As I reflect on my career in education, my most cherished memories are tied to my relationships with people- students, parents, and colleagues- who I have had the pleasure to get to know and work with over the years. I have learned and grown so much due to learning experiences tied to initiatives and changes made to improve our education system. Some of the happiest and some of the saddest moments of my life are related to the work I have had the opportunity to do in the Tomah Area School District. I leave the Tomah Area School District on June 30, 2020, to begin retirement after serving as a Tomah High School and Tomah Junior High School social studies teacher, a K-12 gifted-talented coordinator, an assistant principal and principal at Tomah Middle School, and the superintendent of this amazing school district. Please allow me this last opportunity to share with you three things of which I am 100% certain from my years in the Tomah Area School District.
1) There is no way to create great schools without great teachers. A review of 40 years of educational innovations found “the only factor that increased student achievement was the significance of a teacher.” (Harry K. Wong, There is Only One Way to Improve Student Achievement). Knowledgeable, skilled teachers are the key to improved student achievement and these effective teachers do not care what students they get or what classes they teach. They get great results because they understand that they are the variable that matters, they make the difference. We are fortunate in the Tomah School District to have teachers who are extremely knowledgeable and skilled and who are concerned with the success of every student, understanding and accepting the role they play in that success. We must continue to invest in our teachers through continued professional development and increased salaries.
2) We must continue to care about everyone else’s children. I have shared this quote by Lillian Katz, a Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois, many times over the years and I feel compelled to share it one last time: “Each of us must come to care about everyone else’s children. We must recognize that the welfare of our children is intimately linked to the welfare of all other people’s children. After all, when one of our children needs life-saving surgery, someone else’s child will perform it. If one of our children is harmed by violence, someone else’s child will be responsible for the violent act. The good life for our own children can be secured only if a good life is also secured for all other people’s children.” There is a need to address the increasing inequities which exist in our society if we wish to see a more level playing field, free from discrimination and the injustices of the past, for all our children.
3) The communities which comprise the Tomah Area School District support public education. This support for public education is demonstrated in the donations made each month to our schools and student organizations. It is demonstrated each year in the hundreds of thousands of scholarship monies given to our graduating seniors. It is demonstrated at every football game or wrestling match and choir or band concert when hundreds of community members show up to applaud the efforts of our students. It is demonstrated by the apprenticeships and advisory councils in which our local business leaders participate and support. It is demonstrated by the passage of referendums to maintain strong educational programming. There is a recognition that the economic strength of Monroe County is dependent on strong educational opportunities for our young people. Companies interested in moving to our communities want to know about the schools. They want strong schools for their employee’s children and they want strong schools to ensure a well-educated labor market. Investing in our schools to ensure that quality educational opportunities are maintained and our children are prepared to contribute to our community upon graduation amplifies our economy.
The Tomah Area School District is one of the finest school districts in the state of Wisconsin. This is true because, as a community, we value public education, we recognize the need for great teachers, and we accept the responsibility for caring for everyone else’s children. Thank you for the privilege and honor to work as an educator in the Tomah Area School District for the last thirty-eight (38) years.