Wausau Pilot and Review

Candidates in Wausau will head to the polls on April 6 — or will cast absentee ballots — to choose new members of the Wausau School Board from a slate of seven candidates.

The list includes two incumbents and five newcomers. The top three candidates will each serve three-year terms, while the fourth-finishing candidate will serve a limited one-year term. The newly-elected members will help form policy for the Wausau School District for years to come.

We asked each of the candidates a set of identical questions, inviting them to share their answers of any length and submit a photo. Here are their unedited answers, with candidates listed in alphabetical order.

Note: Candidates do not appear in the order in which they will appear on the ballot in April.


Nicolas Bisgrove

Age: 38

Occupation: Senior Financial Specialist

Education: Associates Degree in Music Technology and Engineering

Community involvement and/or prior relevant experience: -Eagle Scout

-Junior Achievement (Instructor)

-Bowl for Kid’s Sake (Committee member and participant)

-Stettin Elementary PTO Pancake Fundraiser (Kitchen volunteer)

-YWCA Getting You Financial Lit (Curriculum developer and instructor)

-Wausau Firefighter Community Assistance Foundation- Chili Cook Off (Participant and champion chili 2 years in a row)

-CommUNITY #DanceForAReason for the Victims Family Fund (Organizer and volunteer)

-Kids Groove (creator and event organizer)

-Wausau Center Mall Beach Party (Volunteer, DJ)

-Channel 7 Share Your Holiday’s (Phone banking volunteer)

-Salvation Army (Bell ringer)

Why do you want to represent the community on the Wausau School Board, and what qualifies you?

I have a passion to help better the lives of the members of our community, with a heavy emphasis on children. I have over a decade of experience managing teams, events and projects. I know what it takes to get results. In addition, I also have over twenty years in careers such as banking, retail and restaurants. It is a privilege to work with the public and solve problems. In banking, not every loan gets approved, financial difficulties and challenges come with reasons. I speak in hard truths, because I believe people want the ability and knowledge to help themselves. I am comfortable having these discussions, and I trust people to know what they need to hear, even if its not immediately what they wish to hear.

I do not expect every agenda or idea to have 100% backing from every school board member. I do expect honesty, and a willingness to learn from each other and listen to our constituents. What qualifies me to be on the board is my communication and negotiating skills. We need to have achievable, transparent ideas brought to the table and find solutions that are a win for everyone. 

Name one problem that exists in the school district today and a way to improve it.

The most pressing problem facing the district is the achievement gap that was created due to the pandemic. I have worked in stressful situations before that challenge all team members to hit high goals. Sometimes it works, sometimes the pressure does not work well for all. We need to remember that it is not just Wausau going through these challenges, it is the world entire. In conversation with a local teacher, she stated “We all need to take a breath. Realize what we’ve lived through and celebrate it.” I believe we have some fantastic teachers in the district that want the best for our children. We need to give them the support they need to do the best job possible.

Name one thing the Wausau School District does well, and how you would support it.  

The WSD does a fantastic job in the tenure of teachers. Just like other occupations, we always need to be looking at the future. We need to continue to hire and train exceptional and talented teachers so when there are retirements, we will not be facing falling academic performances.

As a school board member, are there any specific subject areas you think should be included in the curriculum that are not adequately represented at this time?  

Social Media Literacy, or as a spin of humor, Fake News. During the era of tabloids when I was growing up, the illegitimate news source was obvious. Today, the line is not so clear. We should be teaching our students the importance of credible sourcing, looking for and understanding bias, agenda, omission of context, and critical thinking. A free speech and a press that holds elected officials accountable is important to a thriving democracy. We need to protect this. We need to teach this. We need to have a strong democracy, to have this great country.

One important characteristic of any elected official is the ability to step back and see both sides of an issue. Give an example of a time you did this in the past.

I am involved in technology project teams at the bank. We won the Most Innovative Bank in America award in 2019. Implementing change has challenges as well. In these developmental meetings, we have representatives from every department in the organization. This helps gauge what our wants are in these projects versus what is achievable. Working with the different departments has helped further develop my understanding of how groups need to interact to be successful. Sometimes what is easiest for one department, makes things more difficult in a different department. To achieve the best results, there needs to be a lot of open honest communication. We meet in the middle where it is going to be a positive change while making sure each part of the organization can handle the new procedures. 

Data on student success rates show an uptick in the number of students who received F grades after schools shifted to virtual learning. What is the best way for the district to move forward and ensure struggling students have the tools they need to succeed?

This needs to be addressed like the legs of a chair. The more legs you have on the chair, the stronger the foundation will be. Those legs include: the teachers, parents, pupil services and the student themselves.  With three legs being used, the chair will be stable. When you have all four legs being utilized, the base will be rock solid. Once you have all for parts on the same page, you can start open lines of communication and work on moving the needle in the positive direction. It takes all of us working together to improve situations. We need to be united as a team; no necessary team members can be neglected.

Voters in 2020 rejected both proposals by the Wausau School District. Why do you think the last referendum proposals failed to pass, and what is your opinion of the new proposal voters will be weighing in on in April?

The 2020 proposals had changes to schools that parents did not want, I want to focus on making sure I listen to them.  The board learned from the feedback and came back with a much better offer second round.

I support both Q1 and Q2 on the April ballot. I believe in investing in Pupil Services. Coming out of the pandemic, mental health is going to be a huge factor to focus on when addressing the achievement gap. Everyone’s situation going through the pandemic was completely different. If we can have the professionals available to talk with our kids about their emotions, we can help their grades and life improve. If we have the Pupil Services available for disruptive students, we can get the teachers focused on the rest of the class much more effectively. It also allows for students in need of social supports to have access to help they need in a positive, and productive way.

The parents in our district want what is best for their children, and by extension, our community. Now is the time to invest in our schools, and what our students need. This has been a trying and unique time for all of us, but if we take the actions now to strengthen our educational foundations, the futures for our children will be bigger than this past year has put us through. 

What else do you want voters in the district to know about you when they cast their ballots in April?

I believe in my motto “Learn from the past. Act for the future.” I cannot change what happened in the past. However, I try to learn from it always. It is critical to seek knowledge that has been gained from situations and apply it to improve my future actions.

