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How Sweet it was

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Life River Falls,Wisconsin 54022 http://www.hudsonstarobserver.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/0620.A.HSO.SweetRetires.JPG?itok=P1mKAnJG
Hudson Star Observer
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How Sweet it was
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Nancy Sweet's leadership in the district was acknowledged in this gift presented to her at a recent gathering to honor her work in Hudson.

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For an introvert, Nancy Sweet has had a pretty high profile in the Hudson School District for three decades.

Sweet will retire from her job as the District Deputy Director and as the Director of Personnel at the end of this month. She has also served as principal of the former Fourth Street School and the Director of Student Services under three different names. She has served under five superintendents, the longest tenure being 16 years with Ron Bernth and the past eight with Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten.

Sweet gave up an offer to work with the Department of Public Instruction 30 years ago to come work in Hudson. She has never regretted that decision. The bulk of her career here has been spent in student services, formerly pupil services, a title that covers a lot of what goes on in the Hudson School District including special education programs, the gifted/talented program, the district health plan and school nurses, school pyschologists, school counselors and social workers and at-risk programs.

Of her decision not to work for the DPI all those years ago, "How boring that would have been in comparison to my work in Hudson!"

When Sweet joined the district in the early 1980s, it had been 10 years since the passage of the state law that required that all districts provide for the education of students with disabilities. Sweet recalled that when she got involved in student services, the majority of Hudson students with special needs were bussed to other districts including River Falls, Baldwin and beyond. "Ten years after the law, we had no program here to speak of, no real leadership in the area."

She recalled her first meeting with a group of parents of students with special needs in the home economics room of the old middle school. "They were a phenomenal group of parents. Together we got something going here and we built on that. The parents I have worked with over the years continue to be an inspiration. By 2005, we only bussed six of our special needs children out of the district for services."

Today the Hudson School District is recognized across the state and the region for its special needs programing and is sought out by parents looking for the best education for their children. She points to the district's efforts in the area of autism, the AODA and ABLE behavioral program, STRIVE and the successful partnership with BRIDGE for Youth and Adults with Disabilities and the creation of Claiborne House to help students transition to adult life.

"It wouldn't have happened without our exceptional teachers, the principals, the student services staff and our unbelievable parents. Looking back, I couldn't be more pleased with where we are today," said Sweet.

In 2005, Sweet was asked by the then new district superintendent, Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten, to serve as her deputy and Director of Personnel. After her success in student services, was it difficult to take on an entirely new set of responsibilities? "Piece of cake," she joked, but she describes her new position as a "wonderful move."

The new job not only involved managing the district's more than 750 employees, but also participating in contract negotiations, monitoring the transportation of the district's more than 5,600 students, initiating the employee assistance program with Family Means and administration of the district's school-age care program. One of the biggest challenges of her most recent position has been the recent boundary changes at the elementary level. "That was controversial and it makes some people very unhappy but we worked to do the best we could for our students and families. It is just part of the job. We are a growing district and it will happen again."

Sweet was at the center of things when Act 10, limiting the collective bargaining rights of district union members, became law. She conducted all of the investigations into the employees who participated in demonstrations in Madison that ultimately led to the closing of school on Feb. 10, 2011, and worked with the school board on the consequences for teachers who participated.

"Act 10 was a real blow to teachers. It was a difficult time. I heard all sides of that issue and the decisions made as a result were hard. But I am pleased to say I think the teachers, the administration and the school board are past all that and moving forward." She is also proud of the success of the Teacher Advisory Committee that was established following Act 10 that includes more than a dozen teachers and several administrators who worked together on a teacher employee handbook and other issues and that continues to provide a voice for teachers in the district.

Sweet said she is glad that her office was able to conduct the salary comparability studies recently presented to the school board and that action has been taken to make Hudson salaries in all employee groups more competitive with other school districts. "I think it is an important step toward forming a base that will be good for the district going forward. I give the superintendent and the school board credit for taking the action they did."

As personnel director, Sweet started the practice of issuing an invitation to any district employee considering retirement to come in for a consultation. "It is a fascinating interaction. They talk about their careers, what they need and whether they are ready to go or want to stay on for a while longer. I also give them the opportunity to see their personnel file and make copies if they wish. A lot of them find it fun and I really enjoy talking with them."

She also loves managing the district's annual banquet that recognizes employees for their years of service to the district and those who are retiring.

Sweet has seen a lot of changes in the Hudson School District over the years and she is optimistic about the future. "How could I not be when I look back over these 30 years and see all that has been done? The district is fiscally sound. This is an incredible community. We have always had great board members and the amount of work done by our administrators, teachers and staff is amazing. They are all fundamentally interested in supporting the district and, most importantly, our students."

Sweet acknowledges that the district has its critics but despite increasingly pointed and personal attacks, the work of the district hasn't changed. "We have those noise-makers out there and they can be distracting but knowing where you are going helps."

Sweet said she knows the time is right to retire and won't elaborate on any plans except to say, "I will remain interested in the Hudson School District and am willing to help if I'm needed."

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Meg Heaton
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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