Tuesday was the first day of school for Platteville Public Schools kindergarteners through ninth-graders, new teachers and other staff, and Jim Boebel.
“The first day of school is one of the cherished days of the year,” said Boebel, who has been the PPS superintendent since July 1. “People come in, and hope springs eternal. I love getting out in the morning and parents dropping their kids off, and they’re proud but their nervous; it’s a new experience there. It’s exciting that parents are saying I trust my kids with you.
“I don’t know that there’s any other profession where you get that.”
Though Boebel’s job involves running the entire school district, no one should be surprised to see Boebel in a Platteville Middle School classroom, since his office is at PMS and his first education job was as a middle school social studies teacher.
“Students in the administration building — that’s significant,” said Boebel, who replaced Connie Valenza following her retirement. “Having students in the administration building is so important because being a teacher at heart, if I’m having a day full of struggles, I’ll just go into a classroom and have a fun day with them.”
Boebel was chosen over three other finalists, including former PPS business manager Kris Brown, now the superintendent in Reedsville.
“All that I had heard, the reputation of Platteville having high expectations of their students and staff, has all been supported in all of my interactions,” said Boebel. “It’s going to be a very challenging position to continue those expectations.
“The biggest goal is to show my style of leadership and who I am and earn the trust of the district. I’m a servant leader, and I’m very protective of our students, and we will do what it takes so that all students can learn here.”
Boebel, a Boscobel native whose education administration career includes teaching in his home town and being a grade school and high school in Cuba City, came to Platteville from Adams–Friendship, where his first task as superintendent two years ago was to deal with a six-figure budget deficit.
“We have a very robust fund balance, our facilities are in excellent shape, our technological infrastructure is up to date and top notch,” he said. “Financially we’re at the point where we can really target where we can best invest in student learning.”
The school district and its schools also rank highly among Southwest Wisconsin schools in the state school report cards, the latest edition of which will be released later this year.
“It’s no surprise that our students are doing the things that they do,” said Boebel. “It’s not a surprise, nor is it an accident or by chance. … It takes long-term planning and short-term work.”
Boebel’s career started in middle school.
“From birth to [age] 2, the body changes so much,” he said. “And the only other time the body changes that much is middle school, at a rate that they’ll never have again in their life. It’s so important that positive relationships build between kids and adults at the middle school. The middle schools that are successful, they understand the needs of kids at this age, and they love it. You just have to embrace that change.”
Boebel’s entire career has been spent in rural schools.
“My career path has shown me the value of genuine relationships, and being genuine is so important between a student and teacher, a teacher and principal and everywhere else,” he said. “I won’t be successful if I’m fake. It’s not as if people will end every conversation with me happy, but they’ll know where I stand. I am focused on the best education for 1,500 kids, and that’s where my priorities lie.”
Boebel greeted PPS teachers at their Welcome Back Breakfast Aug. 19 with a skit based on the PBS-TV show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” reading a book to Henry Hillmen on the Platteville High School stage after changing from a blazer to a sweater and changing his shoes, complete with Rogers’ shoe flip.
One initiative Boebel inherited was classes ending one hour early Wednesdays for teachers to meet with each on common issues within their classes.
“I have lived through a couple efforts in part, and when they fail it’s when it isn’t a focused effort to have teachers collaborate,” said Boebel. “The leadership team, we’re veruy protective of teachers’ Wednesday afternoons in which that is collaboration time. That isn’t time for staff meetings, that isn’t time to do anything else. In education, one area we have the most control of is the art and science of teaching. That time on Wednesdays is our time to work on that.
“I think the big push in collaboration is that ‘all’ means ‘all,’ and we’re trying to adjust our practices so that all students can learn.”
The School Board approved the proposal despite opposition from parents who said finding child care one afternoon a week would be difficult.
“As a young parent I do have an issue of finding care for kids, but the tradeoff is improved education,” said Boebel. Seeing improvement could take “five to seven years, and you have to believe in it that much to commit to it that long for those results to occur.”
School enrollments have been dropping as a result of families having fewer children. State school aids based on enrollment have resulted in schools tacitly competing against each other for students.
Boebel said growing enrollment requires “appreciating those students that currently attend here. If we treat these students the best we can and provide them with the best education they can be given in a safe environment, that’s our primary job.”
Boebel and his wife have two children in Platteville schools, which he said makes him “appreciate how dedicated the staff are to our students.”