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Eckola, Schmidt new administrators

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By Lisa Seiser

and Pete Janecky

Lake Geneva Regional News

The two new administrators for the two Lake Geneva area school districts are familiar faces to the educational community.

The Lake Geneva Area Elementary (Joint 1) and Badger High School boards of education recently approved Jan Eckola as the new K-12 director of instruction and Dan Schmidt as the new technology coordinator for both school districts.

Eckola is the principal at Central Elementary School, and Schmidt is a teacher at Lake Geneva Middle School.

School Superintendent Dr. James Gottinger was pleased by the unanimous votes cast by both school boards in support of the two candidates.

"We had many qualified candidates for both positions, and we are very happy with your approval of these two candidates," Gottinger said at Monday's Badger Board meeting.

The Joint 1 Board approved the hirings at its April 8 meeting.

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The search to find a replacement for Eckola has already begun. The school district has received about 20 applications and interviews are planned for May, Gottinger said.

With Eckola's move into central administration and Leo Baker's upcoming retirement, the time is right for the district to move to one administrative team for both Central and Denison elementary schools, Gottinger said. Instead of two principals, there will be one principal and one assistant principal for the schools that are housed in one building.

Badger High School Principal Dr. Mark Pienkos has served as the director of instruction. Both Eckola's and Schmidt's new contracts begin in July. When that occurs, Pienkos will be able to turn some of his attention to the Badger Career Campus, Gottinger said. Brad Haig has resigned as the director of the career campus.

Schmidt will be aided by the continued employment of former Technology Coordinator John Smarslik, who will be available 16 hours a week to ease the transition, Gottinger said.

Schmidt is a good fit for the district because he has experience training teachers on the use of computers in the classroom, Gottinger said.

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Eckola's passion

Eckola has a passion for the teaching profession, and now she will take that feeling to the Joint 1 and Badger school districts.

"I am very excited," Eckola said. "I have a background in writing curriculum, and it is a love of mine."

She also loves the Lake Geneva area schools.

"Everyone here is fantastic," she said. "I would like to see myself into retirement in this district."

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When the position opened after Joe Vance announced his retirement, Eckola took some time before deciding to apply.

"Things played around in my head whether to try for the position or not," she said. "It was a hard choice. I am losing the children and staff here at Central, but I am staying in a profession with the goal to provide the best possible curriculum for all the students here."

In the position, Eckola will work to develop curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade.

"This position is devoted to teachers and takes teaching to the finer points of how to improve and give instruction," she said.

Among her challenges will be meeting federal and state guidelines and standards.

Everyone is looking at the federal "No Child Left Behind" legislation and is wondering what changes it will bring to instruction and curriculum, she said.

Badger curriculum

One of Eckola's main challenges will be to learn more about Badger High School and its curriculum. After working mostly with grade school and middle school students, Eckola said she will have to spend more time learning about the higher grade levels.

Eckola has taught every grade from kindergarten through eighth-grade. She also is a K-12 reading specialist.

"I will have to make an effort and learn more about the high school level," she said.

That is the only way Eckola believes she can bring the best instruction and curriculum to all the students in the Lake Geneva area.

That is the essence of teaching, Eckola said.

"Teaching is one of the most honorable professions there is," she said. "It takes a great effort to try everything you can to get a child to learn. "In my heart, I will always be a teacher. I am just excited to continue working in an area where I have a passion."

Schmidt replaces Smarslik

Schmidt has some big shoes to fill.

"I am very excited," Schmidt said. "This is something I have thought about while I was completing my master's degree."

Schmidt has been a teacher for 15 years, including the last four at Lake Geneva Middle School.

He knows it will be hard to replace someone like Smarslik. The longtime teacher and technology director announced his retirement earlier in the school year. Smarslik has been working in the districts part-time this year.

"One advantage I am going to have is that he has built the entire network from nothing," Schmidt said of Smarslik. "He also will be here and available to take me under his wing. He already has the people in place and the technology in place."

While those aspects appear to be strong, Schmidt said his main goal is to increase and improve computer use by teachers in the classroom.

The job no longer is just maintenance of technology equipment.

"I want to challenge them to find things on the computer and tie them into their curriculum," Schmidt said. "We want to get the students excited about this, but the teachers have to be excited first."

For years, Schmidt has believed computers were a powerful tool for both learning and for use by teachers.

"I wanted to and integrated computers into teaching from the start," he said. "It broke up the monotony of classes. I was excited years ago and convinced it was a great and powerful tool to help teachers teach."

Now, he believes that more than ever.

"I hope I can challenge teachers to integrate computers into their curriculum," he said.

Training of teachers, administrators and support staff will be part of Schmidt's tasks.

"Dr. Gottinger wants training to be a focus," Schmidt said. "He wants everyone in the district properly trained in the types of software they are supposed to use."

Schmidt said the district's phone system also falls into that category.

"I think I am going to be a little overwhelmed for a few years," Schmidt said. "There is a lot to grasp and a wide range of ages of students to deal with."

The districts have been progressive about getting the technology in the schools, Schmidt said.

"Now we have the tools, and the kids are taking advantage," Schmidt said. "I would like to continue to have that grow."

Despite his excitement to take the technology coordinator position, Schmidt said it wasn't an easy decision. He also thanked the people he has worked with over the years and for their support.

"It has been a difficult decision to leave the classroom," he said. "As of the end of the school year, I will no longer be in the classroom teaching students. But, I will be a teacher of teachers and that is what is exciting."

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