Teachers call on board to reinstate Port High principal

Dozens of educators attend meeting to support administrator placed on leave after OWI arrest
Ozaukee Press staff

Teachers crowded into a packed meeting room at the district office Monday to call on the Port Washington-Saukville School Board to reinstate Port High Principal Thad Gabrielse.

Gabrielse was placed on leave by Supt. Dave Watkins and Director of Business Services Mel Nettesheim, who oversees human resources, on Dec. 29 after he was arrested three days before Christmas for first-offense drunken driving. Administrators have said nothing about his future with the district since he was put on leave.

“I am here with my colleagues and parents of students to address the board concerning a situation that is very personal to the staff and students at PWHS — the unknown status of our principal, Mr. Thad Gabrielse,” veteran Port High teacher Meg Jacoby told board members. 

Describing Gabrielse as an administrator who for his 13 years at Port High has been a strong leader and advocate for students and staff members, especially during the pandemic, Jacoby said, “Thad has demonstrated himself as a leader who wants the best for all involved, most importantly our students.”

She asked school officials to practice what they preach.

“We as educators are consistently urged to show continued compassion and empathy for our students, traits that we strive to model on a daily basis,” Jacoby said. “We want to ensure that the same compassion and empathy are extended to all of those in our district who need help and support at any given time.

“Although we don’t have any of the facts and are not privy to the investigation, we acknowledge that our leader made a mistake. We hope that the board recognizes this situation as such, and with compassion and empathy considers reinstating Mr. Gabrielse, with provisions as necessary, to his position as PWHS principal.

“The decision to reinstate Mr. Gabrielse is in the best interest of our students. We are counting on you to make the right choice.”

Jacoby noted that staff members were notified on Dec. 30 that Gabrielse had been placed on leave but have received no other information from administrators about the reason for that decision or his future in the district. 

The School Board met in closed session Monday “to review an employee’s contract, evaluation and conduct,” but on Tuesday Watkins again refused to answer questions about Gabrielse, including whether the board made any decisions about his employment, the duration of his leave or whether he is being paid while away from his job. 

“I’m not commenting,” he said. “Our legal counsel has advised us not to comment.”

Gabrielse was driving north on I-43 around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23, when an Ozaukee County Sheriff’s deputy said he saw Gabrielse stray from his lane and hit a rumble strip on the side of the freeway between Port Washington and Saukville, according to a sheriff’s department report. 

After being pulled over at the north side of Port Washington, Gabrielse, who lives in Oostburg and was presumably driving home, told the deputy he had two rum and Cokes at a Grafton bar, the report states.

A preliminary breath test showed Gabrielse had a blood alcohol content of .172, more than double the legal limit of .08, according to the report. 

He received traffic citations for first-offense operating a vehicle while intoxicated and deviating from his lane.

First-offense driving while intoxicated is a civil forfeiture, not a criminal offense, that is punishable by fines, license revocation and in some instances court orders to have ignition interlock devices installed on vehicles. 

Gabrielse has pleaded not guilty to the citations. A pre-trial conference has been scheduled for Jan. 14.

Gabrielse, a former tech-ed teacher and athletic director in the Howards Grove School District, was hired as Port Washington High School athletic director and an assistant principal in 2010.

In 2020, he was named principal of the school to succeed Eric Burke, who left to become superintendent of the Rhinelander School District. 


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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