My campaign has been endorsed by:

  • Wausau Education Association Marathon
  • County Central Labor Council
  • Citizen’s Action of Wisconsin
  • Mayor Rosenberg
  • Current Wausau School Board members Beth Martin, Ka Lo and Jane Rusch
  • Local elected officials: William Harris, Patrick Peckham, Jonathan Fisher and Bill Conway

Jon Creisher

Jon Creisher (contributed photo)

Age: 38

Occupation: Director of Strategic Partnerships – Greenheck

Education: Bachelors of Science Mechanical Engineering – Michigan Technological University

Community involvement and/or prior relevant experience:

I truly enjoy donating my time and talents to any opportunity, charity and community event that I can.  I have donated several custom cornhole boards to PTO and Athletic fundraising events to help raise funds for their respective initiatives.  In 2016, along with several co-workers, we held a cornhole tournament to fundraise for a local Wausau couple to help with their adoption costs.  I donated a set of cornhole boards to help raise funds and we ended up fundraising approximately $5,000 for the couple to be applied to their adoption fees.  In 2018 I volunteered to participate in the Night to Shine event held at Mount Olive Lutheran Church.  I had the opportunity to escort an amazing individual to this event which is sponsored by Tim Tebow. 

Why do you want to represent the community on the Wausau School Board, and what qualifies you?

 I believe a diverse school board with members who bring varied backgrounds and professional experiences is essential to adequately guide the mission of any school district and to serve the constituents of the community. My background, passion for education and equal opportunities, and professional experience are just some of the qualities that will help me serve as a school board member. Having been educated in public schools myself and currently raising four children in the Wausau School District, I am a passionate advocate for high quality public education. Strong public schools provide the academic opportunities for our youth to prepare themselves for their futures and to become productive members of society and the community. It is a public education that provides the equalizing benefit for students from every background.

Name one problem that exists in the school district today and a way to improve it.

I believe the overall culture needs change.  I think a refocused effort in supporting our educators and strong student outcomes needs to be put front and center.  I’d like to see better collaboration between the district administration, teaching staff and the school board to accomplish the goals and pursue the mission of this district.  If elected to the board I’d like to bring a practice we use in the organization I work for.  Each year we develop what is called the “Critical Few” initiatives.  These three items are things that we specifically focus on accomplishing for that year.  I would like to see the district develop a similar practice in order focus on specific initiatives that will have the greatest impact on our district.  It’s not to say that we won’t accomplish many other things but it provides a focus in which to pursue continuous improvement.  

I’d also like to revitalize the focus on our athletics facilities and programs.  I believe this area has been ignored for quite some time.  The new referendum doesn’t even address the greatest needs related to our athletic programs.  The WIAA will not host neutral site playoff games for football or soccer on fields that are not artificial turf.  Hosting these types of games/events has many benefits not only to our own athletes but to the surrounding community.  If we’re able to host these types of events/tournaments many additional businesses will realize a benefit in the community.  Restaurants, retail, hotel, etc.  There are other benefits for artificial turf fields.  These benefits include less maintenance (no fertilizing or mowing) which equates to lower overall cost.  Additionally, an artificial turf field could be used for multiple sports, most notably football and soccer, if designed correctly.  Lastly, the properly designed facility could encompass track and would represent something that would attract students, families and educators/staff to our district.  

Name one thing the Wausau School District does well, and how you would support it.  

The district does an amazing job with their early childhood and 4K developmental program.  My 4 children have benefited greatly from this focus on early childhood education including a child with special needs.  I would support the continued efforts in growing and continuously improving this program, along with Special Education, throughout our district.  It’s programs and initiatives like these that will continue to make the WSD a district of choice in Marathon County.  I want to ensure all students have every opportunity and resource possible in order to succeed academically to prepare them for their futures. 

As a school board member, are there any specific subject areas you think should be included in the curriculum that are not adequately represented at this time?  

As a school board member my focus will be ensuring our students are receiving a well-rounded education based on the foundations of math, science, writing and reading.  The objective of any curriculum should be to prepare our students for their futures, to help them identify their strengths and talents and to assist them with exploring those talents and passions so they can pursue technical trades or higher education.  Curriculum that is near and dear to me is technology and all that it offers for new and exciting career opportunities.  I would like to personally get more involved with exposing students and staff to the many opportunities that exist in the world of manufacturing.  Many organizations locally have global reach and offer career opportunities in Engineering, Sales, Marketing, IT, Finance, Accounting, Logistics and so much more.  This is an area that I would personally get involved with to make sure our secondary level students are given the opportunity to learn more about.  

One important characteristic of any elected official is the ability to step back and see both sides of an issue. Give an example of a time you did this in the past.

 Sitting down and listening to both sides of an issue and bringing forward mutually beneficial solutions is how I have built my career and success over the last 15 years of my career.  In the field of strategic selling and account management I not only have to listen and provide solutions for customers I must also work internally with product development, manufacturing, and logistics teams to successfully execute our mission.  In my current role as the Director of Strategic Partnerships I work with the largest, multi-national and global companies in the world.  These companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others, present many opportunities to work with individuals with many different backgrounds.  A recent, and very contentious situation I successfully navigated, involved a back-charge of $70,000 being presented by an end user because of field paint and corrosion issues.  The end user, consulting engineer and mechanical contractor were pointing fingers at each other and at my company for who was to blame.  Over the course of several months and personal visits to the medical campus in San Diego we discussed the specifics of the situation to understand how and why this paint failure occurred.  We presented several different solutions and ultimately, I successfully helped all parties understand why this situation had occurred.  Necessary field repairs were performed, and we assisted in overseeing the solution deployed to the satisfaction of all parties.  In the end, no back-charges were submitted.  My success in my career would not have come if I were not able to communicate, listen, provides solutions, and most importantly execute the plan and strategy.  

Data on student success rates show an uptick in the number of students who received F grades after schools shifted to virtual learning. What is the best way for the district to move forward and ensure struggling students have the tools they need to succeed?

I believe the district needs to take a serious look at a growing number of students who would like the opportunity to redo this last school year.  Summer school is most likely not enough to close this achievement gap.  There are many students who went into the 2020/2021 school year with good grades only to have their GPA’s plummet for many different reasons.  Providing these students with the opportunity to redo their school year, to stay behind a grade, would allow them to erase the achievement gap which other schools in the county and state did not realize having sent their students back to school from the very start.  This concern is limited to the secondary level students.  Furthermore, a full return to in person learning needs to be implemented immediately.  Any bottlenecks and stresses being presented to teaching staff should be addressed and corrected where possible so that a full return does not place any further burden on our teaching staff.  Any students who are struggling in virtual learning should be strongly encouraged to return to in-person learning so necessary interventions can be utilized to improve their grades. 

