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Kay McClain poses with her WiRSA rural teacher of the year award with Royall School District Administrator Mark Gruen.

Royall School District alumni Kay McClain was honored with the 2017 Wisconsin Rural Teacher of the Year award on Oct. 30. McClain received the award from the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, which qualifies her as a semi-finalist for the National Rural Education Association Teacher of the Year Program.

McClain has served as the business education teacher for the School District of Florence County since 1993, she has spent the entirety of her teaching career with the school district. In a press release, the WiRSA described Mclain as “an exemplary teacher that brings a multitude of opportunities to the students of the School District of Florence County.”

Royall School District Administrator Mark Gruen, who went to school with McClain, said she “is a founding member and current Director of the Royall Alumni Association. We often tap into Kay’s computer skills with regard to our planning and events.”

McClain’s father, Marty Splittgerber, taught physical education for the Royall School District. He also coached the varsity basketball team.

McClain is known for emphasizing the importance of real-world experience to her students. She regularly sets up paid internships for students who are interested in a particular field. So far, McClain has had students who have interned in banking, automotive, teaching, physical therapy and natural resources.

“If a student is interested in something, I’ll go look for a business and we can set that up,” McClain said.

The qualifications for internships are not based on grades. Instead, McClain prefers to look at work ethic and attendance record as many employers do.

“Some of the best students in an internship are the ones that have a harder time learning,” McClain said.

McClain asserts to students that a four year degree is not the right fit for ever individual or every career.

“So many careers just need that two year degree,” McClain said. “We need to turn that around and say, ‘Based on the career you’re going into, what kind of training do you need?’”

In her view, presumption that the traditional four year degree is vital for any successful career holds students back.

“I really think we need to change that whole mindset, of four year college (being) better,” she said.

In a small school setting, offering a wide variety of courses can be a challenge. Business teaching conventions provide a network that is essential for McClain in determining which classes to offer.

“It’s probably the most important thing in driving my curriculum,” McClain said.

Several of the courses McClain offers award dual-credits, giving students a head start on college education.

“It saves (students) money, and it gets them started and used to college, so it’s not such a scary experience,” McClain said.

Although some teachers go on to fill administrative positions at their schools, McClain doesn’t see herself following that career path.

“I absolutely do not see myself in administration in education,” McClain said. She described her current position as “a really good fit.”

You can reach Jake Ekdahl on Twitter @JakeaEkdahl