photo:  change.org/jacob hearl

If you remember the film Dead Poets Society, it told the story of a teacher who inspired his students through non-traditional teaching methods and was much loved for it–and also lost his job because of it.

Wilton High School may have its own Dead Poets Society scenario on its hands.

Students there have organized a change.org petition in support of one of their favorite teachers, Kathy Soderholm. In fact, the word ‘favorite’ almost pales in comparison to the descriptions they and several parents are posting on Facebook, in letters to school administrators and in messages to GOOD Morning Wilton.

Soderholm is a non-tenured teacher who started working at WHS three years ago. She teaches several business classes, including Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Personal Finance and AP Computer Science, among others. Earlier this week, Soderholm was told by administrators that her contract would not be renewed at the end of the school year, and that the rationale she was given was that her behavior was found to be “unprofessional.” Reportedly, the unprofessional conduct included letting her class get loud and for yelling at students.

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Neither Soderholm nor school officials would comment about the contract non-renewal, but GMW has confirmed that Soderholm understood that to be the reasoning for her position being eliminated at the end of the year. School officials will not comment on personnel matters.

As of press time, the online petition called, “Save Kathy Soderholm From Being Fired,” has garnered more than 950 signatures in under 24 hours. That number is likely higher even now. There is also an Instagram account, @savemrssoderholm.

Go Sign the Online Petition in our bio #FreeKathy

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A post shared by Save Mrs Soderholm #freekathy (@savemrssoderholm) on

The support for Soderholm that parents and students (current and former) are sending to GOOD Morning Wilton has been overwhelming. Here are some excerpts:

From parent Martha Outlaw:

“She obviously made an amazing connection with her students. I think she was that person that every student (at least the ones talking) felt a personal one-to-one connection. Like she got them. She was the one that a kid could go to if they were just upset about something else. Very non-judgemental, loving, interesting, fun, etc. You don’t get that every day. It’s a real blessing to have a teacher like that. The school always says, ‘find one teacher, one person at the school that you can talk to, that you trust…’ and they take that one away. I feel Kathy was that teacher. Maybe she would recognize a potential ’threat’ or suicide in a student, for example.

“Lord knows there are some obvious teachers that no one knows why they haven’t been fired, for ineptitude or even questionable situations/comments…but they fire Soderholm.

“From listening to the kids…mine and others, I did note to myself that this was an unusually close relationship between students and teachers. I probed a little more to make sure I didn’t think it was odd…especially since so many boys were very close to her. I hear that she is very family oriented and religious and there was no intimation of something weird. Nevertheless, she did have a unique and personal relationship with them and she stays in touch with graduates. The kids seem to be very much themselves with her. So, yes, her class can get unruly, loud. And kids not even in her class come by all the time I think. The kids took liberties like they do with the less authoritarian parent. Doesn’t mean they didn’t respect her or learn.

“They call her Mom and such. It’s crazy the love–from a ton of them, girls and boys. I could imagine the administration being aware of this closeness and on the lookout for any concerns as a result. But, if a parent or student did complain… I have to think it was the minority because I’ve seen so many others supporting her.

“I did some research when I heard this.. I looked at her public Facebook. Hers was so sweet and innocent. She obviously had a similar relationship with kids at Shelton judging from their posts on her timeline. She felt so lucky and blessed to get the job at WHS and really loved it and the kids. It will break your heart to read.”

This letter from WHS freshman Libby Connolly:

Dear Principal O’Donnell,

My name is Libby Connolly and I am a freshman at Wilton High School. I presume you may already know the premise of this email, however I’d like to clarify by first and foremost presenting a message that I have written directly for Kathy Soderholm.

