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A Day in the Life of a High School Principal

New Richmond High School Principal Tom Wissink talks on the phone with the main office just before 8 a.m. on May 1. (Photos by Jordan Willi)1 / 7
Principal Tom Wissink leads an after-school staff meeting with the staff at New Richmond High School on May 1. 2 / 7
A New Richmond High School student from the school’s yearbook class points out some of her designs and ideas to Principal Tom Wissink for this year’s edition of the yearbook during one of the principal’s school walkthroughs on May 1.3 / 7
Principal Tom Wissink listens to tech ed teacher Kenneth Kerr explain how the school’s 3D printer works during one of his school walkthroughs on May 1. 4 / 7
NRHS Principal Tom Wissink drops in on Bridget Haugen’s art class on May 1 to discuss the projects the students were working on that day. 5 / 7
A trio of seniors discuss their graduation speeches with Principal Tom Wissink on May 1. 6 / 7
Principal Tom Wissink talks with a pair of math teachers who are co-teaching a class during one of his school walkthroughs on May 1. 7 / 7

New Richmond High School Principal Tom Wissink loves his job. He loves getting to interact with the students, teachers, staff and the New Richmond community while also continuing to learn new things on a daily basis.

“This job really keeps you young,” Wissink said at the end of the day. “There is no other job like it and it is never dull. There are no two days alike.”

On an average day, Wissink is in his office around 7:20 each morning, but the timing varies depending on what is needed to be accomplished each day. On the morning of Thursday, May 1, Wissink arrived right at 7:20 ready to meet the challenges of a new school day.

“Sometimes I’m here at 6 a.m. and then I’m here until 6 or 7 p.m. at night depending on what events are going on,” Wissink said. “I’ll sometimes get a few teachers or staff coming in to talk about something before school starts as well.”

Another task Wissink tries to get done every morning is sending out the NRHS Word of the Day by email. The Word of the Day is meant to help expand the vocabulary of everyone at the school and help them learn something new each day.

“One of our focuses is literacy, so it is vocabulary and I send it to teachers and students,” Wissink said. “It is a passive way to keep building vocabulary in addition to what the kids already learn in their classes. The kids are funny because they will say ‘Mr. Wissink, you are blowing up my inbox.’”

After the first bell rings at 7:25 a.m. to signal the start of a new school day, Wissink starts to work on some of the managerial tasks that every principal must take care of, such as teacher observations and evaluations, as well as preparing for a staff meeting after school.

“I try to divide up my day so that I’m balancing the manager and leadership sides of my job,” Wissink said. “It is a busy time of year right now, so things can pile up. We have AP final exams, seniors getting ready for graduation on May 23 and all the normal end of the year related things going on. We also want to try and keep the kids focused and make sure that they finish the year strong.”

At 7:45 a.m., Wissink made his first round of the day, walking the halls and checking in on teachers and students.

“I like to get into the classrooms and see what is going on,” Wissink said. “I tend to pay more attention to the new teachers who are still on probations to make sure they are doing well and see how things are going. In addition to seeing what is going on I also learn from the teachers as they teach. And getting into the classrooms also allows me to get to know the kids too.”

On his way around the school, Wissink would stop to pick up any trash that had been left behind on the floors or lockers and throw it in the nearest garbage can.
“I like to try and keep things as clean as I can and to also pick up what I can around the school,” Wissink said. “We have a really nice facility here and I want to keep it that way. And I also want to set a good example for the students and staff in the hopes that they will follow my lead and clean up after themselves.”

Several times during his trip around the school, Wissink stopped to talk with staff, teachers and students who he met in the hallways of the high school. The subject matter of the discussions ranged from how a student was doing to a teacher’s thoughts on summer school.

“I try to do a bunch of things at once while I’m out and about,” Wissink said. “I try to visit with teachers and students and also try to see if I can’t track down some people or find where someone went.”

Around 8:20 a.m., Wissink returned to his office to find a pair of students waiting for him to receive their prizes for various school challenges and awards. At 8:27 a.m. the morning announcements were read and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited by a student announcer. With the announcements done, Wissink returned to his managerial work, this time focusing on the School Improvement Plan and an education effectiveness plan.

“I really think the No. 13 ranking is a reflection of all the pieces that make this school run,” Wissink said. “Whether it is the school board and superintendent providing leadership to our community and our families supporting education or the students valuing their education and putting in the hard work or the teachers caring so much about the school and the kids, it all reflects on why we got that No. 13 ranking. The level to which our teachers care about this school, and are dedicated to it, is second to none. We still have areas we want to improve on of course, but we are doing well as a school and I’m really impressed.”

