Aaron Engel will be handed two important tasks when he takes over July 1 as the new La Crosse School District superintendent.
The first, of course, is how to teach students in the midst of a pandemic, when nobody knows if students can be — or parents want them — in the classroom.
The second is whether the district will sever its 27-year tie with the city police’s School Resource Officer (SRO) program.
Engel, who has been the Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau schools superintendent the past five years, is in information gathering mode on both matters.
Whether it’s pandemic or police, one of Engel’s priorities is hearing from students who may not have always previously been heard from.
“One of my great interests and goals is equity within education,” Engel said Friday on La Crosse Talk PM. “I want to make sure that those students, who’ve been historically marginalized, who might have a unique experience that’s not typically prioritized, is lifted, as we move into this discussion.”
Last Monday, the idea of ending the relationship between the school and police was brought up by school board president Laurie Cooper Stool, who discussed the matter Wednesday on La Crosse Talk PM. Assistant Police Chief Rob Abraham also talked about it the next day on WIZM.
A letter from the Logan High School principal days after the meeting made it sound like the school board was going to vote to end ties with police this Monday night (June 22).
Not possible, according to Engel.
“Just the beginning of talks,” Engel said. “The school board will not make a decision on Monday. It’s not an action item on Monday’s agenda.
“The soonest action would be taken, would be at the, I believe, the July 6 school board meeting. So, that’ll be the first opportunity the board would have to potentially take action.”
Engel didn’t sound like it would even happen at that point, either. He’ll be six days into the job by then.
He’s currently doing a lot of his own research on SROs, being he doesn’t have police presence like that at G-E-T (La Crosse’s $250,000 contract with city police ends next June). And, when Engel was principal at Auburndale, they only had a school liaison officer.
So, he wants data on the SROs, and he wants to hear from students, teachers, parents, police and other schools.
“Research that is out there has been done at other school districts,” Engel said. “So, reaching out to the other school districts across the nation could be beneficial to understand why they’ve either continued or severed their relationships with school resource officers.
“We want the voices of our students and families to come forward. That is all valuable information that we appreciate. Just having more information is better than less.”
Winona and Milwaukee public schools recently ended their SRO programs, not that Engel singled those schools out directly, when discussing talks with other districts.