PRESS RELEASE: School Board Approves Superintendent’s Notice of Retirement
Wauwatosa School Board Approves Retirement of Superintendent Dr. Phillip Ertl
Dr. Ertl’s remarkable 16-year tenure will continue through June 2021
This evening, the Wauwatosa School Board approved the notice of retirement provided by Superintendent Dr. Phillip Ertl, effective June 30, 2021, during a special session.
As Wauwatosa’s longtime superintendent, Dr. Ertl worked to prepare and mobilize hundreds of staff members across 16 school buildings to teach and inspire more than 7,000 students each year - prioritizing student achievement, equity, innovation and sound financial stewardship. His 16-year tenure in the district is remarkable in Wisconsin - where the typical superintendent changes jobs every three years on average, according to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
“Dr. Ertl’s dedication to our students, staff and community has been the driving force behind the Wauwatosa School District’s success year after year,” said Dr. Eric Jessup-Anger, Wauwatosa School Board President. “Our community has greatly benefited from his student-centered approach to education, and Dr. Ertl’s foresight and proactive planning has put our District in a strong position for success moving forward.”
“High standards for everyone”
Under his leadership, the District has consistently exceeded academic expectations set by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and other local, state and national organizations. Several of the schools rank among the highest achieving schools in the state of Wisconsin. Beyond providing that strong academic foundation, Dr. Ertl and his staff were passionate about educating the “whole child,” promoting the highest possible levels of cognitive, social, emotional, physical and ethical development for each student. That enthusiasm for a comprehensive education led the district to create its Vision of a Graduate, emphasizing effective communication, critical thinking and problem solving, social-emotional awareness, identity and agency, cultural diversity and awareness, growth mindset, collaboration and independence, alongside academic success.
During Dr. Ertl’s tenure, the suburban district became increasingly diverse in terms of demographics and socioeconomics. In 2019, 36.3% of district students identified as non-white, 24.3% came from economically-disadvantaged households and 12.4% of students reported having a physical or cognitive disability. The changes in the school population reflected the city’s diversification: most of the district’s students of color live in the city of Wauwatosa, while others from neighboring communities enrolled through the district’s open enrollment program. In 2018 - alongside administrators, teachers, staff and parents - Dr. Ertl spearheaded work to create the district’s first-ever Equity Plan to ensure students, staff and families, and community members of all cultures and perspectives are provided an environment and resources necessary for our students to reach their greatest potential. Dr. Ertl also served as chair and co-founder of the Closing the Achievement Gap Consortium (CAGC), a collection of over 35 public and private school systems in southeastern Wisconsin who have united together to create a high-impact professional learning community focused on creating greater equity in their schools.
Always a proponent of “high standards for everyone,” Dr. Ertl boldly called for all Wauwatosa high school sophomores to take AP Human Geography to help close achievement gaps and make advanced courses feel accessible to everyone. The district was recognized nationally as one of just two districts across the U.S. employing this approach to equity and inclusion.
A transformative, visible and fiscally-responsible leader
Dr. Ertl’s tenure in Wauwatosa began at a time of great uncertainty regarding future enrollment, the placement of athletic facilities and the future of the district’s aging buildings. According to an article in the UW-La Crosse Lantern, “When Ertl came to the Wauwatosa School District in 2005, the suburban Milwaukee district was in crisis. The school board was divided, the administration building was for sale, an elementary building was set to close within a year and a budget deficit was projected. Ertl turned things around.” His early years were a demonstration of strategic vision, planning and leadership. He developed a data model to predict enrollment, a community-driven athletic fields plan and an enrollment economics study, which served as guides for targeting funds to modernize athletic fields, develop wrap-around programming to attract families with young children, and validate decisions regarding aging buildings.
Driven to both educate and innovate, he was honored in 2014 at the White House by President Barack Obama for the district’s effective integration and implementation of technology in the classroom.
A long-time proponent of public school choices for parents, Dr. Ertl led development of the Wauwatosa STEM School (WSTEM), Underwood STEM (USTEM), and the Wauwatosa Montessori School, as well as “MSTEM” tracks within the traditional middle schools. That commitment to differentiation and relevance continued this year with the development of three different models of student learning during today’s pandemic: Phase Into Learning, which provides a framework to shift students between virtual, hybrid and in-person learning; “Tosa Connected,” a fully-virtual learning taught by Wauwatosa School District staff; and Wauwatosa Virtual Academy, a unique, virtual public school learning model featuring online curriculum developed by Pearson Education.
Building on the groundwork and his track record of successes, in 2018, Dr. Ertl led planning for a $124.9 million facilities referendum - which voters overwhelmingly approved - aiming to replace four aging elementary schools built in the early 1900s and address prioritized needs at ten other district schools including upgrades and improvements to building maintenance and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; safety and security; ADA accessibility; classrooms and technical education labs. In the same year, he also led an effort to secure a generous donation from Wauwatosa schools alumni John and Tashia Morgridge to completely renovate the aquatic center at Wauwatosa East High School (which is expected to open in January 2021) and create an outdoor classroom at Lincoln Elementary, which opened this fall. During his tenure, Dr. Ertl also oversaw notable theater renovations for the arts and an ongoing modernization of the district’s information technology infrastructure.
Because of his team’s prudent and fiscally responsible leadership, the Wauwatosa School District continues to see one of the lowest tax levy rates among any school district in Milwaukee County (even when factoring in referendum funding), and may be the only school district in Wisconsin that does not pursue short-term borrowing to balance its annual budget.
Always a visible and involved superintendent, Dr. Ertl was an active member of the Wauwatosa Rotary Club and a volunteer coach on the Wauwatosa West high school football team. He also served as an adjunct professor at Concordia University’s School of Education. Prior to serving as Superintendent in Wauwatosa, Dr. Ertl served as a teacher and coach in Marble Falls, TX, and Tomah, WI, as a principal in Menasha, WI, and as superintendent in Kiel, WI. When a Wauwatosa School Board delegation visited Kiel during the hiring process in 2005, an employee in Kiel broke into tears during a meeting with the Tosa group, saying they knew he would leave someday, and they were lucky to have him as long as they did. “Now I truly understand the emotions I saw in that meeting,” said school board member Michael Meier.
Dr. Ertl will continue to serve as Superintendent through June 2021. The Wauwatosa School Board will begin the hiring process immediately, beginning with a search for qualified candidates.