4 administrators retiring from Portage School District this summer

December 14, 2018

The Portage Community School District will lose nearly a century of combined leadership experience this summer, including its high school principal, Robin Kvalo.

Kvalo is among four school administrators retiring at the end of June. She’s worked in the district for 25 years and is in her eighth year as high school principal.

Director of Technology Sue Conner is retiring after 33 years in the district and 23 years in her current role, Food Service Director Holly Denman is retiring after 30 years in the district and the past 15 in her current role and Director of Student Services Barb Wolfe is retiring after four years in the district, all spent in her current role.

“They’ve each given our district so much expertise,” Superintendent Margaret Rudolph said after the school board approved the retirements and gave permission to post the jobs Monday. “When you add together all of their experience working in Portage, it’s more than 90 years. It’s amazing.”

Rudolph said she expects the district to have all four of the jobs posted within a month and the district seeks to make the hires in time for some job shadowing to ease the transitions, if possible.

“All four of these positions are big, so we want to do it well,” she said.

Kvalo started teaching in Portage in 1994 at John Muir and Woodridge elementary schools and then spent three years as lead teacher at Caledonia Elementary and one at Rusch Elementary. In 1999, she became principal of Fort Winnebago, Caledonia, Rusch, Lewiston and Endeavor and continued as an elementary principal until she moved to high school in 2011.

“I couldn’t be prouder to be an educator in Portage schools,” Kvalo said. “I’ve worked with some amazing students and educators, and I can’t think of anything else I would have wanted to do for the past 25 years.”

Kvalo singled out such accomplishments as working with Conner to establish the high school’s i-Center — “a place where books and technology could come together,” Kvalo said — and the district “going 1-to-1 with technology” about five years ago, when every student in grades 6-12 received Chromebook laptops. Kvalo also singled out a recent policy that took cellphones out of the high school’s classrooms and “gives students a break from technology.”

“I truly believe it was one of best policies I ever implemented,” she said of limiting cellphone use, a practice that applies to teachers and staff as well as students.

Conner taught business education at Portage High School from 1985 until 1995, when she became the district’s technology director.

“I’ve seen huge changes,” she said of her tenure. “It feels like there wasn’t even technology in the district when I started.”

Big changes during her tenure included districtwide use of the information system Infinite Campus beginning in 2011, which gives parents access to grades and attendance, and districtwide use of free Google applications to enhance learning in classrooms in 2012.

During Conner’s tenure, the district has received more than $700,000 in federal grants to upgrade technology and infrastructure as well as $300,000 in local and state grants.

“That’s more than $1 million in 20 years,” Conner said. “I’m proud of that.”

Denman worked in the district as a playground aide from 1989 to 1993 before becoming a lunch secretary for John Muir. She eventually moved into administration in food service and payroll — a dual position she held until 2003, when she became the food service director.

“I’ve had so many wonderful experiences here,” Denman said. “But it really is a team effort.”

One big change during Denman’s tenure was adjusting to the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which reduced sodium levels in food. Denman said she helped make the food healthier and has been flexible in creating menus — “If they’re not eating something, we’ll change the menu,” she said. The district also now provides breakfast every day in all schools.

“Participation in the breakfast program is rising and we’re proud of that,” Denman said, noting she hopes more people learn that if they qualify for free/reduced lunch, then breakfast is also free. “Anybody who works in food service is passionate about the program because we know what we’re providing for students every day.”

Wolfe is finishing a career in education that spanned 43 years, all of them spent assisting students with special needs. Before she came to Portage in 2015, Wolfe worked in schools in Minneapolis, Chippewa Falls and Poynette.

“It’s been a great career,” she said. “Working every day until you get to the moment where a student is having success is really what I find rewarding. It’s what my job is all about.”

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