A couple hours into the school day, Wissink met with this year’s commencement speakers, including valedictorian Alex Wheeler and salutatorian Emily Kukacka. During their short meeting, Wissink talked with the seniors about how their speeches were coming and when they were expected to have them ready to be reviewed by himself and a few other staff members. After checking more emails and voicemails, as well as fielding some calls from District Administrator Jeff Moberg, Wissink worked on the school budget and future staffing for the school.

During his second walkthrough of the day, Wissink made his way around the math and English departments. He stopped in a few select classes, including a co-taught math class, the school’s yearbook class and an English class that was giving persuasive presentations. He also made a stop in the automotive department and talked with a teacher and student about the High Mileage Vehicles they were building.

“I really enjoy the days when I can get out of my office and get into the classrooms,” Wissink said. “It really lets me connect with the teachers and the students, which I feel is important. It also allows me to see the successful strategies and applications of teaching that work with the kids from different teachers. I think that by sharing my knowledge and watching other teachers run their classes lets me continue to learn as well.”

One of the things that got Wissink into teaching was his love of learning and his enjoyment of sports and being in school. His parents emphasized a hard work ethic and getting a good education. Neither of his parents went to college, so it was important to Wissink and his parents that he get a college degree and use it to get the career he wanted to have. Wissink got his start as a teacher in 1995 at Oshkosh West High School where he taught and coached for nine years.

“I really like to learn new things and I have a knack for working with people and teaching in general,” Wissink said. “I got interested in it, pursued it and ended up in social studies and geography. While I was teaching, I coached football, wrestling and hockey. After those nine years I really felt like I was at a point in my career that I was looking for a change and a different challenge. When I got into teaching I never thought about getting into the administration side of things.”

Wissink finished his master’s degree in 2003 and started working as a dean of students in 2005 at Oshkosh West where he stayed for three years before moving to Oshkosh North to become an assistant principal. After a few more years, Wissink started to look for a principal job at a school with under 1,000 students in a good community. He focused mostly on job openings in Montana, Wisconsin and Maine. Eventually he found a job he liked at Sumner Memorial High School in Sullivan, Maine, which had 260 students.

“It was a beautiful place and great for us because the school was smaller and my family and I really like the outdoors; at that time I thought it was the best fit,” Wissink said. “It was one of the 10 lowest performing high schools in the state. At the time, they had a lot of really controversial things going as far as education went, but it was a really good experience for me and I learned a lot of things. It helped me develop skills I use now and it also exposed me to a lot of other things I had never experienced before. It was stressful and it made me miss Wisconsin.”

After two years of being a principal in Maine, Wissink applied for the high school principal opening in New Richmond and was able to move back to his home state, which he felt was a much better fit for himself and his family. This is his second year as principal at New Richmond High School.

“I am really fortunate and lucky that this job opened up and that I was able to get it,” Wissink said. “I absolutely love it here. If I had to go through some of those tougher times to get to this place again I would do it in a heartbeat. It is a great community to come and raise our family in and has some really great people as well as a great staff, teachers and students here at the high school.”

After lunch Wissink took his third walk around the school of the day, this time making it to the other parts of the tech ed department to meet with a different set of teachers and students to talk. A few of the highlights on the trip were the stops at the metal shop as well as an engineering class where they were using a 3D printer to create a variety of 3D objects. After touring the tech ed wing, Wissink moved on to the music and cooking department wings where he talked with another set of teachers and students about what was going on in their classes.

“The one thing that I miss about being a teacher is being in front of the students and getting to interact with them on a daily basis,” Wissink said. “My career has been a great career and I probably struggled the most with my first principal job, but for the most part I’ve enjoyed coming to work every single day. I have no complaint about it and I ended up doing the job I really enjoy and, I think, the job I was meant to do.”

After his last walk through of the day, Wissink sat back down at his desk to finish up a few more teacher and staff evaluations and check on a few teachers’ pay raise points. Another task Wissink set to accomplishing that afternoon was trying to find a suitable ramp for a student who would need to use a wheelchair to get on the stage during graduation. A little later in the afternoon he took a short break to run some papers that needed signing over to the district office.

Once the school day ended at 2:50 p.m., Wissink had just a few minutes to catch his breath before heading out to a staff meeting at 3:10 p.m. At the meeting, Wissink discussed a variety of topics including prom, which took place the weekend before, how things were going at the school and the No. 13 ranking the school had received from U.S. News & World Report.

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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