Portage High School building

The front yard of Portage High School shows no mess just days after Homecoming Week brought items like air conditioners, skateboarding equipment and an old hot tub to the schoolyard in 2015.

Portage High School’s next principal is a Pardeeville native who did two tours in Iraq as a member of the U.S. military.

The Portage School Board on Monday unanimously approved hiring Joshua Sween, the current principal of Mosinee Middle School and an active member of the Wisconsin Air National Guard.

Sween will replace Robin Kvalo on July 1. Kvalo is retiring after serving 25 years in the district and her eighth as the high school principal.

Sween is a 1999 graduate of Pardeeville High School who has 13 years of experience working in education. He first taught social studies at Oshkosh West High School for seven years and then spent two years as the assistant principal of Mosinee High School.

He’s been the principal of Mosinee Middle School for the past four years.

“Honestly, this is a dream job for me because I grew up in the area,” Sween said. “I spent lot of time in Portage as a young man and really looked at Portage as the big city, coming from the small town of Pardeeville.

“To me, this is home.”

Sween recently celebrated his 20th year as a master sergeant in the Wisconsin Air National Guard as a member of the 115th Fighter Wing in Madison. His position in the military, since day one, is a jet engine mechanic working on F-16 engines, he said. He did two three-month tours in Iraq — the first in 2006 and the other in 2009.

His wife, Erika Sween, is a social studies teacher at Stevens Point Area Senior High. They have a 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old daughter who will eventually attend school in Portage.

“Our new principal has a very strong work ethic and has demonstrated that he wants to be connected, not only to the students in our school but with our parents and the community,” Superintendent Margaret Rudolph said of the hire.

Members of the Portage Community School District’s search committee — comprised of Rudolph and other administrators, board member Connie Shlimovitz, teachers and a high school student — were impressed by Sween’s community service work in Mosinee, which includes volunteering regularly for food pantries in the area, Rudolph said.

The committee also valued his background in various leadership positions.

“I think that when a person has worked in multiple roles, it just makes you a better listener and gives you that opportunity to move your school district forward, because you’ll have a lot of ideas,” Rudolph said of Sween’s background. “He has a passion for bringing people together for student success.”

Sween is a lifetime member of Veterans of Foreign Wars and will join the Portage VFW upon his arrival in the community, he said.

“Ultimately, I thought my personality really fit the mold of what Portage was looking for,” Sween said of being hired. “They wanted someone who’ll be an active member of the community, and I’ve always tried to serve every community that I’ve lived in.”

One of Sween’s top traits as an educator, he said, is helping the employees around him become better leaders.

In Mosinee, he mentored several teachers who aspired to be administrators and he wants to continue that work in Portage.

“It’s not about any one thing I do,” Sween said of building relationships with staff. “It’s about what we do as a group.”

Sween singled out student mental health as the top issue for schools across the country. Educators including Sween launched Mental Health Nights in Mosinee in an effort to educate the public, and Sween said he remains committed to obtaining funding that “helps students get the resources they need” in Portage.

“It is difficult for kids to learn if they have underlying issues that don’t get addressed,” he added.

Earlier this month, Sween attended Portage High School’s musical production of “The Addams Family” and he said students and parents should expect to see him in attendance at many school activities.

“Building relationships with students means being where they are — at their musicals, their band concerts, their drama productions,” Sween said. “They need to know that you support them.

“When you build those relationships, kids will be more willing to go the extra mile.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

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