Bismarck will lose Superintendent Tamara Uselman at the end of June and she’ll be missed. She has guided Bismarck’s public schools since the beginning of 2011 and a lot has happened in those years.
Under her watch voters approved an $86.5 million bond issue in 2012 that resulted in three new schools: Legacy High School, Lincoln Elementary School and Liberty Elementary School. The bond issue also allowed the district to address disparities in existing schools. In 2016, voters went back to the polls and approved a $57.5 million bond issue to expand and renovate all three middle schools and two high schools. In both cases the bond issues passed with overwhelming majorities. To draw that much support reflects leadership that convinced the public of the need for expansion.
The Bismarck schools during her time in office have expanded the use of technology and looked at innovative ways of teaching. The district has worked to help students from other countries learn English and adjust to our schools. This has happened as enrollment has increased.
There also have been tough decisions and controversy while Uselman has been superintendent.
The closing of Saxvik Elementary School in 2016 disappointed families in the neighborhood. Then, last year when the possibility was raised of closing Highland Acres and Northridge elementary schools, parents organized in opposition. The Bismarck School Board backed off from closing the schools.
In the last year the issues of bullying, teacher safety and teacher conduct have been in the news. These issues are confronting schools across the nation and aren’t unique to Bismarck. Some of it, no doubt, is the result of growing pains as the community gets bigger. Some of it can be tied to changes in society.
It all points to the tough tasks that confront a superintendent. School leaders always have been involved with curriculum, discipline and working with parents. Over the years it has become more complicated.
Programs introduced in schools like No Child Left Behind and Common Core have upset school patrons and sparked a debate over how and what should be taught. Social media has created a new type of school bully, someone who doesn’t have to be in the classroom to torment other students. These challenges would test any leader.
Uselman has dealt with all these issues and her successor also will have to tackle them. No superintendent will be able to please everyone. Uselman has demonstrated calm leadership, a caring attitude and the ability to accomplish major tasks.
She told reporter Blair Emerson she’s leaving to be closer to her family and make use of an opportunity to do consulting work. She also said she would like to go back to teaching before she retires. Not that Uselman ever left teaching. Much of what superintendents do involves teaching the public about what schools do and need. They never quit being involved with students, they just provide different lessons.
The Tribune hopes Uselman gets back to the classroom before she retires. She also deserves a big thanks from Bismarck and the state for all her service.