Voters in 2020 rejected both proposals by the Wausau School District. Why do you think the last referendum proposals failed to pass, and what is your opinion of the new proposal voters will be weighing in on in April?

  I believe the referendums failed in November 2020 because the community felt that the district didn’t have their priorities straight.  I also believe there are a number of people in the community that felt the dollar amount to be quite excessive which was difficult for them to accept while many in the community struggle to make ends meet, accommodate childcare and in home learning environments/supervision.  Every single school district and business in Marathon County put forward plans to keep their students in school and their employees working, as well as providing virtual options for those that needed and wanted that option.  I support the need for expanding Whole Child Services.  The need for greater student support has grown over the past year, and the decision not to open school only further contributed to this need.  However, I remain disappointed that the funding request grew from $3 Million to $4 Million since the November election.  As a Board member, I will not only support these student needs, but I will be a better steward of tax payer dollars.  I also support the funding to maintain the infrastructure needs of our District.  However, we have an annual budget for capital spending on infrastructure of roughly $1 Million which is spread across nearly 20 facilities.  The District will need to routinely ask tax payers for additional funding if something is not done to better plan for infrastructure needs and maintenance.  As a Board member I would challenge the Administration to prioritize funding needs and to provide a more timely summary of needs versus presenting a massive funding request like Question 2 and again I would ensure that we are faithful stewards of tax payers hard earned dollars.  Especially during a time where many in the community are struggling 

What else do you want voters in the district to know about you when they cast their ballots in April?

My character is most defined by being a highly motivated individual who perseveres in the face of difficulty.  “That can’t be done,” “that is impossible,” or “why even try” are not a part of my personal narrative. I don’t make excuses. I set goals and work to accomplish those goals, both professionally and personally.  These character qualities were evident when Kathy and I spent two difficult years pursuing the adoption of our son from China with many obstacles.  Climbing high elevation mountains is a hobby of mine where perseverance has continued to be refined in me.  I have climbed Mt. Rainier, Orizaba and the volcanoes of Ecuador. It is this drive and motivation that will well qualify me as a member of the Wausau School Board of Education where wise decisions and perseverance toward solutions in the face of obstacles is required.  It is this work ethic, motivation and skill set that I will bring to the culture of our district and community.  I want the teachers, students, and parents of this district to know that together we can tackle any challenge that we face.  Together, we can ensure that our students have excellent educational opportunities that allow them to be successful and launch them toward great futures in our community and beyond. I will bring an infectious and positive attitude, as well as effective decision making to the school board.


Kay Gruling

Kay Gruling (submitted photo)

Age: 59

Occupation: Family Physician

Education: Undergraduate -UWMC, UW-Madison, Rheinische Friedrich Wilhelms Universitat (Bonn, Germany)

Graduate – UW- Madison Medical School (now UW-SMPH)

Community involvement and/or prior relevant experience:

  • Extensive. (See CV and Qualifications document.
  • Serve on six boards, three in Madison and three in Wausau, as well as subcommittees and task forces. Received the Service Award from the UW Medical Alumni Association. 
  • Actively involved in the Wausau School District for two and a half decades. As an actively involved parent of two Wausau West graduates, I have been to nearly every school in the WSD as well as participated in and observed many programs. Over the past six years, I have been instrumental in raising thousands of dollars each year for the Wausau West music department. I am a recipient of the WSD ‘Friend of Education’ award. 
  • Engaged community member for 33+ years – in multiple capacities, volunteer, philanthropy, promotion, etc.
  • Strong background in education – UW Medical School Clinical Instructor and MCW Assistant Clinical Professor of Family Medicine; educator, presenter, lecturer, and mentor in/for a variety of community programs; developed and implemented medical education conferences and programming; preceptor for students at UWEC and UWSP; received the Wausau Family Practice Residency Program ‘Volunteer Teaching’ Award.

Why do you want to represent the community on the Wausau School Board, and what qualifies you?

Education has always been important to me. The school administration, teachers and school board shape the education our children receive. Therefore, it is important that school board members have the skills and qualities to support the school administration, educators, support staff and students to ensure success for all. This ultimately equates to success for our community.

My strong background in education, more than two decades of involvement in numerous capacities in the WSD, both curricular and extracurricular, experience working as a team and in a business, medical expertise as a family physician, desire to listen to other people’s perspectives and collaborate, engagement in the community for 33 years, training in and ability to problem solve, ability to think independently, and value of public education are skills and qualities which would be desirable as a board member.

Please see the attached Why I Am Running document.

Name one problem that exists in the school district today and a way to improve it.

Disparities between students as well as between schools is one of the barriers to equal learning opportunities. Some of these disparities are related to income discrepancies. Some are health related. Some are socioeconomic. Some just do not have a stable support system. Some are homeless. The list goes on. Many of these are a combination of factors. It is vital that we have the support systems in place in our schools and communities, and work together as a team, to address these. One of the ways to improve this on the school front is to hire more social workers, psychologists, school counselors, behavioral interventionists, and health aids. It would be useful to have additional meals available and other resources to ensure adequate nutrition, etc. It is vital to work with the community, both governmental and nonprofits, to address barriers to education and learning. Supporting our kids and their families to help all reach their full potential helps our communities to succeed.  

Name one thing the Wausau School District does well, and how you would support it. 

The Wausau School District does many things well. Students are set up to succeed, no matter whether students plan to directly enter the workforce or pursue higher education after they graduate. The Wausau School District provides a wide variety of options to students, from tech-oriented courses to AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) courses to special programs with NTC and UWSP-Wausau in which students have access to an even wider range of courses and opportunities. WSD graduates have become tech executives, ambassadors to faraway lands, skilled laborers, and everything in between due to the diversity and quality of their education. Regardless of what career students aim to pursue, the Wausau School District sets all students up for success.

As a school board member, are there any specific subject areas you think should be included in the curriculum that are not adequately represented at this time?  

