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Portage starting over in search for next high school principal
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Portage starting over in search for next high school principal

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Portage is still looking for its next high school principal after the school board interviewed what had been its top two finalists for the job Monday.

The finalists were Portage High School Assistant Principal Jo-Ellen Fairbanks and Dodgeville High School Principal Laura Nyberg-Comins. They each met with the public at the school Monday night prior to their interviews with the school board

Thomas Hermann, the current principal of Union Grove High School, had been one of the two finalists in Portage, but he withdrew himself from consideration Friday because he accepted a position elsewhere, he said. Nyberg-Comins replaced him as a finalist in Portage.

“I wish Portage High School and the greater Portage community all of the best in their search for a new high school principal,” Hermann said Monday, but declined to provide details about his new job because it has not yet been announced by that school district.

Portage Community School District Superintendent Margaret Rudolph and School Board President Steve Pate said Tuesday that the high school principal position in Portage would be reposted soon and declined to say whether Fairbanks or Nyberg-Comins would remain candidates.

“I take filling this position very seriously because it impacts our students, as well as community members,” Rudolph said. “The process has been very thorough so far, and we’re getting input from many people.

“I am pleased with the search process. (Getting input) is important to me because we must match the needs of the students with the position.”

Current Portage High School Principal Robin Kvalo is retiring at the end of June after serving 25 years in the district and her eighth as the high school principal. The school district originally posted the position in December and then formed a search committee of 14 people made up of teachers, administrators including Rudolph, one student and board member Connie Shlimovitz.

The school board discussed the principal position in closed session for about an hour Monday night but took no action, Pate said.

The school district hired Fairbanks in July as assistant high school principal and principal of its alternative school, Portage Academy of Achievement, replacing Matt Paulsen in both positions when he became director of teaching and learning for grades 6-12 in Portage. Fairbanks had previously worked as an Advanced Placement biology teacher in the Adams-Friendship Area School District and has 25 total years of experience in education, 14 of them teaching at the high school level.

During her meeting with the public Monday, Fairbanks said she would like to increase the intervention time for high school students, ultimately developing “an early-warning system” that would allow school leaders to identify and address student issues more efficiently than now.

“I’ve never seen a staff member here give up on a kid,” Fairbanks said of her time in Portage, during which she has also been impressed by the involvement and support of parents and the community.

“That kind of support is exactly what you need to exceed expectations,” she said.

Nyberg-Comins is in her fourth year as the high school principal in Dodgeville and has about 30 total years of education experience, going back to the late 1980s when she worked as a student teacher in Portage under former teacher and current board member Fred Reckling.

“This position would be like coming full circle in my life,” Nyberg-Comins said Monday. “I know this community is very supportive of its schools, and I would like to be part of it again.”

“I love learning,” Nyberg-Comins said of the traits that define her as a leader. “Every day in education is different, and it helps people achieve so many things in life, whether that’s finding a job to support their family or lifting them out of poverty.

“I think my strongest trait is being a good listener. I think the role of a principal is to help teachers do their job and to help the students focus and support them.”

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

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