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0633, 28 Mar 18

Chris Zwygart Explains Position on Curriculum

Chris Zwygart had this letter to the editor today explaining his hand-off approach to curriculum.

I was privileged to chair the St. Joseph’s Hospital Board for several years. The majority of members were dedicated layperson volunteers from our community.

One of the board’s duties is overseeing quality and safety. We fulfilled those duties by discussing information received from highly trained medical experts from Froedtert and the hospital’s staff. The board explored how they developed the programs, the basis for their decisions and then applied good common sense before approving them. In other words, the board ensured the experts used a solid process to select safe, high-quality medical practices.

Imagine if a board member insisted on overriding the experts’ recommendation for the specific medications or amount of oxygen used during surgery. The public would be horrified. Consider the public controversy, distrust and staff dissatisfaction caused by that level of micromanagement.

Let’s translate this example to our school board. The board is responsible for approving curriculum. The board consists of part-time laypersons. If administrators and teachers propose new curriculum, the board should explore how it was developed, the basis for their decisions and apply common sense. The board should focus on the process the experts used to select high-quality curricula to advance the district’s goals. Imagine if board members insisted on imposing their choice of specific novels or scientific theories in our classrooms, contrary to the educational experts’ opinions. The public should be equally horrified. That micromanagement will breed distrust and controversy.

If elected to the school board, I join with Kurt Rebholz to ensure the board oversees the administration’s process for establishing curriculum based on collaboration with the educational experts this board hired, but not through micromanagement. Let’s not turn the specific content of our curriculum into a controversial political football up for grabs at every school board election.

– Chris Zwygart West Bend School Board Candidate

This is the same argument and example Zwygart used when I interviewed him before my column. There are two problems with this argument…

First, safety protocols in a surgery are not equivalent to curriculum choices. The former are based on provable scientific measures to prevent infection and not kill patients. The latter is very subjective and open to interpretation.

Let’s leave aside the issue of intelligent design that the lefties are focusing on. Zwygart’s and Rebholz’s position is that the school board should have almost no say in any curriculum. In the Engage NY curriculum currently being used by the school district, the 8th grade English Language Arts class lays out thus:

  • 20 Days – Launch
  • 40 Days – Refugees
  • 40 Days – Taking a Stand
  • 40 Days – Shakespeare
  • 40 Days – Sustainability of the US Food Supply Chain

Of the 180 days of school, 120 of them are being used to advance liberal social justice issues under the mantle of teaching language arts. According to Zwygart and Rebholz, the school board should not be empowered to make any changes to this because the “experts” already decided. They couldn’t replace “Taking a Stand” with “19th Century English Literature.” They couldn’t replace “Refugees” with “Immigration.” They couldn’t replace “Sustainability of US Food Supply Chain” with “Modern Fantasy Literature.” Remember the purpose of the class is to teach the language – the material is supposed to be just a means to an end. The material is just supposed to be interesting enough to hold the students’ attention.

Of course the school board should have an active role in determining curriculum. Yes, they should strongly defer to education experts and rely on their input, but the the school board has the final say. They cannot absolve themselves from responsibility for what is taught to the kids by delegating it to the staff.

The second thing wrong with Zwygart’s argument is that it could be used to render any elected board meaningless. He says, “The board consists of part-time laypersons” to point out that the school board members are not curriculum experts. That’s true. They are also not financial experts, safety experts, childhood development experts, HR experts, management experts, facilities experts, or anything else. Some of them may be an expert in one of those areas, but the board is not made up of experts. To take Zwygart’s argument to its conclusion, the school board should also defer to experts on all of those other topics. If that’s the case, then why do we even have an elected school board? Let’s just hire experts and let them run it.

Of course we have an elected school board for the precise reason that we want our local government schools to be run by the community – not the experts. We want the experts to implement the will of the people. We want Republican government – not a technocracy.

I really like Chris Zwygart and think he has a lot to offer the school district. In another slate of candidates, I could easily see myself supporting him. But I fundamentally disagree with his hands off approach to one of the most important responsibilities of the school board – determining what our kids are taught.


0633, 28 March 2018


  1. dad29

    A well-run organization has a Board which is there for POLICY creation, nothing else.

    That said, the school board could certainly create a POLICY which eliminates SJW hoopa-foopa from classes.

    And they should!

  2. Eric Beltmann

    Owen, I’ve been an English teacher at WBHS for 20 years. You get a lot of things wrong in this piece regarding how the EngageNY language arts curriculum was implemented. Let me address just one. (I’d be happy to answer your other questions and assertions privately). Normally, curriculum changes are decided by a system process that involves teachers, department heads, site administrators, curriculum coaches, and district administrators. In the case of EngageNY, that process broke down. In fact, the curriculum was imposed by a single district administrator against the will of 100% of the high school teachers assembled to consider its adoption. That decision was then rubber stamped by a school board that was uninterested in learning that the process had been corrupted. (Most of those board members are now gone.)
    In other words, if the school board had followed Zwygart’s advice about proper oversight of process, we wouldn’t have EngageNY now. If Zwygart is elected, I’m confident that his approach will lead to judicious oversight, all without subjecting curriculum to the destabilizing whims of rogue district administrators and overzealous board candidates.

  3. Charlie Hillman

    Wow, how much fun is this. So, a program that Owen so eloquently attacks was actually implemented when the conservatives (Parks, Williams, Schmiege) were in charge of the Board with their hand picked (by Dave Weigand, Randy Marquardt, and Bart Williams) super Republican superintendent Ted Neitske.



