Running the rec department is a big reward for one superintendent

"It's a perfect setup," Waterford Graded School District Superintendent Tony Spence says. "It’s not just an outreach to members of the community who are already in the schools, it’s an outreach to those who are beyond."

As if running a suburban Milwaukee school district isn’t enough work, Superintendent Tony Spence is also in charge of the local recreation department. Along with the department’s dedicated director, Spence and his team at the Waterford Graded School District embrace this additional and uncommon responsibility.

“It’s a perfect setup,” Spence says. “It’s not just an outreach to members of the community who are already in the schools, it’s an outreach to those who are beyond.”

Many of the K8 district’s students participate in the recreation department program, which the district has run for 20 years. And the community connections are further solidified by the activities offered to seniors and preschoolers. Older residents can take chair boxing and chair yoga while activities geared toward the community’s youngest can fill in childcare gaps, Spence explains.

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“It’s an opportunity for our seniors to be involved and feel more connected to the school district,” he notes.

A strong relationship with the community benefits the district at all times but can also be leveraged when the district asks for financial support. In April, residents will vote on a referendum to allow Waterford to exceed the state-imposed revenue limit by $4 million to retain staff, maintain high-quality instruction and keep buildings secure.

The rec programs are especially beneficial in engaging residents who don’t have children in the schools. And they give educators another avenue to stay in touch with all of the district’s constituents. “We can’t simply step outside and start yelling things and expect people to listen,” Spence explains.

“It can’t just be the take,” he adds. “It has to be some of the give. I feel we have a nice balance of give and take that allows the community to feel like we’re not a just school randomly asking for support.”

He advises another superintendent against waiting until a referendum is on the ballot to try to forge bonds with the community. A key part of Spence’s outreach strategy is making presentations to community groups multiple times a month.

“My goal is to make sure that the community feels just as welcome in our school as we do in their businesses and other areas,” he explains.

One of the things Spence is most excited about is Waterford’s recently adopted strategic plan, which includes the following mission statement: “Together we inspire, challenge and support every child to thrive, explore their passions and develop their potential, paving the way for a future of endless opportunities.” 

Circling back to the concept of community connections and the recreation department, Spence asserts that the district cannot achieve its goals without strong partnerships with parents. “We have to push ourselves to not just be static and to not be idle in what we do, but to always find the better, to find the great,” he concludes. “It’s not just about a student feeling that they’re getting a good education, they feel like they’re getting all these experiences and exposures, and that they’re ready for high school and beyond.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is the managing editor of District Administration and a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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