Generally, WSD has a great variety of courses and does a great job. However, I think there should be much more emphasis on Civics. Why? Over the last few years, I have noticed that many citizens seem unclear as to the various levels of government and what the role of government is. Many citizens do not know who their government leaders are. Still others never or only rarely vote, often stating that “it doesn’t matter anyway.” An ideal civics course would teach the basics about all the levels of government as well as provide students with the tools and strategies to gather and assess information. An entire course focused on civics for each student would build a foundation that would enable them to fully embrace citizenship with all its rights and responsibilities.    

One important characteristic of any elected official is the ability to step back and see both sides of an issue. Give an example of a time you did this in the past.

Listening to others’ perspectives has always been important to me and helped me be successful as a physician. In my medical practice, it was always important for me to step back to see both sides of an issue. For example, a patient seemed to ignore his medical plan of care despite the significant risk of an untimely death if not following it. When I asked him to explain his reluctance, I learned that he had other social concerns at the time which prevented him from following through on the treatment plan. Once he explained and I understood the barriers, we were able to work on strategies to overcome the barriers so he could follow his treatment plan.

Data on student success rates show an uptick in the number of students who received F grades after schools shifted to virtual learning. What is the best way for the district to move forward and ensure struggling students have the tools they need to succeed?

First, we need to know WHY the student received an F. For many, it was because of incomplete assignments. For some, it was due to stress or mental health issues. Still for others, they did not have enough to eat, a home in which to live, or a safe and/or supportive environment. Now that teachers and students are back in the classroom together again, these situations can be better evaluated and addressed. For some students, it will simply be getting those assignments completed. For others, support personnel at the schools (like psychologists, school counselors, social workers, behavioral interventionists, and health aids) will be able to identify potential underlying causes for low grades and address those issues. This also highlights the need for passage of the referendums.* In some cases, students may need additional instruction, such as summer or other ancillary programming.  

*Referendum #1 increases the number of psychologists, school counselors, social workers, behavior interventionists, and health aides. Referendum #2 provides for spaces for them to meet with students and/or families as well as other building maintenance, security, and upgrades.

Voters in 2020 rejected both proposals by the Wausau School District. Why do you think the last referendum proposals failed to pass, and what is your opinion of the new proposal voters will be weighing in on in April?

It appears that the main reasons that the referendums failed were due to: 1) the proposed demolition of historic Grant School, 2) inadequate information about the referendums to educate the voters, and 3) the economic impact of COVID-19. 

Referendum #1: 

I am excited about the prospect of having more psychologists, school counselors, social workers, behavior interventionists, and health aides. There has always been a need for more of these types of staff members. However, with all the social, mental and physical health, and economic impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to have additional staff available. 

Referendum #2: 

This provides for additional spaces for psychologists, school counselors, social workers, behavior interventionists, and health aides to privately meet with students and/or families. Currently, there are not adequate private spaces/offices available for additional staff. In addition, this funding would enable other building maintenance, expand and remodel learning spaces, update and enhance security and safety, and a variety of other upgrades. In evaluating the specific needs and proposals, and as someone who has been to most of the schools, this seems the wise thing to do. These referendums make a great deal of sense. They respond to clear and demonstrated need. The timing is also good from the standpoint of low interest rates and retirement of current debt. 

What else do you want voters in the district to know about you when they cast their ballots in April?

As a mother of two Wausau West graduates and as a community member, I feel that Wausau Schools are among the best. Wausau Schools have been “destination” schools and that will continue with good leadership. Like everything else, though, there is room for improvement. Some of those are discussed in the previous questions. I also understand that as a school board member that I would be representing the school district as an ambassador. I would take great pride in that.

I am thorough, thoughtful, respectful, compassionate, creative, open-minded, and think independently without preconceived ideologies. I understand that complex problems require complex solutions. I am not a one-issue candidate, but rather look at the big picture. 

I have spent my entire career as a family physician. My skills as a family physician translate well to being a board member. First, I must listen to the concern/identify the problem. Next, I need to gather information about the problem. Then, I need to evaluate all the information, collaborate with others, make a plan, and work with others to execute it. This is the same approach I will bring to the WSD as a board member.


Patrick McKee (Incumbent, WSB Vice President)

Patrick McKee (submitted photo)

Age: 50

Occupation: VP UnitedHealth Group

Education: B.S. University of Wisconsin-Madison; Behavioral Science & Law

Community involvement and/or prior relevant experience: Nine years on the school board

Why do you want to represent the community on the Wausau School Board, and what qualifies you?

  • I want to continue to represent the community on the board because I believe strongly in the value of high quality education and I am dedicated to representing all stakeholders within the district.  My qualifications include having been on the school board for nine years, I am a strong & independent leader, I have the ability to see issues from all perspectives, and I base my decisions on data & facts.  I was born and raised in this community and have a vested interest in the long term success of the district.

Name one problem that exists in the school district today and a way to improve it.

  • One problem is that we continue to lose students to neighboring districts.  We can improve this a couple different ways.  First, we need to be reaching out to families in order to gain a clear understanding of why they choose not to attend school in our district.  We then need to develop action plans that address the major themes.  Second, we need to effectively market our district.  There are many positive aspects of our district that need to be shared with the broader community so people have a complete view of all that we have to offer.  We should be the premier district of choice in our area.

Name one thing the Wausau School District does well, and how you would support it.

  • Our district does a great job meeting the broad spectrum of educational needs of our student population.  We have staff and programs that address everything from enrichment & intervention needs of elementary students all the way to offering AP & IB courses in high school.   We offer a variety of technical courses such as auto mechanics and graphic design and we also offer an excellent choice of foreign language, fine arts & world culture instruction.  I continue to support our wholistic approach by advocating for budgets that fund all disciplines needed for a well rounded set of course offerings.

As a school board member, are there any specific subject areas you think should be included in the curriculum that are not adequately represented at this time?

  • Yes.  We need courses that provide curriculum focused on interpersonal communication.  Our children spend a lot of time in front of a screen(computer, phone, TV).  As a result, they are not afforded many opportunities to learn how to effectively communicate their thoughts in a traditional face to face setting.  This causes many challenges for kids later in life as they don’t have the tools required to clearly articulate themselves in personal or professional environments.  

 One important characteristic of any elected official is the ability to step back and see both sides of an issue. Give an example of a time you did this in the past.

