The following is a republishing of the report on the 2012 Ann Hatch hearing in its entirety as it appeared in the June 21, 2012 edition of The Brillion News. The article is being republished for those who are interested in reading the history behind the Ann E. Hatch v. Brillion School District lawsuit that was filed in June 2016.
Controversial hearing ends in non-renewal for Brillion principal
June 21, 2012
By Andrew Pantzlaff & Ed Byrne
The Brillion News
Another principal resigns just prior to meeting, testifies for Hatch
BRILLION – A long and emotional public hearing Monday regarding Brillion Middle School principal Ann Hatch’s future status in the district ended with the board voting in favor of non-renewal of her contract.
“I’m disappointed by the decision that the board made. I feel that I’ve been an excellent principal and school psychologist for this district, and it’s disappointing,” Hatch said shortly after the decision was handed down.
She’s been with the district roughly 25 years.
At the heart of the issue were several claims of alleged harassment and discrimination by Hatch in regard to Brillion school district superintendent Nick Madison’s behavior towards her.
One of the centerpiece exhibits of this treatment was an email response from Madison to Hatch. The email, which included a profanity, was in response to Hatch’s request for a day off of school to celebrate her birthday with family.
She also said Madison had allegedly called her stupid twice – which Madison denied – among other claims, and she also testified that though the two had enjoyed a positive working relationship in the past, Madison was increasingly “all over the place” with his behavior toward her more recently.
Madison, meanwhile, testified that he felt Hatch was not meeting the outlined goals set for her as a district administrator, and also said that Hatch allegedly wasn’t “buying-in” to the goals or showing adequate attempts to progress toward them. Madison also said his performance reviews of Hatch which stated these views were often followed by new claims of harassment against him.
“It seems that after every time I gave her a review that wasn’t to her liking, there was a retaliatory claim on her part of harassment or discrimination,” Madison said.
The decision by Brillion’s Board of Education to non-renew Hatch following the conclusion of her contract in 2013 came roughly four hours after the public hearing started. During the night, there were nearly three hours of testimony and cross-examination.
Hatch was represented by attorney Nicholas Fairweather, from Madison.
Madison’s attorney was John Thiel of Appleton.
The hearing was conducted by Green Bay attorney Geoffrey Lacy, who serves as the legal counsel to the school board.
After testimony from the parties involved, there was another hour of deliberation by school board members in closed session before their verdict was announced.
Board members Lea Calaway, Gordon Gasch, Brian Horn, president Steve Klessig, Renee Maeder, Kevin Palmer and Holly Thurow-Riahi all voted in favor of non-renewal.
Close to 90 residents were in attendance for the standing-room only public hearing in the Brillion Middle School library, including what appeared to be more than two-dozen school staff members.
Throughout the meeting it also appeared that the vast majority of those in attendance were there in support of Hatch, exemplified by a loud, sustained cheer at the end of closing statements when Attorney Fairweather labeled Madison as a bully in the workplace and said the district should honor the 25 years of service Hatch had contributed to the district.
In his summary arguments, however, Attorney Thiel said that Hatch didn’t do enough to meet the job performance goals that Madison established, and that Hatch’s defense was simply to paint Madison as a “bad guy.”
Regardless, there were noticeable gasps of frustration from those attending following the school board’s announcement of non-renewal.
The hearing included testimony from Hatch, Madison, a parent named Kathy Schmidt and Brillion Elementary School principal Cathy Prozanski.
Prozanski’s appearance as a witness came after surprising news – submitted just 20 minutes prior to the meeting – that she was resigning from her spot as elementary school principal. That announcement was first made public during the hearing.
Prior to Prozanski’s trip to the witness stand, however, Madison was the first to be questioned.
While Attorney Thiel led Madison through a list of his education and administrative credentials, which included his experiences administering performance reviews to employees in the past, Madison noted that he has recommended non-renewal for other previous employees, including during his time as high school principal in Ashland earlier in his career.
Madison has been with Brillion as superintendent since 2005.
From his start in 2005 until last summer, Madison said his and Hatch’s relationship was positive.
“It was very positive. I considered Ms. Hatch one of my closest confidants and one of my most trusted administrators that I’ve worked with,” he said.
For her part, Hatch agreed that their working relationship at one time had been a good one.
Madison also noted that a few years earlier Hatch had expressed a desire to grow in her career, which led to a recommendation by him to the school board that landed hatch the role as middle school principal. At the time, she had been the school psychologist and Special Ed coordinator.
Whatever goodwill this relationship had once enjoyed seemed to unravel in 2011.