Thank you. Thank you for eternally holding the belief that all students have something to offer in the classroom, and that no GPAs, assessments, or grades in the world could fully encapsulate a student’s true character. In your classroom, there was a clear boundary between the grade book and a student’s character. Thank you for recognizing in a student’s demeanor when they have had a rough day, and in doing so, trying everything in your waking power to uplift their spirits. I can assure you that even your mere presence radiates compassionate energy to which nothing can compare. You supply genuine interest in anything I have to say, whether it be my weekend, school, sports, or something as minuscule as what to wear for the homecoming dance. Nevertheless, you remained unfaltering, engaged, and fully engulfed in our conversations. You convinced me that your unconditional care expands far beyond the confines of the 45 minute class period. Thank you for your remarkable ability to treat each and every student as though their success held immense worth (it does!). The environment you created in your classroom breeds the growth and development of all students at their own pace. Your dedication as a teacher reflects through the growing confidence within all students privileged enough to enroll in one of your classes.

I wish I could say I had the chance to deliver this message to Mrs.Soderholm today, however I couldn’t bring myself to do so. In handing in that letter, I would have relinquished my voice which Mrs.Soderholm herself taught me to use with pride, poise and eloquence. Instead, I am using my very words which Wilton school systems often boast is instilled within their students.

I have already discussed Kathy Soderholm as a unique, incredible character, however her teaching skills are beyond phenomenal. My brother recently graduated with a major in Entrepreneurship, therefore with a growing interest in the course, I decided to enroll in Wilton High School’s first year of an Entrepreneurship course. As one of the endless frantic, lost freshman on the first day of school, the instant I stepped into Mrs. Soderholm’s classroom, I recognized an entirely new environment. Kids were buzzing with excitement, seniors were befriending freshman, and all preconceived first-day qualms instantaneously flew out the window. The expansive knowledge which she was able to fit within one semester of curriculum is absolutely astonishing. Devoid of painstakingly interminable lectures and presentations, the class revolved around interactive lessons, intriguing debates/ group discussions and engaging note taking. By the time that snow had fallen on the ground and midterms rolled around, I was rendered amazed at the information my group was able to put forth in our project. With the assistance of worksheets and Google Classroom assignments which Mrs.Solderholm carefully crafted throughout the semester, we were able to not only devise our own business idea yet also create an intricate business plan and present said business to a panel of peers in a mock “Shark Tank.” I can confidently assure that my Entrepreneurship course was not only a powerhouse of information and entrepreneurial innovations, yet also a catalyst to my newfound hope towards what my future at Wilton High School may hold. That one, period-8 class supplied me 45 minutes of energy to drive me the remaining 285 minutes of the school day.

Finally, I’d like to close out by shining light to the students of this school. As a freshman, I have only been a member of Wilton High School for eight, rapid months; however I’m further impressed each and every day at the young leaders emerging around me. I could not pass 10 minutes today at school without hearing the heated opinions of my peers on the thought of their teacher, role model, and personal aspiration no longer in their school lives. It is truly incredible to see the considerably quiet, reserved students taking a stand and creating petitions, emails, posts and even social media accounts to speak their minds on a matter affecting them. This is all a direct result of the burning passion for learning which Kathy Soderholm has rooted among all students lucky enough to know her.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Libby Connolly

From petition signers:

Diana Murphy:  The value of good teachers cannot be measured. And a good teacher should be treasured! Kathy Soderholm is the kind of teacher we need in our schools, today more than ever.

Charles Li:  Thanks to my AP Computer Science class, I am considering further pursuing the subject in college. This would not have been possible had Mrs. Soderholm, in the absence of a computer science teacher after Ms. Korn’s promotion, had not accepted to teach the class out of the goodness of her heart. Her teaching not only conveyed the material accurately and effectively, but her enthusiasm, respect, and down-to-earth personality helped me uncover an unfound passion. She very directly influenced my future in a positive manner. It would be a shame and a loss on the school’s part to see her go.

Elizabeth Yoon:  Mrs. Soderholm is a beloved WHS teacher. Her commitment to WHS both inside and outside of school (she’s the club advisor to FBLA) adds to the WHS community, making it a better place to learn and attend. While she has only been teaching for 3 years, I wouldn’t recognize WHS without her.