  • One example of stepping back and seeing both sides of an issue is the referendum question asking for funds to support full pupil services teams.  My initial position was neutral as I didn’t fully understand the value of spending significant money on resources that seemed to touch a narrow slice of the student population.  However, as I learned more about how the expanded pupil service teams would benefit all students, I became a supporter of the idea.  I allow myself to be influenced by strong data and direct feedback from stakeholders when forming my position on any issue.

Data on student success rates show an uptick in the number of students who received F grades after schools shifted to virtual learning. What is the best way for the district to move forward and ensure struggling students have the tools they need to succeed?

  • In my opinion, the first thing we need to understand is exactly where we have the biggest gaps within the student population.  We then need to prioritize the gaps and create curriculum focused on each of the respective areas.  We need to provide struggling students with more teaching & para-professional support during the school day and also identify resources for the kids to use over the summer.

Voters in 2020 rejected both proposals by the Wausau School District. Why do you think the last referendum proposals failed to pass, and what is your opinion of the new proposal voters will be weighing in on in April?

  • The 2020 referendums failed for two reasons.  First, students were not in school and voters were not compelled to support spending money on schools that weren’t being utilized.  Second, the proposed closure of Lincoln created a strong coalition of “no” votes from the people who would have been impacted by the closure.  The new proposal is a comprehensive plan that will address significant needs at all schools in the district.  If passed, the funds will be applied in a very practical manner that will enable the district to provide safe & effective learning for years to come.

What else do you want voters in the district to know about you when they cast their ballots in April?

  • Elected officials should be judged by the value they bring to the governing body of which they are part of.  I have consistently brought value by asking tough questions, listening to all perspectives on issues, always being transparent, and open and honest communication.  By voting for me, voters can be confident they are getting someone with integrity, honesty, perseverance & compassion.  It has been a privilege serving on the board for the past nine years and I would sincerely appreciate your support for another three years.

Cody Nikolai MD

Dr. Cody Nikolai (contributed photo)

Age: 47

Occupation:  Orthopaedic Surgeon

Education: BS UW Oshkosh, MD UW Madison, US Navy Veteran 

Why do you want to represent the community on the Wausau School Board, and what qualifies you?

I have always had a love for Wausau.  I was born in Wausau and have family here.  As a child growing up I would always look forward to visiting that family here from my home town of Rozellville and Wausau always felt like home.  Now having the fortune to move back here almost 4 years ago I have a sense of pride in the city and want to continue to make Wausau great so that my children will have the same appreciation.  One of the major factors in employment recruitment and retention is based on the strength of the school district.  Having a strong district allows for the rest of the city and surrounding communities to continue to grow and remain strong.  As far as my qualifications I believe that having a strong passion for the overall health of the community along with my education experience and having and continuing to raise 13 children have given me a broad experience in education that would make me a diverse member of the school board.  I also believe that education is a great equalizer for an individual to be successful in their life pursuits.  That has been my experience coming from being a dairy farm kid to an Orthopaedic surgeon. 

Name one problem that exists in the school district today and a way to improve it?

I feel the focus in education need to be re-evaluated.  I feel education in the 21st century needs to focus on educating our children to be forward thinkers and be job ready for an ever changing economy.  I feel that support for our educators needs to be a bigger priority and along better collaboration between the district, its teachers, administrators’ and parents.   I feel there is a current breakdown between these entities based on politics in the board and home to change that and be a collaborative voice between the parents/students, educators, and administrators.  I also feel the district needs to be a better steward to the tax payers of the district and work on developing a budget that is fair to the taxpayers along with providing the services needed for our teachers and students.  Lastly I believe that although Wausau has a virtual option for those patents that choose to educate their children at home that it is lacking compared to other well established virtual options such as Rural Virtual Academy.

Name one thing the Wausau school district does well and how would you support it?

I believe the district does an outstanding job realizing that not all students learn in a tradition setting and by offering multiple educational opportunities.  For example Wausau provides a Montessori charter school along with the WAVE virtual academy along with other charter school options for kids struggling with a tradition education opportunity.  It doing so it appears to put an emphasis on making sure no child gets left behind. 

As far as support?  Well I ran last year on the emphasis of trying to help improve WAVE and would continue to be a strong proponent for alternative means of education to make sure every child has a chance for a quality education by whatever means they will excel in.  

As a school board member, are there any specific subject areas you thing should be included in the curriculum that are not adequately represented at this time?

I believe that the role of education should be based in educating our children to be well rounded thinkers.  To be able to take information, digest it, and make informed decisions.  This should be based around a strong foundation in math, science, reading, writing, and literature.  I feel education should help develop a childs brain to be a “thinker” and solve problems using reasoning and skills that are provided to them.  This, I believe will help develop children to succeed at the next level.  This may be in college either university or technical or in the work force.  I also would hope that the curriculum ignites a passion for learing and exploit the talents of each individual student.  Again this is why it is important to offer multiple educational opportunities for the student so that can explore different methods that works best for them with proper educational guidance. 

One important characteristic of any elected official is the ability to step back and see both sides of and issue.  Give an example of a time you did this in the past.

I agree with this statement and feel that this is currently lacking in the board.  I hope to change that.  I would also believe that a great curriculum that is taught to students can help them develop this ability.  As a surgeon I am faced with occasional multiple options for treatement of a certain condition.  In formulating an opinion of proper treatment for that condition I need to understand multiple factors that go into that decision.  Be it from the literature, my own experiences, or from current events in my patients lives.  I need to be able to listen to the patient and understand their needs and present them with options and discuss this with them so they can make an informed decision.  There are times I do not always agree with those decision but must remain open minded and try to stress the consequence of those decisions and come up with alternatives that will fit their needs while providing them with a satisfactory outcome.   

Data on student success rates show an uptick in the number of students who received F grades after schools shifted to virtual learning. What is the best way for the district to move forward and ensure struggling students have the tools they need to succeed?

I believe that district needs to understand the consequence of this last year and provide all opportunities available to these students to make up the year that was lost.  I would support allowing students requesting to repeat the year to do so along with looking at alternative graduation times and criteria forced upon us in these unprecedented times. Many students went into the school year with excellent grades showing their abilities to do well in an in person setting.  This was taken away from them so all opportunities must be provided for them so that this year will not be a determent to their future success.  I also believe this shows the importance for a majority of students the ability to have in person learning.  I believe full return should be implemented immediately to allow these students to get back on the path for their success.