As is the case with other administrator reviews, Madison said he had several goals “for growth” laid out for Hatch at his annual review in Jan. 2011.
By spring of 2011, Madison said he became concerned that some of these goals were not being met, or that adequate progress toward them was not visible in his estimation.
Madison and Hatch met in July 2011 again to review the progress, and that’s when things continued to sour.
The July 2011 review documents were allegedly not kept confidential by Hatch, going against Madison’s wishes.
“I would characterize a lot of my supervision … as public praise and private criticism, and I wanted this to be something that Ms. Hatch could focus on without in anyway having anyone else know about it because it would have the potential to be embarrassing for her and would make it hard for her to achieve the goals as if they were confidential,” Madison said.
Later in the school year, Hatch’s responsibilities started to shrink within the district for what Madison said would provide her a better chance to achieve her stated goals.
Hatch was relieved of her language arts responsibilities, and later from her post as head golf coach – a position she had held for 14 years as the original coach of the team.
“I thought it would be most fair, if I was going to require her to increase her attention on certain things, that I would take some things off her plate,” Madison said.
When Madison was asked during testimony whether he removed Hatch from these roles because of her gender, Madison replied, “No, I did not.”
When asked if his preliminary recommendation of non-renewal for Hatch was recommended because of her claims of harassment, Madison again said “no.”
Those called to witness on behalf of Hatch said they believe and trust that Hatch is a positive contributor in Brillion’s schools.
Attorney Fairweather didn’t use those same glowing words for Madison.
“He saw fit to bully her and treat her poorly,” Attorney Fairweather said. “We know about that. Ms. Hatch is here today as a matter of right … She has a right to defend her ability to continue working in this school district.”
One of her witnesses was Kathy Schmidt, the mother of a student attending Brillion schools under open enrollment.
She testified about Hatch’s competence as director of special education service, and said she never heard Hatch criticize Madison or any district programs.
Madison’s attorney did not cross-examine her.
The second witness was Prozanski, principal of Brillion Elementary School, which shares the same building with the middle school.
The board learned that Prozanski, on the job officially since July 1, 2011, had resigned her position at 6:40 p.m. – just before the hearing began at 7 p.m.
Under questioning, Hatch noted she knew nothing of Prozanski’s plans to resign until a text message was sent to her from Prozanski the day before the meeting.
Prozanski said the year had been a stressful one for her, in part because of problems with her former marriage. She is apparently taking a position in central Wisconsin, closer to her children.
She said the experience at Brillion had also been stressful because of new curriculum adoptions.
Prozanski said she had never seen Hatch be disrespectful to Madison and said interchanges between Hatch and Madison seemed to be respectful to one another.
However, she said there was an interchange between she and Madison prior to her official starting date that troubled her slightly.
Prozanski said she, Madison and some other Brillion school district employees were attending an Association of Wisconsin School Administrators workshop in Madison in June, 2011. At the end of the day, they were in a Madison tavern when she left and went back to her hotel room.
“I got a text from Nick that said ‘WTF? Why are you back at the hotel already?” she said.
Prozanski said she understood the acronym “WTF” to mean “What the f***.”
Under cross-examination, Thiel worked to impeach Prozanski’s testimony. She said her decision to leave Brillion for a job in Wausau was to be closer to her sons in Merrill.
“Will you agree with me that it will be your 10th job in 24 years [in education]?” Thiel asked.
Thiel asked Prozanski about an argument with Madison in August, based on literacy curriculum changes for grades K-5.
“Did you cry?” Thiel asked.
“I drew a line in the sand, yes,” Prozanski said.
But she testified that she won more disagreements with Madison than she lost, which Thiel pointed out as evidence that issues with Madison could be worked out through productive discussion.
Fairweather then called Hatch to testify. She outlined her professional degrees and certifications as a school psychologist, principal and director of special education service.
Hatch said she started with Brillion schools in 1987 and has been here ever since, working under three superintendents.
One of them, John “Jack” Lewis, was in the public gallery at the hearing. He was not called to testify.
Fairweather then asked Hatch to identify one exhibit, an administrative evaluation of Hatch by Madison.
One of her goals, Hatch said, was Madison’s expectation that she work to turn the elementary-middle school building into a K-8 program, essentially merging the two schools into one.
Hatch said she was willing to be flexible if Madison decided to merge the two schools into one K-8 school.
“I would be willing to … go back to my old job so we would have a K-8 principal, or I would be a principal or assistant principal [for K-8],” Hatch said. “I was willing to do it for the school district.”
