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Walt Lyszak: Former principal wants to revisit boundaries

Walt Lyszak

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Walt Lyszak

Age: 66

Residence: Cottage Grove

Family: Married

Occupation: Retired, former principal at Park High School

Why he's running: "I see education as more than just a job ... this is a natural kind of evolution of being in education and wanting to continue."

The District 833 School Board might have made its decision on school boundaries over a year ago, but revisiting that decision would be Walt Lyszak's first priority if elected to the board, he said.

He wants to see a more equal percentage of students from low-income families in each of the district's high schools, he said. Under the current boundaries, about 15.5 percent of Park High School students are registered for free and reduced lunches versus 7.5 percent at East Ridge High School, according to school district numbers.

"Socioeconomics calls the shots to a large extent in terms of achievement," he said. "I would work very hard to finagle and change and work with those boundaries ... find a way to balance these schools off or not have the same expectations for all the schools."

Lyszak, a former principal at Park High School who says he was forced out by then-superintendent Tom Nelson, says he initially butted heads with Nelson when he heard of plans to build a new high school. Lyszak said a new high school wouldn't have been necessary for 10 years under the previous grade configurations.

Lyszak later supported the construction referendum because he thought the district was planning for the future, but he said he wishes the district had slowed down when choosing a location and found something farther east, where future growth is expected.

"We got into this hurry, even when the superintendent knew that we weren't going to need that building, we could have held off for another two years," he said. "Most districts build when they need to build, but this district built because some people wanted to build."

The new high school wasn't the only thing Lyszak clashed with Nelson on. Lyszak said Woodbury High School always did better than Park High School on test scores during his nearly 20 years at the school, and Nelson wanted those scores to become more even. Lyszak said he thought this was unrealistic because the Woodbury school had higher numbers of students from wealthy and highly educated families.

"We (Park) have doctors, lawyers, teachers, great businessmen, but we just didn't have those kids at the top in the same numbers as Woodbury did," he said. "Our advanced classes would have half as many kids in them."

Lyszak said he was pushed out of his position at Park because, "sometimes heads have to roll for change to happen."

The former principal is moving forward though, and he sums up the experience matter-of-factly: "Stuff happens," he said.

He said being on the school board is a natural evolution for him, because he views education as a vocation.

Students in the district should be able to transfer among schools for any reason, he said, as long as someone isn't out recruiting all the best athletes.

"If they want to go for athletics, if they want to go for academics, if they want to go because they think the teachers are just better, if they wanted to go there because their buddies go there, I think they should have that opportunity to do that within the district," he said.

Learning world languages benefits kids in the same way band benefits them, he said, it helps them become better overall learners, and so he favors continuing world language programs in the elementary schools.

With the excess money from the 2006 construction referendum, Lyszak said he would prioritize any construction projects that contribute to students' health and safety, such as air handling.

On testing, Lyszak said the verdict's still out on whether the tests are effective measures of whether a school's doing its job.

"I think it's a way to come up with some kind of an answer, but do I think it's a good or right answer?" he asked. "I think we've taken the easy way out."