Voters in 2020 rejected both proposals by the Wausau School District. Why do you think the last referendum proposals failed to pass, and what is your opinion of the new proposal voters will be weighing in on in April?

I feel a strong factor as to why the referendum failed in November was based on uncertainty of the future of the district and that they felt the district was asking for a large amount of money at a time when individuals were not sure if they had job security of if they would be able to afford their daily living.  I also believe the amount the district was asking for was exuberant and brought to light a concern about the fiscal responsibility of the district to plan for future needs and maintain the infrastructure in the district without requiring the need to have refrendums every couple years to support possible neglected needs. I feel in some ways the district failed the parents by not providing in person options why other schools and all neighboring districts did at the beginning of the year.  I believe this raised concerns in the community about the priorities of the district and was why it did not pass

As far as the current referendum. I strongly support whole child services especially as we have seen an increase need for mental health but am disappointed that the funding was increased by a million dollars.  I also strongly support the need to maintain our infrastructure but feel that the board/administration needs to do a better job in the budgetary process to be a better steward for the taxpayer while making sure the needs of the students are met.  I would as a board member encourage the administration to prioritize funding to meet these needs and not require asking the taxpayers every couple of years for extra funding to meet these needs.  

What else do you want voters to know about you?

I feel that my own experiences and education will make me a good addition to the board,  I have a vast experience seeing differences in education and how kids learn that will give me a valued insight and perspective which can further strengthen this district and community.  I also have a love for this community and want to see Wausau continue to be an excellent place for families to educate their children which will keep the community flourishing and growing. 


Karen Vandenberg 

Karen Vandenberg (Contributed photo)

Age: 47 

Occupation: Physical Therapist 

Education: Bachelor of Science – Biology and Psychology, Valparaiso University Masters of Physical Therapy – Northwestern University 

Community involvement and/or prior relevant experience: Teen & young adult mentor (17 yrs – present) 

Focus Team leader for youth (7 yrs – present) 

Trauma Sensitive training and ACEs training workshops 

Various volunteer roles at Stettin El, John Muir & Wausau West 

Why do you want to represent the community on the Wausau School Board, and what qualifies you? 

I am an individual who has demonstrated that I am passionate about education and highly value the educators who provide it. I have grown up around educators my entire life and recognize the priority of working as a team and acknowledging and empowering the expertise of teachers in the classroom. I have raised 4 children in the district for the last 17 years, each very differently gifted academically, which has given me broad experience in the district with both curricular and extra-curricular programs. I believe this will help me to have better insight as a board member from both a parent and classroom needs perspective. My experience, personally, in mentoring students and young adults for nearly 20 years demonstrates my heart for kids. It is my desire for every student to be given opportunities to be successful and find a place to shine, to set them on successful trajectories for life. I truly believe that a strong public education is the greatest equalizer in a community. My experience professionally, as a physical therapist, and health care team member, has prepared me well to be a great communicator and bridge builder while caring for people. It has developed skills in me to create plans and find solutions with compassion and excellence. My character demonstrates integrity, wisdom and leadership skills that will be an asset to the Board of Education and a benefit to the WSD team. 

Name one problem that exists in the school district today and a way to improve it. 

Our district has a need to repair and improve the culture and communication. I have seen excellent teachers leave for other districts or early retirement and it has resulted in significant loss for WSD as a whole. I desire to create a culture where Wausau is the preferred district in the region, attracting and supporting our teachers and producing outstanding student outcomes. I would like to see climate surveys conducted and follow-up teams developed with shared leadership and voices between teachers and administration to address the concerns and find solutions. 

Name one thing the Wausau School District does well, and how you would support it. 

I believe that our district does an excellent job at providing a wide range of opportunities for students to be engaged and successful, accounting for a variety of interests, abilities and post-graduation pathways at the secondary level. I would support continued pursuit of new class offerings and dual credit courses that meet the changing demands of our job markets in order to best equip our students to be well-prepared contributors to their communities through service and employment. 

As a school board member, are there any specific subject areas you think should be included in the curriculum that are not adequately represented at this time? 

I would like to see improvement in differentiated curriculum and instruction for learners on all areas of the spectrum. I would like to see learners with special education needs with improved supportive materials at their instructional level in regular ed classroom settings like social studies and science, as well as, increased supportive materials to challenge the gifted academic learners for their instructional levels.

One important characteristic of any elected official is the ability to step back and see both sides of an issue. Give an example of a time you did this in the past. 

It is vitally important for any elected official to be able to see all sides of an issue and it is absolutely critical to the success of a school district for it’s board members to be able to do so. My work as a physical therapist and healthcare team member finds me in a position on a daily basis where these skills are required. Most recently, professionally, I was faced with enforcing restrictions for patients regarding family visitation and contact due to the risk of viral spread. For the health and safety of the rehab community as a whole, it was important to do so. On the other hand, patients struggled emotionally and even physically with the isolation from loved ones over long periods of time. In order to meet the needs of patients who struggled navigating technology or advocating for themselves, I spent many extra hours facilitating communication with patients and their families via FaceTime, window visits, emails and phone calls. I assisted patients with details in discharge planning, medical equipment ordering and home accommodations that would normally be handled by family members in order to provide for the individual patient needs while protecting the rehab community needs as well. Additionally, my work with students for nearly two decades has helped me to gain skills at seeing both student and parent perspectives on numerous issues. It has allowed me to coach both sides to effectively communicate with one another, work toward compromise and build bridges toward one another. In order to accomplish great things for the Wausau School District, it is important to come to the table with an open mind and readiness to learn, leaving aside personal or political agendas. I am an individual who is committed to building bridges and finding common ground in order to problem solve and develop solutions for the good of the district. 

Data on student success rates show an uptick in the number of students who received F grades after schools shifted to virtual learning. What is the best way for the district to move forward and ensure struggling students have the tools they need to succeed? 

