Tanya Kotlowski shouldn’t have a problem connecting with students as she begins her tenure as the new superintendent at the Necedah Area School District.
Kotlowski, who officially began her role as district administrator July 1, grew up in nearby Adams County, right across Necedah via the Wisconsin River in Arkdale. For the past several years, Kotlowski served as principal of Adams-Friendship High School, returning to her roots. Kotlowski has a deep familiarity with the rural central Wisconsin lifestyle.
Kotlowski replaces former Superintendent Larry Gierach who retired following the 2016-17 school year. With school starting this week at Necedah, Kotlowski is very excited for her new role.
“My family dairy farm where I grew up in was right across the river in Arkdale, so I had friends who I knew from Necedah and people I played sports against,” Kotlowski said. “Necedah is not foreign to me in any way. It’s been a nice opportunity here.”
Kotlowski considered looking for a superintendent position for several months, but wanted the right fit. She’s always had a deep connection to students and most superintendent roles take administrators away from everyday interaction with kids. Kotlowski served as an assistant superintendent at the Kettle Moraine School District in Wales, Wisconsin before taking the position at Adams-Friendship, so she experienced a taste of what the position entailed.
“Coming back to the high school level and being with students and staff again really pushed me to say ‘I don’t think I want a superintendent position because I don’t want to be away from kids and staff,’” Kotlowski said. “But, Necedah opened up and I thought, this is it, this is the fit. I can be in one building and still have the superintendent possibility along with having the kids right there, too. For me I need to be around kids and staff because that’s what motivates me and inspires me. When things are complicated and challenging I need to be reminded of why I do what I do; seeing the kids and watching teachers teach reminds me.”
Kotlowski spent five years at Kettle Moraine and while she was close to Milwaukee and its many suburbs, she longed for the rural life she was comfortable with. Kotlowski also had to spend time away from her husband, Scott, who manages a crop farm in Adams County.
“I enjoy the outdoors so there are things rural life can provide that satisfies me, personally,” Kotlowski said. “I think when you live in different settings and have different experiences you finally realize what you want and this is it. The advantages of small town America is something our world needs in general; a tighter, close-knit community where people know each other and can rely on each other in ways I don’t see as much in large, more urban settings. I value that.”
Kotlowski said coming back to the area was “one of the best decisions she’s ever made.” She believes there is a greater ability to reach students in a small, rural setting. Kotlowski also believes a school district is more of a community with students, parents, teachers and staff all working together to improve the learning experience. Kotlowski calls students “her world” and promises to make sure every child’s dream is realized in Necedah.
“The most exciting aspect about coming here is being part of a whole school community in a different way,” Kotlowski said. “I really look at my position as a leader in a whole community, not just a district and the size of Necedah allows me to do that in a more effective way.”
Since beginning her role July 1, Kotlowski has met with civic and business leaders across the district and has attended both village and town board meetings. Kotlowski also started a superintendent transition team to get feedback on what community members want from their local schools. The team held its first meeting Aug. 23 at the Necedah library.
“I think the more effective adults are, I think our kids are better off, so that’s why I believe in supporting all aspects of the community,” Kotlowski said. “I’ve also met some really outstanding teachers here, so that gets me excited. It’s nice to see the potential to continue to grow and make advances for our district. I’m excited about the great things we’ll be able to do through collaborative vision.”
Similar to many public schools in Wisconsin, Kotlowski sees the biggest challenge being fiscal flexibility. Necedah asked for referendum funding to help pay for future projects, but it failed to pass during the spring election.
“I think some time again the time will come when we ask the community what they want out of our education system,” Kotlowski said. “It’s going to be my responsibility to be very transparent and to listen carefully to not only sustain what we have, but also advance and improve what we have and think about innovating our services to our kids and community.”