Principal Road Trip Day 2: La Crosse, DeForest, Merton

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September 17, 2018

It’s the beginning of the school day at Summit Environmental School, and there are not enough substitute teachers. It’s the life many of us live on a daily basis – yet Dirk Hunter handles it with ease. He has the perfect job in the school district of La Crosse, WI. As the principal of Summit Environmental School on French Island, he’s living the dream, surrounded by the beautiful Mississippi River. 
Summit rebranded itself five years ago with an emphasis on the environmental sciences. In the process of rebranding, Summit created many state and federal partnerships to enrich the curriculum.  
In addition, students had opportunity to design the outside area in front of the school. Dirk’s pride was readily apparent as he provided the tour and spoke in regard to a grade level gardening initiative.


State Road Elementary

Curt Rees, principal of State Road Elementary in La Crosse, noted in the tour that K-3 class sizes were generally between 16-18 students, while fourth and fifth grade have classrooms at approximately 22 students. Curt also explained the garden partnership that exists at his school.
Former NAESP president and now Director of Human Resources Mark White noted that the district uses Title IIA funds to support teacher professional development and lower class sizes in his district. I saw this not only in La Crosse, but at all three districts I visited.

On to DeForest

Onward I sped next to DeForest’s Eagle Point Elementary to meet with Ann Schoenberger. Ann has been a rock star, opening a brand new school two years ago.  
The facility is absolutely amazing, providing more of a college campus atmosphere to her students than a “traditional” elementary building. As noted by their superintendent, Eric Runez, the staff was involved in every aspect of planning of their new facility. Ann, acknowledging that teaching is a difficult profession, noted that there is a relaxation room for staff, a first in any school buildings I have visited in my six years on the NAESP board.
In addition, every two grade levels have a workroom to develop activities and resources for their students. Eric Runez also noted that the community is very supportive of its schools and wants to provide the best educational opportunities to its students. Title IIA supports the district’s initiatives through teacher professional development.

Last stop, Merton

The final stop on Friday was at Merton Primary School. Merton Primary is led by Mike Budisch, who has served Merton for over 20 years. One of the many points of pride Mike shared during our visit was the redesigned school library.  
This initiative was enhanced greatly with the assistance of parents utilizing their professional expertise. Do you see traditional seating in any pictures of the library? Sailboat, bathtub, clouds and soft chairs fill Merton Primary’s hub of learning!   
Pitching in at the end of the school day, Superintendent Dr. Ron Russ offers a hand with dismissal.

Eric Cardwell, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, is driving 4,500 miles through seven states during his two-week road trip. At each school, Eric will meet with the principal and learn about the great things going on at that school. Most recently, he was principal at Besser Elementary in Alpena, MI.
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