The significant failure for a portion of students at every age level, as well as, reduced content coverage will undoubtedly be a complex issue facing our students, teachers and district as a whole. I would envision developing teams of teachers in each school building to brainstorm and problem solve this unprecedented issue and develop a plan with shared leadership and input from our teachers who are on the frontlines. The huge achievement gaps at any grade level will be difficult to navigate in the classroom for teachers and students. I would like to see the development of a peer tutoring program that I have researched in other districts. I have begun exploring the funding process for such a program which I believe would be supportive of the Leader in Me initiative in our district. I would also encourage administration to allow for thinking outside of the box and allowing our teachers to do what they do best for the good of our students. In speaking to a number of families in this situation, I am aware that many would like to be given the option for remediation of the year that their student(s) failed. I am also aware that previous research does not support successful outcomes with student remediation, but I would suggest that prior research was not done on student failure as a result of a pandemic and complete absence from in-person instruction for many. For some students, the best way to serve their needs will be to allow them to repeat and moving them forward would set them up for continued failure, as well as, undue stress on the classroom teachers, students and families. This will require planning and work, but I believe that it will be critical to provide choices to families in need of this option. I presume this will need to be a conversation at the state and national level as well. 

Voters in 2020 rejected both proposals by the Wausau School District. Why do you think the last referendum proposals failed to pass, and what is your opinion of the new proposal voters will be weighing in on in April? 

I believe that the last referendum proposals failed to pass overwhelmingly due to poor timing in light of the crisis facing the majority of our students and families in this district who were struggling with a virtual education and no option for in-person learning. Certainly, an additional reason for the failure was community objection to the proposed closing down of Grant Elementary.

I am supportive of the referendum proposal (Q1) that will provide for full pupil service teams in our schools. I believe that there is a significant need for improved supportive services and that it is long overdue. I have personally observed the lack of support in this area and the negative impact that this need has had on instructional time for all students. The trauma and mental health decline over the past year has only exacerbated that need. 

I find significant merit with the referendum proposal (Q2) for building and maintenance needs. It is evident that there are needs that cannot be met by the $1M in our annual budget. I absolutely support making sure our schools are well-maintained, addressing the deferred maintenance issues and the school forest building through referendum requests. I would have preferred to see the district propose a referendum that prioritized our greatest needs with a smaller funding request and passed the savings on to the taxpayers. In a year when many community members have seen significant reduction in income and they have been required to prioritize their own personal expenditures, I believe it would have been prudent to do likewise as a district. If the referendums pass, as a board member, it will be a top priority of mine to be certain that we are wise stewards of taxpayer dollars. 

What else do you want voters in the district to know about you when they cast their ballots in April? 

I have served on many leadership teams, though none of them political or elected positions. I have developed skills to problem solve and be a bridge builder. I understand the value and skill of listening to all of the voices at the table and finding common ground. I can appreciate what is required to make difficult decisions. I am an individual that does not bring an agenda or special interests, but instead will focus on the primary mission of a board member which is establishing a vision and policies that support strong student outcomes. My goal is not power or position, but integrity, humility and wise decision making on behalf of the entire district. It would be an honor to serve this community as a school board member and be a part of the greater Wausau School District team.


Tricia Zunker (Incumbent – WSB President)

Tricia Zunker (submitted photo)

Age: 40

Occupation: Associate Justice, Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court (7 years); Dean of Faculty and Law Professor, California School of Law (14 years); Criminal Justice Professor, Colorado State University-Global Campus (10 years); Legal Studies Professor, University of Maryland Global Campus (9 years). At any given time, I am researching or writing case decisions for my court and teaching 6 courses between the three schools. 

Education:  Juris Doctorate, UCLA School of Law; B.A., University of Wisconsin-Madison (Triple Major in French, International Relations, Political Science. Certificate in European Studies); Wausau West High School, Class of 1998

Community involvement and/or prior relevant experience:

I am currently completing a three-year term on the school board, including serving as board president for the last two years.

Prior to serving on the board, I was active with my son’s PTO, including running the Variety Show, volunteering weekly in my son’s classrooms, and teaching French classes afterschool in the Growing Great Minds program (“G2M”). 

I am also a founding director of the local non-profit organization Central Wisconsin Indigenous Peoples’ Day Committee. 

Why do you want to represent the community on the Wausau School Board, and what qualifies you?

I support public education. My son is an elementary student in the district and I was an active parent volunteer with the district before serving on the school board. When I ran for school board three years ago, there were a number of reasons that prompted me to run: ensuring mental health resources for students; addressing the bullying in schools; ensuring that all students are treated with dignity and respect; assisting students who suffer from food insecurity with resources; valuing our staff and attracting new talent to this district; and ensuring the highest level of ethics on the school board.  I did what I said I would do and my votes, actions and policy-drafting on various matters reflect that. One of the first actions I did as a board member was spend extensive time revising the bullying policy, a policy we still use today.  I will continue to support these topics. All students deserve a good public education and opportunity for success. And staff deserve safe working conditions and to be treated as the professionals they are.

I also believe my voice has been necessary on this board. I bring a different perspective as an Indigenous woman. I’ve been insistent on ensuring WSD is in compliance with Act 31. I also bring a different perspective as a solo parent, identifying language and policies to be more sensitive and inclusive to all families and staff.

Name one problem that exists in the school district today and a way to improve it.

This last year has been incredibly challenging. Managing a global pandemic fell on local school boards and we were left with “least bad” options. Wausau is one of the largest districts in the state and one of the larger employers in the city. Ensuring health and safety of students, staff and greater community has been critical. Recently, the school board voted unanimously (9-0) to start the fall school year five days a week and in person. So we are on the tail end of pandemic instruction and need to consider and address other challenges.

With that in mind, one major ongoing challenge is the need for full pupil services teams in our elementary buildings. This is addressed in question one on the upcoming referendum and if it does not pass, we will have to figure out how we can better serve students and staff with these critical teams.  Right now, pupil services teams split their time between buildings. Students in crisis or in need of other services may not always have the mental or behavioral support needed in their building right now, leaving it to fall on the classroom teacher or principal to handle, or even sometimes the building secretary to manage. This can lead to classroom disruption. We need to ensure that all our elementary buildings have full pupil services teams in every elementary building so we can be proactive instead of reactive in dealing with student emotional, social and behavioral support needs. 

Name one thing the Wausau School District does well, and how you would support it.  