  4. Paul

    What’s your point, rape apologist?

  5. Breeze

    Oh look it’s little Paulie the troll. Keyboard warrior and a cyber bully. Providing little to no value yet again.

  6. Monte

    I didn’t know, but I can take as true from Eric that the teachers were not in favor of EngageNY and that it was imposed by one administrator.  As far as I can recall, the first presentation was to the Curriculum Committee on 2/26/16.  I quote here from the agenda.  I’m sorry for the ugly formatting that I can’t seem to fix without retyping it.

    Quote below.

    The ELA goal team was convened in October, 2015 as a result of a high percentage of students not demonstrating proficiency in reading, writing, and English at the secondary level.  In addition, in order to meet the district goal of ACT 24, modifications/improvements were needed at this time. To date, the team has focused on the following tasks: review of curriculum standards review of the current 7 th­11th grade curriculum review of student performance data review of current instructional practices completion of a SWOT analysis completion of Plus/Delta on curriculum resources Based upon a review of the work completed in semester 1 by the goal team, the leadership team recommended that the goal team further investigate the Engage New York framework and move towards adoption for the fall of 2016 (grades 7 th­11th).  The framework allows for vertical alignment 7 th­11th, aligns to the Wisconsin Standards for English Language Arts, provides for varied texts styles and lengths, allows for performance task assessment as well as short­cycle assessment opportunities, and provides a strong foundation as we move towards standards based assessing for learning.  As always, teachers will continue to have flexibility and adaptation opportunities to meet student needs on a daily basis within the framework.

    End of Quote

    During 2016, I called for a report on EngageNY.  There was a report to the Curriculum Committee on 11/14/16.  In the ensuing period, the teachers had been allowed to customize the curriculum or selections, and it was decided that the advanced classes would not follow EngageNY.  I submitted my concerns to the chairwoman, Therese Sizer, and the president, Rick Parks, but I was given no time.  I was not a member of the committee.  A group of teachers told about their experiences, and most were in favor the progress being made.  There were one or two who had concerns.

    The policy at that time delegated selection of curriculum to the administration.  The board was not involved other than to hear reports.  I had joined the board in 2015 knowing this.  By the end of 2016, I was introducing and working with the administration to change this.  Consequently, the policy was revised.

    Was the selection rubber-stamped?  There was no conscious effort to rubber stamp or not.  The policy and practice was that the administration, in consultation with the teams, would make a selection.  The board was above the fray.

    I don’t write this to place blame on anyone.  Everyone was doing his/her job within the circumstances of the time.  I respect that and see room for improvement.  I am also accepting that the teachers are doing the best they can with the current curriculum, though I look for a day soon when the curriculum can be changed.

    On the positive side and as a consequence of the policy change and discussions, the administration made a serious, conscientious effort to update the Build Your Own Curriculum database that is available online and shows, in general, what each class is about.  This was a big job, and I  am thankful and pleased with that accomplishment.

    These are my comments alone, not those of the board, past or present.


  7. Owen

    Thanks for the insight, Eric. You make my case for me. If the cited EngageNY curriculum is so bad, which we all seem to think it is, then the school board should feel empowered to change it – even if the administration authorized it. And if its development did follow the normal process and came to the same result, I still think that the school board should be at liberty to change it. The school board is there to represent the community and not just rubber stamp what is put in front of them.

  8. Paul

    Socks seem a little breezy today…

  9. Charlie Hillman

    Ah little Paulie. Why don’t you head back to your mommy’s basement and let the adults talk.

    Or, you could put on your big boy pants and tell us who you are. Perhaps somebody else on this blog could out you.

    Owen, Eric hardly made your case. We had a conservative Board and Superintendent. They ignored the teacher concerns and did their thing. Monte can try to rewrite history but he was not effective in getting the right curriculum. Why should we think he will do so in the future?

    And, I worry more about Mary and Monte ignoring the advice of such experts as Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Jonas Sauk, Marie Curie, Niels Bohr etc.




  10. Paul

    You should go see a dermatologist, Charlie. That thin skin is going to be hell come mosquito season.

  11. Charlie Hillman

    We should go together. You could see the orthopedist about getting a backbone.


  12. Paul

    That fell about 50 yards from making sense, Chaz. Try again.

  13. jjf

    Someone wants public schools to teach “intelligent design”?

  14. Paul

    Nobody mentioned that, Sock.

  15. jjf

    Well, Owen did.  “Let’s leave aside the issue of intelligent design that the lefties are focusing on.” It’s been an issue with the West Bend schools before. Why did Owen want to leave it aside?

  16. Paul

    You should make a shitty parody site and answer the question.

  17. Kevin Scheunemann

    Intelligent design is certainly better than the godless faith that has no answer where all the material leading up to “Big Bang” came from.

    Why is the godless religion, without answers, somehow the preferred liberal religion? Why shouldn’t the liberal Big Bang religion be treated with same hostile liberal disdain as ID?

  18. jjf

    Science has done a wonderful job of explaining the world. As its circle of knowledge expands, yes, there’s an ever-larger edge of new discoveries and new questions to ask and answer.

    How does your religion serve to expand knowledge? How is your religion “certainly better” in answering questions about, as you suggest, the origin of the universe?

  19. Paul

    John Foust is a bigot.

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