Non-renewal of beloved teacher’s contract sparks outrage
News that Wilton High School business teacher Kathy Soderholm’s contract would not be renewed for next school year has sparked outrage among current and former Wilton High School students.
Soderholm has worked at Wilton High School since November 2015, and teaches accounting, personal finance, international business, marketing, business law, keyboarding and the high school’s new entrepreneurship class. She also advises the school’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) club.
On Monday, March 26, school administrators told Soderholm that her contract would not be renewed due to “unprofessionalism.”
After hearing the news about his former AP Computer Science teacher, 2017 Wilton High School graduate Jacob Hearl started a “Save Kathy Soderholm From Being Fired” petition, which had nearly reached its 1,000 signature goal as of 2:50 p.m. Thursday, April 5.
“There is a great love for Mrs. Soderholm throughout the school,” Hearl wrote on the petition page. “I don’t know any other teacher who is as widely beloved.”
Soderholm was “one of the few teachers at WHS that truly had an impact on [his] life” and “a friend to all,” Hearl wrote.
“That is not to say that there are not a number of great teachers within the school, but she is one that taught me lessons that carried into the real world and interactions with others, which is something that many teachers fail to do.”
Soderholm’s class was “much more open” than those of other teachers, “yet it did not inhibit people from learning the course material,” wrote Hearl, who recalled Soderholm being “one of the sweetest staff members” and “extremely inviting and open in terms of offering help to students who needed it.”
“She treats her students as people, and gives them the respect that they deserve,” wrote Hearl.
“I am also aware that all business classes were required to take a standardized test … and the average score in her classes were higher than other teachers’ class averages in the past.”
Hearl said he, “nor many other current students," will “stand for her termination of employment.”
Not only is Soderholm “a beloved WHS teacher,” Wilton High School junior Elizabeth Yoon wrote on the petition page, but her commitment makes Wilton High School “a better place to learn and attend.”
“While she has only been teaching for three years,” Yoon wrote, “I wouldn’t recognize WHS without her.”
Wilton High School junior Anthony Calderone told The Bulletin that Soderholm is "adored by every student and teacher in the building,” and that “parents, students and all community members will be impacted by her not coming back to the school next year.”
“Losing Ms. Soderholm at Wilton High School would be detrimental to not only the students, but every Wilton citizen and taxpayer,” Calderone said.
He said Soderholm told her students about her contract nonrenewal a few days ago.
“It’s around the time we pick courses for next year,” said Calderone, “and she told us because certain kids had picked her business courses [to take next year].”
Calderone, who has taken a number of Soderholm’s business classes, said he thinks the administration’s claim of unprofessionalism has to do with noise.
“Her classroom is right across from all the administration offices,” he said.
“Students get very excited about her courses, and business all about talking and communication, so students communicate and sometimes we get loud, but she’s always able to control it.”
Calderone said “a lot of kids rely on” Soderholm — “they go talk to her during their free periods and they take her classes not only because they like her, but because of how she teaches.”
For example, he said, Soderholm “sets up her classroom like a real business environment” in her entrepreneurship class” and prefers students to call her by her first name.
“She says in a business environment, you would not go up to your coworker and say, ‘Ms. whoever’ or ‘Mrs. whoever’ — you’d call them by their first name. She makes it like a real work environment,” said Calderone.
Soderholm also teaches students essential skills like budgeting, balancing checkbooks and paying bills in her personal finance class.
In the class, students receive “salaries,” sign desk rental contracts, pay rent for their desks, and learn to balance checkbooks that Soderholm makes for them, said Calderone.
“It’s set up as if your desk is like house and you’re paying bills,” he said, “and at the end of the quarter, [students] use whatever ‘money’ they have left — after ‘financing a car,’ ‘buying a house’ or whatever — and buy snacks to eat during an educational video about living in the real world. [Soderholm] actually buys the snacks herself.”
While all Soderholm’s business classes are “really important,” Calderone said, her marketing class is “phenomenal.”
Calderone said he took marketing with Soderholm his freshman year and uses the skills he learned in that class on “a daily basis.”
“I’m an active volunteer at Ambler Farm and the Wilton Historical Society, and I use those marketing skills to market for Ambler Farm Day and other activities at the farm, as well as programs at the historical society,” he said.
“Because of those skills that I learned, we’ve actually been able to reach a lot more members and get higher attendance at events.”
Calderone said Soderholm “goes above and beyond for her students.”
“She’s always looking for ways to improve and make classes enjoyable and interactive,” he said. “The school would not be the same without her.”
The Bulletin reached out to Wilton High School Principal Robert O’Donnell for comment but did not hear back at the time of publication. Soderholm declined to comment.