Sparta School Board names new superintendent after investigation, resignation

SPARTA, Wis. (WKBT) — Hours after former Sparta Area School District superintendent resigned Wednesday over allegations of harassment and creating a hostile work environment, the school board named a new superintendent.

The board appointed Sparta High School Principal Sam Russ, who had been filling in for the past three months while previous superintendent Amy Van Deuren was on administrative leave. In a closed session Wednesday night, the board asked Russ to take the job and voted unanimously to appoint him.

In March, Van Deuren was placed on administrative leave after several employees filed complaints about threatening and aggressive behavior. An outside investigator determined that Van Deuren violated the district’s anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.

Russ has been part of major changes in the district. He was the unofficial interim superintendent when the Sparta school referendum was voted down, as well as the decision to shut down the long-standing Cataract Elementary School. Russ said he wants to repair any feelings of mistrust and fear among the district’s employees and families.

“Give them the time, give them the support they need to do that,” Russ said. “But it goes back to listening and being honest and open, and trying my best to have that discussion with people who are hurting, just as much as people who are feeling mistrust of the district.”

In a phone call, School Board President Anthony Sholze said Russ deserves a fair shot. In the meantime, Sholze said the board is still handling legal issues involving Van Deuren.

According to a news release sent out Wednesday night, the school board said Van Deuren is not in agreement with the findings of the investigation, but both parties want to move forward.

The school district now is looking for a new principal for Sparta High, Russ said.

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