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Tony Evers (left) toured Traver School with Mark Pienkos Tuesday. (Photo by Steve Targo/Regional News)

LINN — Tony Evers met a praying mantis Tuesday at Traver School.

The state’s superintendent of public instruction was entering the school as Principal Allyssa Andersen and secretary Heidi Otterness tried to capture the mantis near the front entrance.

“I’ve never been greeted by a praying mantis before,” said Evers.

It made such an impression on him that he opened his speech during the all-school assembly with the encounter.

Not the kind of thing one may expect from someone who, two weeks ago, announced his run for governor.

But for Evers, the purpose of his visit was the first day of school.

Prior to his speech, he acknowledged there’s two roles he now has in the public eye.

“I’m in this interesting place where I need to walk and chew gum at the same time, and I think I’ve been able to do that,” he smiled.

Politics never came up at the podium.

Instead, Evers focused on the anxiety children and their parents feel on the first day of school.

He asked teachers and students about what they want to do to make Traver a special school, and encouraged people to make a positive step forward.

First day

Evers shared a story about when he was a high school teacher, and he gave some advice to a student who was having a bad first day of school.

Years later, he received a letter from the student who told him the impact of his words.

“The lesson here is that a word, a short phrase, a sentence, from a teacher to a student … can change lives,” said Evers.

Traver was the last stop on a three-school tour for Evers.

His tour began at Walt Whitman School in Milwaukee, then Evers visited the Washington-Caldwell School District in Waterford.

It’s something he does regularly as state public instruction superintendent, a job he’s held since 2009.

Evers visits one to two state public schools a week, on average.

He especially loves to go on the first day of the year.

“The distractions that go on during the school year don’t exist on that first day,” he said.

Tuesday was the first time Evers visited Traver.

“They do a great job,” he said. “Small community, a lot of parental involvement, that sort of thing, so I’m happy to be here.”

Posed with teachers

The feeling seemed mutual as Evers went around the bleachers, shaking hands and posing for photos with teachers.

Traver Administrator Mark Pienkos was beaming as he showed Evers around the school prior to the assembly.

Andersen said Pienkos set up the visit.

He and Evers have known each other for several years.

Evers visited Badger High School in 1998, after an invitation from Pienkos, who was then the school’s principal.

Andersen said teachers reacted similarly to the news that Evers was visiting Traver as she did. “I said, ‘Wait, the Tony Evers? Does he do this?’”

He also being a new face at Traver this year, Pienkos said he hopes children understand the importance of someone like Evers visiting their school.

He also hopes teachers will feel they can stand a little taller because of it.

“I think Tony Evers’ visit highlights how special this school is, how special education is around the lake, and around the state of Wisconsin,” Pienkos said. “But it’s kind of neat to have, in a school our size, to have the state school officer come and visit us.”