Sitting back in dress casual attire, Joe Schroeder preferred to have his interview conducted at the conference table rather than across his desk.
"This eliminates a barrier when we're talking," he said.
The leader of the Muskego-Norway School District (MNSD) for the past five years had just defined part of his philosophy of success: openness and transparency; in particular, input the district received before and during the (Act 10 legislation).
"We have been more successful, especially in regard to what came with the Act 10 legislation," Schroeder said. "We have a lot of thoughtful committee members who worked with teachers and parents, and in the end it's a very human enterprise, so we wanted to be transparent in what we knew we could expect and what we didn't know."
Schroeder stepped into his role with MNSD as 'a rookie in the position,' feeling confident he said because of the success he saw with the Elm Brook School District as its assistant superintendent.
"I was seeing a resonance from the results we got at Elm Brook, and I wanted this district in turn to be all it can be and give it a higher trajectory," he said.
Notably, MNSD is seeing a , giving students more opportunities after high school, Schroeder said.
"The rigor is paying off, and we were recently voted again as one of the most challenging high schools in the country by 'Newsweek,' placing us in the near top 10 percent of all high schools," he explained.
While the upward mobility of the district's brightest students is encouraging, Schroeder said it points to another problem of achievement gaps, and the need to continue putting attention on every student achieving to a standard. Recent is hoped to help personalize learning so students within a classroom can individually learn to their potential, he said.
"We're realizing that schools aren't the only places students learn anymore, so a teacher can spend a small part of the class time teaching the basic lesson with the help of video, then work one-on-one with students who still need help with the previous day's lesson. Students who understand the material may then be able to help each other, and those who are excelling can also be challenged with more in-depth material."
Middle schools have also added coaches for math and reading to help students who are struggling without taking the rest of class time in order to tackle the problem even before students enter high school.
Wrapping up his tenure at the helm of MNSD on Friday, June 30, Schroeder feels he's leaving the district in capable hands. Kelly Thompson, who had been assistant superintendent will lead the district as of July 1. Filling her role will be Dennis Bussen, who was principal at Muskego High School for 11 years. It's a succession plan that Schroeder said is indicative of a solid organization.
"Ideally, this is what people want to see in a strong company," he said. "Not that we solely seek to hire from within, but when the best candidates that emerge from the interviewing process are within your organization, it shows that everyone has the same goals and concerns for its success. We're developing a deep bench and it's the sign of a maturing organization that will ensure long-term success."
Not surprisingly, the biggest disappointment for Schroeder was the two failed referenda that would have created a new school on Muskego's east side, closed two others, and renovated the existing buildings.
"We weren't able to get the support of the voters then, but we do have a majority of the community that see and supports the need for these improvements," he said.
A comparison of the 2010 referendum to the 2011 revised referendum seems to underscore Schroeder's point. The 2010 measure was defeated narrowly (5961-5364) and cost $5 million more than the 2011 landslide defeat with a price tag of $29 million. However Schroeder pointed out fewer total voters turned out in 2011 than the number of 'yes' votes cast in 2010, defeating the referendum for a second year in a row.
However, he maintains that serving in Muskego was "the highlight of my career, and I'm proud of the team accomplishments. The community should be confident that this will continue under the new administration."
Schroeder will be the number two guy in charge at the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators as its Assistant Executive Director, and describes his role basically as "doing the same stuff on a broader scale." He will be taking on the role of creating material and publishing information which will train other education professionals and administrators across the state. The ultimate goal he said will be to establish a statewide measure of educator effectiveness to help measure quality, and eventually help determine salary considerations.
He looked forward to moving on, musing that "I felt called to come here, and I felt called to move on, and I believe I'm doing what I do best in the position I'll be taking on."
"It's been an honor to be a steward for our schools, but I want people to know that Muskego's best days are ahead of them," Schroeder added.