The accolades keep coming for Robin Kvalo.
An assembly Friday afternoon at Portage High School offered a surprise announcement for the fifth-year principal who only weeks ago received a Herb Kohl Leadership Award:
Kvalo is also Principal of the Year.
The Association of Wisconsin School Administrators selected Kvalo for the honor following a selection process coordinated with the Herb Kohl Education Foundation and the state Department of Public Instruction.
“I do this because of you, and you,” a tearful Kvalo said pointing to teachers behind her, and to the student body in the school’s gymnasium.
“Here’s what I believe: You are only as successful as the people who surround you. ... You surround yourself with people who make you better, and you make me better.”
Kvalo is one of about 3,000 principals in Wisconsin, a fact that reminds you the award “is a pretty big deal,” said AWSA executive director Jim Lynch, who along with District Administrator Charles Poches revealed the honor to Kvalo in Friday’s ceremony.
“The judges look at things related to climate, academic rigor and just your overall health of the school,” Lynch said. “So clearly I think in that application they saw a school that’s really rallying around a leader in all phases. Their mantra is the ‘Warrior Way’ — so (students) are setting high expectations for themselves.
“Those are the things judges clearly saw that make her a special leader.”
The AWSA award was given to both an elementary and secondary principal selected from the pool of Herb Kohl Leadership Award recipients, with the elementary honor going to Melissa Herek of Lawrence-Lawson Elementary School in Sparta.
Kvalo’s selection as Secondary Principal of the Year comes with added responsibility, Lynch noted. In October, she’ll attend a conference with the other 49 state secondary winners in Washington D.C., where she’ll represent Portage and the state of Wisconsin.
Kvalo will also be a nominee in the National Principal of the Year program, and further recognized at the Wisconsin Association of School Boards convention in Milwaukee in January. She will formally receive the AWSA award and plaque at the AWSA-sponsored Middle and High Principal’s Convention in Green Bay on Feb. 9.
Kvalo will receive $1,000 from the AWSA program to be used for any project at the high school, and an additional $500 for travel costs to Washington, D.C., Lynch said. Kvalo received $3,000 for the Herb Kohl award, and another $3,000 will be awarded to the high school for programming, Poches said.
‘Skills for leadership transcend’
Poches before the ceremony said he remembered “time and again” approaching Kvalo to ask her to take on the principal position at Portage High School. Kvalo had been Rusch Elementary’s principal since 1999, having previously served as an elementary school teacher in the district for about five years.
“I said your skills for leadership transcend,” Poches said of trying to convince Kvalo to take the high school position. “And the risk she took paid off large dividends.”
“The biggest thing she does,” Poches added, “is bring a large sense of pride to a building. I remember the first day she went into the high school and she said, ‘This is my house. And nobody will be wearing hats in my house.’”
What Kvalo brought from the elementary level, Poches noted, was requiring her students to “carry themselves with dignity.”
“So that meant no hats, no hoods pulled up over their heads, and you’ll be organized and on time,” Poches said. “And that’s reflective of someone who does things as if it were her house: she sees them as her kids.”
The ceremony was a complete surprise to Kvalo, who administrators made certain was not on site as staff, students and family members, like her husband, Mike, her mother, Nan Rebholz, and father, Ted Rebholz, filed into Portage High School gymnasium Friday afternoon.
Kvalo was at Bartels Middle School in an arranged meeting with Principal Bob Meicher, who told Kvalo she needed to return to the high school to tend to an emergency.
“It’s a capstone of a career,” Kvalo said of the surprise ceremony and award. “I would have never dreamed of this. I’m just speechless, and I’m not usually speechless.
“I’m so honored to represent the state of Wisconsin. All the principals work really hard and I’m honored to represent them.”