August 28, 2012 | 03:18 PMBLOOMFIELD — Two things Chiper Tennessen, 38, the new principal at Star Center Elementary School, said about herself Monday are that she's organized and she likes to eat healthy.
As for the latter, her new office was littered with evidence to the contrary.
At the center of the conversation table in her office was a dish of what she called "welcoming candy," bite-sized Milky Ways and Mr. Goodbars. On another table behind her desk were bags of candy filled with an assortment of Reese's, Skittles and Kit-Kats.
"That's an icebreaker," Tennessen said, something for an upcoming staff meeting. Then she looked at the slender bottle of water on the corner of that table. "Mine is the peppermint water over there," she said, adding she likes to eat fresh vegetables and whole wheat.
But Tennessen said her predecessor, Betsy Schroeder, told her having candy in her office was a good idea.
Some of the people at Star Center are "candy people," Tennessen said, but she's not. So don't expect all the candy to be around once school starts Sept. 4.
"It's not for kids," Tennessen said. "I'm going to take the candy off the table (and) pull out the tomatoes."
From classroom to principal's office
Tennessen's first day as Star Center principal was Aug. 6, but word that she was taking over for Schroeder, who is now principal at Central-Denison, circulated earlier this summer.
"I had done all of the summer enrichment program for the (Joint 1) district until the end of July," she said.
Tennessen's career in education seems to have progressed easily.
An East Troy native, Tennessen worked in the Joint 1 School District more than 12 years. She started as a fourth-grade teacher in Eastview. Then, she taught second-grade.
"I love working with kids," Tennessen said. "I love seeing kids get it, that little spark."
At Eastview, she became a team leader and coordinator for the gifted and talented program — what she calls her first "taste" of leadership roles in education.
Tennessen holds two master's degrees — one certifying her as a reading teacher and specialist, and she is licensed as a curriculum director and principal. She obtained both degrees at Alverno College.
Earning her reading teacher/specialist degree, Tennessen came to Star Center as a reading specialist. She obtained her curriculum director/principal degree in 2009.
So, as numerous teachers and staff members were shifted to other positions within Joint 1, Tennessen said the timing was right for her to step into a principal role.
"I was already in this building, working as a reading specialist," she said. "While working as a reading specialist, I realized I wanted more leadership responsibility."
"I see the larger impact," Tennessen said.
She said as a teacher, she realized how she could impact a classroom full of children, but as an administrator, she can impact a school's teachers, who then take that impact to their students.
Then the conversation shifted to the future, about which Tennessen said she's optimistic.
"We have great things happening at Star," she said. "We need to take it even further."
Expect to see Star Center look for an increase in community involvement, Tennessen said, and so far, so good. She said Chris' Steel Horse Saloon in Pell Lake recently held a poker run for school supplies.
Parents already have talked to Tennessen, she said, and she's "let the cat out of the bag" about upcoming parental involvement nights at Star Center.
According to Tennessen, in the past, there have been numerous parent involvement events.
Some said there were too many, so event coordinators scaled it back a little. There used to be one of these nights each month. Now, there will be four nights this year, one per quarter.
The first quarter's parent involvement night is a "film festival of books," Tennessen said, during which a movie will play outside at the school. The second quarter's night is a career night with a focus on math.
"We're going to invite the community in and we're going to ask (people in) specific careers — architects, pilots, plumbers, construction workers — and we're going to ask them how they use math daily in their jobs," she said.
The third quarter's parent involvement night will be a 5K run/walk.
"We wanted to do (a run/walk) because we're always asking our parents to come to us," she said. "This time, we thought it would be nice for us to come to them."
Fourth quarter's night is a lock-in. That and several of the other events at Star Center remain on tap for this year. Tennessen said that this year, they're trying to minimize the barrage of events. She said some of the previous parent involvement events, back when there were many of them, weren't well-attended.
"With a school of 415 students and having (less events), now I expect the majority of our parents will show," she said.
That's probably the biggest change for the new year, Tennessen said.
Great shoes to fill
As for her goals, aside from increasing parental involvement, she wants to make Star Center a blue-ribbon school, to improve test scores and "do what's best for kids."
"I don't see this as a job," Tennessen said. "I enjoy coming to Star Center and (wondering) what's my next challenge going to be."
Overall, what's the greatest challenge going to be?
"Balance," Tennessen said. "I have a family and a husband. It's balancing the amount of time I want to spend at school with the amount of time I want to spend with my family."
Her husband, Ben, teaches physical education at Badger High School. They have a son, Cameron, 3.
But she's not worried, nor is she without resources.
Chiper said Joint 1/Badger Administrator Dr. Jim Gottinger and Jan Eckola, district director of business services, have "made the transition a lot less stressful."
When asked who her role model is, she said Schroeder.
"She's been a great mentor," Tennessen said. "People have said to me you've got great shoes to fill. (Schroeder) has just given me sage advice."
Now, it's up to Tennessen to make her mark.
But when asked what she thinks she will be remembered for at Star Center, she said it was a hard question.
"I'm not Betsy," she said. "I'm not going to do things exactly as she has done them … but I tap into people and use their expertise to further our instruction. I'm really tuned to what people need and expect."
Which explains the candy in her office.