District braces for new era in 60 days
Dr. Charles Cheney, better known as Chuck to those who have embraced him as a teacher, principal and ultimately superintendent of West Fargo Schools over the last four decades, turned the calendar on his desk to May 1 on Monday, realizing that he has about 60 days left as an employee of the fastest-growing School District in North Dakota.
Perhaps, and I havent checked the facts on this, its one of maybe five School Districts that are actually growing in this state, so its not exactly stiff competition.
Cheney is walking away from the District at what he feels is the ideal time, and hes exactly right. Hes guided the West Fargo School Board and the West Fargo public through one huge building campaign, and has helped lay out the plans for another, which physically got underway when ground was broken over the last couple of weeks. He has solved, albeit temporarily, the space crunch at every level of the District, from kindergarten to high school. And hes left a decent relationship on the table with West Fargo teachers.
But, dont think that the newly-hired Dana Diesel Wallace steps into a situation where she can set her heels up on the desk, relax, and wait to sign the necessary paperwork to keep the School District moving on the right course.
First, there is the matter of becoming the first outsider to lead the District in more than three decades. Marvin Leidal and Chuck Cheney were our own, men that many here knew as teachers before they climbed the ladder and wound up the most powerful men in the academic community. Both did this the right way, making friends, handing down tough decisions, but always trying to be fair.
Wallace will, ultimately, have to have a high profile. This community is still very tight-knit, and knows that Louise Dardis, a parent of two West Fargo High graduates and a former principal for many now-adults in this community, was part of the process. Shell have hearts and minds to win over in her first few months on the job.
In the early months of 2007, she will be the face of the District as the State Legislature convenes. It will be one of the most important sessions in regards to public education in this states history. The Legislature will have to tackle issues such as financing (on the governors direct order), and related factors such as the constant Fargo vs. West Fargo battle. The terms land hungry vs. land starved and funding equity will become very familiar for her.
It wont get easier. Less than a year after she first steps into her office at the Leidal Education Center, she will be faced with contract negotiations, which should remain contentious, at best. The West Fargo Education Association has made what it feels are huge sacrifices in 2005 and 2006, relinquishing some health insurance benefits and its early retirement policy. The latter was without a choice. Finding a common ground and a new two-year agreement wont be easy.
The good news is Wallace will not go it alone. She has two great resources in Leidal and Cheney, who have and will remain part of this community. She will be lucky enough, it appears, to have the services of all seven Board members that hired her, including the four who are up for re-election this June. All are running again. All are unopposed.
As detailed by the length of her contract, Wallace has two years to prove she can keep the West Fargo School District on top. Shell face old challenges, and shell be subject to new issues. The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.