That offer was made before Prozanski was hired to fill the elementary school principal’s vacancy a year ago.
Madison, however, said that Hatch “was not comfortable with her current position,” and that she had suggested on two occasions that she move into a different position. He did not indicate in his testimony whether Hatch’s offer to change roles within the district was a means of catering to his vision of a K-8 school.
Hatch also said she worked to implement a new intervention program – a Madison initiative – to address the needs of students who were struggling.
Another exhibit was a document Hatch said she drafted prior to her evaluation by Madison this past January. She said she sent it to Madison, but he did not acknowledge its receipt.
Hatch said that working with Madison became “increasingly more difficult to have a positive working relationship” in the years since Madison was appointed superintendent in 2005.
“I didn’t feel I could be collaborative with him,” Hatch testified.
She said interactions with him were mercurial. At times it would be positive but on other occasions his responses would be “abusive and inappropriate.”
She said he called her stupid on two occasions. One was on a curricular matter, the other about moving classes around during reconstruction in the building.
“He told me I was a poor leader … pathetic and that I was stupid,” she said.
Madison later denied ever calling her stupid.
“Never once,” Madison testified. “That is an absolute fabrication by Ms. Hatch.”
Hatch also said Madison once asked her and Prozanski if they were done breastfeeding when he found that they were meeting alone in Prozanski’s office with the door locked.
He said his comments to Prozanski and Hatch were about taking the covering off the windows of the principal’s office. He said he used the term “pumping,” not breast feeding.
Madison said “breast feeding” was never mentioned, but he commented that the previous elementary school principal covered her office windows and locked the door to pump breast milk to feed her child and he was merely suggesting that the windows didn’t needed to be covered anymore now that “pumping” was no longer happening in that office.
“That was kind of a running joke, that the door was always locked and she was always pumping,” Madison said.
The hot button item, though, was a dispute that developed when Hatch asked to take a day off last fall to meet relatives and friends in Madison on Sept. 2 (the second day of school), the Friday prior to Labor Day weekend. It was to be a gathering to celebrate her 50th birthday, which was later in the month.
Madison, after several exchanges with Hatch, granted her the day off, although he said he preferred that she not take the day off.
Late last summer, Hatch said Madison told her she could not take the day off.
“Then I got the e-mail back that said, ‘Fine, take the f****ing day off’,” she said. “That was the problem.”
“What was the problem?” Thiel asked.
At that point, the people in the public gallery interrupted the exchange with laughter.
Hatch said Madison had given her an OK to take the day off and then reversed it. She said she objected to the language in the email from Madison.
Thiel suggested that the offensive language in the email was in jest and introduced a message sent by Madison to Hatch three days later, on June 24, where he thanked Hatch and said “how lucky I am to get to work with you.”
Hatch said she didn’t know whether that was sincere or not.
“Because it’s all over the place,” she said.
Madison later testified that he gave Hatch a written apology for the email.
Madison also testified that he felt Hatch had not followed the proper lines of communication, as policy states within the district, regarding harassment claims. He said she should have went directly to him – the person she had a problem with – as the initial step. Hatch, however, allegedly went straight to the school board instead.
Attorney Fairweather questioned Madison whether or not that seemed fair that Hatch should have to go to him, her alleged harasser, about the harassment problem.
Madison also said in testimony that Hatch went directly to the school board about her opposing curriculum views with Madison instead of discussing it with him first.
“[My] lack of confidence and trust stems from Ms. Hatch’s unwillingness to focus on her goals and instead focus on retaliatory claims and also bypassing established lines of communication,” Madison said.
Thiel, in cross-examining Hatch, said that the hearing was not about her care for students of the district, but about her job performance as middle school principal.
Hatch, though, said that Madison, lately, had been excluding her from administrative staff meetings – in one case by not inviting her and declining to tell her when and where it would take place when she asked.
Hatch, under examination by Thiel, said she had attorneys prepare complaints against the school board with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and with the state Department of Workforce Development.
“It is based on the discrimination I have heard over the last couple of years from Dr. Madison,” Hatch said.
The complaints are against the board as the employer of Madison.
Those complaints take the issue beyond the school district.
Overall, regardless of Monday’s decision by the school board, Hatch noted she was appreciative of the support she’s received.
“I’m grateful for all the support that I had here tonight from the parents, teachers, retired teachers. I think their support was tremendous. I have no regrets,” Hatch said. “I feel like I did what I did because that’s what a good leader does. That’s what a good leader is. They stand behind their school and fight for their school, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”