The Wausau School District is a leader in excellent public education, so it is hard to select just one, but something I’m really proud of is our amazing Career and Technical Education program (“CTE”). I am a first-generation college graduate and grew up with the narrative that everyone had to go to college for success. This is not true. We need people working in all facets of society for a thriving society.  Our CTE program has start of the art facilities, highly skilled instructors and offers the ability to earn dual credit, so a student has less tuition costs after graduation. Ultimately, I believe all students deserve opportunity for success and this program allows for an incredible opportunity to earn higher education with less educational costs, in less time and end up with a good-paying job. 

As a school board member, are there any specific subject areas you think should be included in the curriculum that are not adequately represented at this time?  

Something that happens in the high schools is that a class is canceled due to low enrollment. This means a student is deprived of the opportunity to learn that subject matter. One thing we have learned with virtual instruction is that we can find ways to offer these classes by offering it with both high schools through use of technology. So, for instance, if French I has low enrollment at Wausau East and Wausau West independently, but the numbers together justify running the course, we can look into offering the course with live virtual instruction.  It would require some scheduling coordination between the high schools, but it can be done. 

One important characteristic of any elected official is the ability to step back and see both sides of an issue. Give an example of a time you did this in the past.

Neutral and independent thinkers that can evaluate an issue from all sides is an important part of leadership. As a judge for my tribe, being a neutral decision-maker is essential. I have brought that same approach to my work on the school board. 

For example, recently, the school board had a special meeting to address updates on Project Relaunch. Originally, I thought the information should be addressed at the meeting the following Monday because special meetings are reserved for action items and we should follow our own practices. This information was an update, not an action item.  However, I heard the reasoning from Dr. Hilts and had a discussion with Vice-President Pat McKee. I agreed we could deviate from special meeting protocol and did agendize the update in a special meeting due to the nature of the topic. 

Not only is it important to examine and evaluate all sides of an issue, but it is important to seek input from the affected stakeholders. I have a demonstrated record of reaching out to parties and finding out how they would be affected by a proposed policy. While I might have an understanding, it’s best to get input from those who are most directly affected. 

Data on student success rates show an uptick in the number of students who received F grades after schools shifted to virtual learning. What is the best way for the district to move forward and ensure struggling students have the tools they need to succeed?

The district has been working on remediation efforts with students for months already. There have been some misstatements on grades in the community and it is unfair to the teachers who have been working with their students, trying to get them caught up as well as to the students who are working hard to improve their performance. There are also going to be options for credit recovery in the summer for some students. Pupil services staff have also been putting in a lot of time trying to engage families who are not engaged.  

But we do have to anticipate that the fall start of the school year will be different for everyone, even though we are starting fully in person five days a week. “Summer slide” happens every year and it refers to learning loss over the summer months. We may see that to a greater degree at our 2021-22 fall start. I recently requested the formation of a committee, which would include teachers as they are in the best position to help identify effective policies and practices, specifically so we can be proactive in addressing how we can best support students and staff in the fall. 

Voters in 2020 rejected both proposals by the Wausau School District. Why do you think the last referendum proposals failed to pass, and what is your opinion of the new proposal voters will be weighing in on in April?

I think the main reasons the two referenda did not pass in November was due to lack of information in the community or misinformation in the community. We had a post-election analysis presented at a board meeting and it showed the majority of the community did not know about or understand the referendum. We wanted to have the most voter input which is why we opted for November due to the presidential election; however, it seems that with all the other elections, the information on those two important questions was lost. There was also misinformation in the community. For instance, changing a boundary was never part of the referendum, though some community members thought it was included. 

I wholeheartedly support the two proposals for the April 6 election. The changes will lead to a dramatic increase of support for students and staff. I addressed the need for full pupil services teams in our elementary schools above, but briefly: the teams will lead to less classroom disruption; allow for proactive responses to behavioral, emotional and social support needs; and allow the teams more focus on students in one building. This is question one on the ballot. 

I also support the bond referendum, which is question two on the ballot.  We have a lot of buildings in this district and they need to be maintained. This referendum allows for safety and security improvements, including more secure entrances and updated emergency systems. Other building needs include: replacing lighting for improved efficiency, HVAC updates and air conditioning in schools that don’t have it. We have elementary schools that do not have air conditioning right now. It’s not fair that some students have to sit in uncomfortable classrooms or our teachers and paraprofessionals have to work in an environment less comfortable than their colleagues at other buildings.  This referendum question would improve those environments by adding air conditioning. There are also great improvements to space in buildings with this referendum, including new learning spaces and separate gymnasiums and cafeterias. Some of our school buildings have to use the same space for gym and lunch. This creates scheduling issues which can be eliminated by having separate spaces. 

The district had the foresight to pre-pay existing debt. This means that taxes will not be raised with this referendum. This is an investment that will greatly benefit all students, staff and our greater community. 

What else do you want voters in the district to know about you when they cast their ballots in April?

When I first was elected to the school board, I met with every single school principal and toured every school before my first board meeting. This is the type of work ethic I have. I spend a lot of time preparing for meetings and my legal background has been very helpful in crafting and shaping policy. For those that watch the board meetings, you’ll know one thing I don’t approve of is “sloppy policy.”  I have never missed a meeting or a vote. And whenever I’m asked by a teacher, school or student organization if I’m willing to attend an event or speak to a group, I reply with an enthusiastic “YES.”  

As board president, my vote is one vote of nine equal votes. But one thing I have furthered is our work and its ability to shape state educational policy. I have drafted numerous resolutions, all supported unanimously by the full school board on matters including: prohibiting “lunch shaming” for students with delinquent accounts; ensuring an inclusive educational environment through retirement of offensive mascots, nicknames, logos, symbols and imagery; ensuring Act 31 compliance; and efforts to ensure broadband access for all students. These resolutions all passed at the Wisconsin Association of School Board (“WASB”) annual meetings, which allows for effective advocacy by WASB with the state legislature. Wausau has gained a reputation as a leader in shaping and improving educational policy in Wisconsin as a result. 

I show up, I work hard and I am committed to doing what is best for students, staff and our community. It has been a great honor to serve the Wausau community. I hope to earn your support on April 6 or by absentee ballot. Thank you!


Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes letters to the editor from readers and candidates for local offices. To submit a letter in support of a candidate prior to the April 6 election, email us at editor@wausaupilotandreview.com. Anonymous letters are not published. The deadline for pre-election publication is midnight on April 4, 2021.