Jessica Connolly:  Great teachers are hard to come by and we should treat them as valuable commodities.

Alexandra Curtin:  Mrs. Soderholm is one of the kindest and best teachers I have ever had. I have never witnessed any unprofessionalism from her as she has always been competent and dedicated while on the job. In fact, I have never met a more dedicated teacher. She comes to school, does her job, and then stays after to make her Personal Finance students check books and pay stubs in order to help teach them the course material. She also runs the school store in an effort to teach her Marketing students about pricing and how to market things to actual consumers. Not only does she do this, but she also works another job during tax season so she can stay up to date on the information that she gives her students so she can be the best teacher possible. I do not believe that a wonderful teacher who not only brings smiles to her students faces each and every day, but also spends an exorbitant amount of time, money and energy to make sure her students have the best educational experience they possibly can should be fired on the grounds of unprofessionalism. It is not right, just, or true in any way. Please sign this petition to make sure future Wilton High School students can enjoy the amazing teacher that is Mrs. Kathy Soderholm.

Grayson K:  My sister never spoke about many of her teachers at WHS, but the one teacher she loved to the point of mentioning over and over again was Mrs. Soderholm. I did not have the option to attend WHS or have her as a teacher, but I know that my sister has pursued her college degree with a confidence and excitement for the future due to this amazing teachers impact.

From parent Alison Jacobson:

If you’re lucky you end up having one teacher who makes learning fun because they’re passionate and connect. It’s the teacher you remember for years to come. It’s the teacher who engages you and encourages you to be your best. For me that was my 7th grade science teacher and for my daughter it’s this amazing teacher Kathy Soderholm. I’m inspired by how many students have come out to protest this decision. It speaks volumes about how she has inspired and impacted so many.

From parent Karin Hyzy:

I wanted to say how heartbroken I am about Kathy! My two older sons both had her–my sophomore currently has her again and just loves her. She’s his favorite teacher! I registered both my rising 9th graders for classes for next year that I knew she taught because of my boys’ love and respect for her. I am so disappointed. I am not sure what is going on with our administration but I am not liking what I am seeing! I have considered moving the boys to private school but they want to be Warriors like their brothers. I hope the admin reconsiders their decision!

From WHS ’17 graduate Jacob Hearl, who started the change.org petition:

“Kathy Soderholm… is one of the few teachers at WHS that truly had an impact on my life. 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. Her class was much more open than others; yet, it did not inhibit people from learning the course material. She is also one of the sweetest staff members, and was 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. Not only did Mrs. Soderholm take up AP Computer Science only a few short days before my senior year had started (as no other teacher offered, allowing for myself and a dozen others to take the class), but she also taught it decently well. Many of the students in my class did a fair job, and out of the ones that took that AP exam, I know of at least one or two who scored a perfect 5. I am also aware that all business classes were required to take a standardized test (which I also took) and the average score in her classes were higher than other teacher’s class averages in the past.

“There is a great love for Mrs. Soderholm throughout the school. I do not know any other teacher who is as widely-beloved. Last year, I would see students from her classes 2-3 years prior still visiting her and talking to her as if they were close friends. She is a friend to all. I, nor many other current students of WHS, will not stand for her termination of employment. Out of all the injustices that have occurred as a result of the administration since its new staff last year (which amounts to an astronomical level), this is by far the greatest.”

A letter from WHS ’17 graduate Carsten Langholm:

Hello Principal O’Donnell,

My name is Carsten Langholm. I am a former student at Wilton High School (class of 2017). I have, as all students do, had numerous teachers throughout my four years at WHS. Although it proves difficult to compare and rank faculty according to proficiency, due to the differences in the various subject matters that are taught and the different types of students who enroll in each course, I do not believe Kathy Soderholm deserves the amount of backlash from the administration that she receives. Granted, I do not know all the details in her contract, but I understand that this may be her final year at Wilton High School. As a student who knows the school quite well, I write this letter to advocate for keeping her around longer, and allow her more time to prove her value as a staff member.

