 200 signatures were collected from students ranging from freshmen to seniors.
“His way of teaching is something that many teachers cannot reciprocate no matter how hard they try or how many classes they take,” Krueger said. “Every day students enjoy going to his classes, even if all we are doing is taking notes. We drag ourselves through the halls every hour to go be taught the same way, just on a different subject. It’s nice to get to a class where you look forward to learning and can also understand it too.”
She said students understand budgets are tight but had a hard time accepting the district would let Sparks go.
“We have teachers who lack in their teaching skills and do not care as much as Mr. Sparks does,” Krueger said. “Why have three bad teachers when you can have one that continually exceeds expectations. I have never heard one student yet say that they do not like Mr. Sparks, but daily hear complaints from students about other teachers and yet those teachers being complained about would be the last ones to be cut.”
Senior Devin Kestell also spoke in favor of Sparks.
“I think an educated and informed electorate is what Clintonville needs, and that’s what social studies produces,” Kestell said.
Parent Christy Jacobsen said her husband coached football with Sparks and Sparks is an “outstanding” teacher.
“He is a hard teacher. He expects greatness out of these kids, and yes, some of the kids might have gotten low scores because they probably should have been working harder. And that’s his philosophy, these kids, they can work hard, and they can excel,” Jacobsen said. “He proved time and time again he is one teacher that isn’t just a teacher during the day. He’s a teacher after school to the kids that need help.”
She added, “I thought our school district was trying to make things better, not lower our standards, and there are a couple of teachers I know that lower our standards.”
Jacobsen said the district should be supporting teachers who encourage their students to be the best they can be.
“I think all these kids out here, are proving by sitting here, that they do care. They’re here for a reason,” she said.
Board member Jim Schultz asked District Superintendent Tom O’Toole if there were cuts taking place at the high school, as he thought there were going to be about the same number of classes next year.
O’Toole said about the same number of classes are planned for next year as there are this year.
“I don’t understand why it’s a budget item,” Schultz said.
After the students spoke, Council President Dirk Weber thanked the students for attending.
“It means a great deal that all of you care so much,” Weber said. “I have not spoken with Mr. Sparks so I don’t know what his reasons might be. I will assure you we will discuss this at length.”
Weber asked if there were others who wanted to comment. Several more students did speak in favor of Sparks.
After those students spoke, Weber said the matter would be discussed in closed session later in the meeting.
At no point during open session did school administration or board members acknowledge the resignation was due to budget cuts.
The board met for almost two hours in closed session and reconvened in open session around 9:30 p.m. The majority of the students in attendance stayed until the board reconvened in open session.
After reconvening in open session, the board voted 4-2 to accept Sparks’ resignation. Board members voting no included Schultz and Tom Neely. Board member Jim Dins was excused from the meeting.
The Clintonville Tribune-Gazette contacted Sparks the morning after the school board meeting. He elected not to discuss the issue but said he was extremely lucky and blessed to have students who spoke so positively about him.
He said he was also happy they were allowed to voice their opinions and was glad they respected the process.
The board also approved the resignation of Amy Bergmann-Valla (kindergarten) and Caitlin Werder (ELL).
The board also approved any full and/or partial non-renewals of teacher contracts for 2015-16. No names were given by the board.