Eichten named AWSA middle school principal of year
Sara Eichten began teaching sixth-grade reading at the Somerset Middle School in 2002 and then took over as principal in 2010. This year Eichten is being recognized as Middle School Principal of the Year by the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA).
“I try to glean something from everybody who I work with because everybody has something different to offer. I feel like I learn from my staff. I know without them I would not have received this because they do the work, they are in there everyday with the kids. I can help lead but they are in there doing the work,” said Eichten.
Eichten was nominated for the award by middle school life science instructor Damon Barta. To be eligible for the award a secondary school principal must belong to both the AWSA and the national organization, in Eichten’s case, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). All fifty states recognize one winner at each level, elementary, middle school and high school. From these state winners, six finalists are named as contenders for the National Principal of the Year award.
In order to be considered Eichten needed to fill out an extensive application detailing in addition to a school profile and standard resume information, professional activities, awards, and honors, community service, significant accomplishments, and four essay questions pertaining to leadership, professional beliefs and practices. Eichten also had to provide recommendations from a fellow administrator, a teacher, a parent and a student.
As a successful principal, Eichten places a premium on communication.
“I meet every week with my teachers in promise building team meetings. We talk about our kids academic and behavioral needs. We come up with plans to better meet our student’s needs,” said Eichten.
One of the toughest parts of being principal according to Eichten has been dealing with the constanting changing landscape of rules and regulations while still enabling her teachers to focus on being good teachers.
“The biggest challenge honestly are the large number of mandates that we have had to implement over the last five years,” said Eichten.
Amongst those mandates Eichten sights Wisconsin Act 10, Agenda 2017 All Kids College and Career Ready, Common Core, and Educator Effectiveness.
Eichten’s worked hard to change the negative connotation traditionally associated with the principal’s office.
“I don’t believe my role is strictly to be a disciplinarian. I’m working hard with students so they associate positive things with my office so that if there is an issue we already have a relationship. My goal is for my kids to know that I care about them,” said Eichten.
Eichten didn’t start teaching with the intention of becoming a principal. After District Administrator Randy Rosburg suggested she consider completing the administrative licensure program, she talked with her husband Zac and they agreed the timing was right.
“I fit the program in between babies one and two. I think it’s been a good move for me. I enjoy seeing the big picture. Being a principal is very different than being in the classroom. I enjoy being able to watch the kids change from fifth-grade to eighth-grade,” said Eichten.
As an inexperienced principal, Eichten benefited from a mentor assigned to her as part of a program operated by the AWSA. Sheila Joan Weiss, now a retired principal in Sun Prairie, was available to answer Eichten’s questions.
“When I first started, we talked everyday. Obviously we don’t talk as much as we did, but she was a fabulous mentor,” said Eichten.
Eichten also gives credit to Trish Sheridan for pushing her on a daily basis and to her family for their support.
“I could not do this without the support of my husband Zac and my kids. This is not an easy job,” said Eichten.
Going forward Eichten plans to use the recognition as motivation to keep improving as a principal.
“I would like to think this award will continue to push me. I’m always looking for a way to do better. My job as principal is to serve the people I work with, to be there for my teachers when they need me, to be there for the kids, the parents, and the community.”