I would not be writing this letter if I thought that the WHS administration did not listen to the opinions and wishes of its students. I know you do. Back when the school implemented its new security booth at the main entrance, students were no longer able to walk under the bridge. If memory serves me well, students vehemently opposed this decision, and it was subsequently reversed. In this case, the administration proved that it values its students’ opinions by making changes according to what the students asked for. I understand that I am not a current student, meaning the administration has no obligation to adhere to what I personally want, but it is my current understanding that many other current and former WHS students share my opinion on the matter of Mrs. Soderholm’s contract. (Did you know that there exists an Instagram account called “@savemrssoderholm?”) Furthermore, I believe the fact that I am writing this letter as a former student and not a current student shows how much I care about this issue, considering the fact that Mrs. Soderholm’s status as a teacher does not affect
me either directly or indirectly. I ask that you consider the wishes of myself, as well as current and former students, as I know you have done many times in the past.

I advocate to keep Mrs Soderholm around as a staff member longer such that she may be given ample time to prove her value before the administration decides whether or not she be fired. When she came into the computer science department, she had no knowledge of computer science whatsoever. To my knowledge, she was asked to teach computer science one weekend before the start of last school year (2016-2017), the year she began teaching it. Throughout the year, she attended many conferences to get a jump start on her learning in the subject such that she may teach it proficiently.

The blame for fact that she did not know much about the subject matter cannot be placed on her whatsoever, considering Assistant Principal Amy Korn, who was set to teach the course throughout nearly the entire summer of ‘16, left the position vacant with no one to fill it. Mrs Soderholm’s choice to teach the course despite knowing little about computers speaks for her bravery and dedication to the school, as she made the conscious choice to dive into an unknown realm of academia. This course likely would have been cancelled if not for her. Despite her lack of prior knowledge of computers, she picked up on the subject fast–clearly she is a competent learner. In fact, I would argue that I learned more in her course (AP Computer Science) than I did in Amy Korn’s course (Computer Programming), and yet Amy Korn was promoted, and Kathy Soderholm is being fired. If you are terminating her for lack of competency in the subject matter, please keep in mind that she becomes more knowledgeable each week, and that there’s no one to blame but the administration for not giving her enough time to prepare for teaching.

It is also my understanding that one of the reasons she might be fired is due to her lack of ability to keep a class under control. However, simply because the students are having a good time in class does not mean they are not learning. I know this because I enjoyed her class immensely, and learned much about computers during my time. The same can be said for many of my classes, for example AP Physics. If you ask Sandra Tallman or Patricia Rinaldi, I am confident they can speak for my competency in physical sciences while also maintaining that I loved the course and would give so much to go back and retake them at WHS. Granted, Kathy Soderholm’s classes were not as calm or quiet as, say, Steve Bell’s. However, I do not believe that calm, quiet classes are strictly better. Computer Science is a difficult subject that requires communication with peers–warranting discussion and frequent back and forth communication. A class like that rarely can be quiet. The best way to learn computer science is to practice collaboratively; lectures are not necessarily required. This means that the only time a computer class should be ‘quiet’ is during a test, and I will testify that the students were, in fact, quiet, during testing periods. Therefore, I argue that the administration should not look negatively upon the fact that Kathy Soderholm’s classes are not kept quiet and calm, because that is not how computer science courses should be. I know this because I am avid in Java, Javascript, and python, something Mrs Soderholm can confirm. Additionally, although I do not seek to point fingers, I can name numerous other courses in WHS which were far less “controlled” than Kathy’s, where I also learned far less. I ask that you please make these considerations when you evaluate Mrs Soderholm’s ability to keep a class under control.

Lastly, I simply wanted to mention that Kathy Soderholm is one of my favorite women that I have ever met. I enjoyed her class immensely and miss it all the time. It would be a shame for her to leave the school. Please consider this letter as well as the opinions of other students when making decisions regarding her status as a staff member.

Thank you,

Carsten Langholm