Washington Elementary School Principal Anthony Bonds has resigned and left the school district for a position as an administrator in Sun Prairie, Superintendent Phil Ertl said this week.
At the same time, Ertl acknowledged, the district has undertaken a study of issues related to the school.
"We have an independent investigation taking place," he said.
Ertl said it related to allegations that had been made, but wouldn't say if the subject was student behavior.
But School Board President Michael Meier confirmed that.
"They're basically bullying complaints."
"While I am extremely excited about my new leadership opportunity," Bonds said in an email to Washington parents, "I leave Washington and the Wauwatosa School District with mixed emotions."
He was principal at Washington for a decade, and associate principal at Wauwatosa West High School for four years before that.
"I am so proud of Washington and what we were able to accomplish together. Washington is now a high-achieving and high-performing school where students can excel and thrive," Bonds wrote. He said the school has made significant strides, becoming "one of only 68 schools out of 2,200-plus schools" to receive a "significantly exceeds expectations" rating on the Wisconsin State Report Card.
But Bonds came under fire in the last school year for how the school responded to bullying incidents and other problematic behavior. At a meeting in May, parents claimed the school showed more support for students who intimidated classmates, even hurt them, than for their victims. In one case, a student who brought a knife to school later was returned to the same classroom.
"They have lost our trust. They have lost credibility," said one parent at the meeting, referring to administrators, including Bonds.
Ertl insisted that Bonds' departure is unrelated to the difficulties of the last year.
Bonds, who occasionally attended School Board and committee meetings, was "working on his doctorate, and he was looking for career opportunities," Ertl said.
His new position as director of elementary teaching, learning and equity in the Sun Prairie Area School District is a promotion, the superintendent said.
A message left for Bonds was not returned.
Some feel hopeful
Gretchen Teich, a parent of a Washington student, who spoke out against bullying and school leaders' response to it, said she wasn't out to get Bonds, "but I am more hopeful now that we'll see positive changes at Washington this coming year."
Marie Quast, whose daughter was a fifth-grader last year and whose high school son also attended Washington, said Bonds' departure is a welcome change.
"I think the important thing is that the district takes this opportunity to provide some dedicated leadership in that building that is willing to work with the immediate community and make a really rich school community again," she said.
She said parents who met understood that "there are students who are going to have significant behavioral issues, but there still need to be some defined consequences so that their own children can feel safe attending that school."
With her daughter leaving Washington for middle school, she said, "I won't lie, it is a relief, and it makes me sad that it's a relief."
Ertl said Tom Hanley will serve as interim principal at Washington. Hanley was supervisor of elementary curriculum for the district for the last school year and has experience as a principal at Golda Meir Elementary School in the Milwaukee Public Schools.
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