After 28 years with the Westby Area School District, Karl Stoker, the Westby Area High School Principal is retiring and will be riding his light blue scooter off into the sunset as he completes his last official day with the district on June 30. He announced his retirement during the 2016-17 school year, with a departure date at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

Stoker leaves behind a long history with the Westby Area School District. He earned his teaching degree at UW-La Crosse in 1989 and was hired as a high school social studies teacher in Westby in 1990. Since then, Stoker has held multiple positions including classroom educator for 15 years (1990-2005). In 2000, he split his time in the classroom, with the half-time role as Athletic Director. In 2005, his position changed again when he became the Dean of Students and Athletic Director. That same year he earned his Principal Licensure from Viterbo University. Then in 2013, Stoker was named the Westby Area High School Principal, a position he held until his retirement in 2018. He also spent time during is tenure coaching cross country, track, and basketball.

Thinking back on his career, Stoker said the words of wisdom from former teacher/principal Roger Harris have always resonated with him. Harris told Stoker that going from the classroom to administration was like moving from Westby to Madison, but that if you can’t discipline students in Westby, you can’t do it anywhere.

“Roger was right because we really do have great kids in Westby, Coon Valley and Chaseburg,” Stoker said.

Stoker has earned high praise from many of his co-workers during his tenure with the Westby Area School District for his knowledge, community interaction, dedication to education, forward thinking and willingness to fight for what he believed in.

He used a team building approach, through the development of professional learning communities and together with his colleagues they made big strides implementing PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) and RTI.

“I believe in empowering teachers to recognize their talents and allowing them to build off those attributes in the classroom. The staff in this district has over 400 years of experience, I only have 28, but together as a team we overcame many obstacles,” Stoker said.

His accomplishments also included advancing the school’s technological capabilities and creating a Student Senate. The student body considered him a friend, which also earned him their respect. He enjoyed having a physical presence among the student body and even set up a morning office in the hallway to be accessible to them for questions, directions, or just a cheerful early morning greeting.

Stoker is proud of his years of service to the community and the footprint he is leaving behind. He was especially pleased on June 9, when the Board of Education agreed to allocate funds to bring back a half-time Dean of Students position to address a growing truancy problems within the district. Stoker said truancy isn’t just an issue in Westby, but a mounting concern statewide. He said having someone available to strictly address issues like truancy isn’t just a want, but a need in many districts.

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According to Stoker the work load and amount of red tape attached to his job and the jobs of all people working in the education field isn’t getting any lighter and to address areas of concern properly you need people in place to focus on specifics. He said public education has changed a lot since he started and it is not a one size fits all institution, but more like a jigsaw puzzle where you are constantly trying to make the pieces fit and catching the kids that are falling between the cracks at the same time to make sure they have a fighting chance.

“The challenges of working with today’s youth are tremendous, but the opportunities and rewards are even greater. I applaud all my colleagues for everything they do and am proud of my years working in this field,” Stoker said.

At 58 years old Stoker said he still has working years ahead of him, but isn’t sure where his career path will take him. He is looking forward to spending more time with his supportive and loving family. He wants to travel, golf and take his grandson fishing, but first he said he needs to re-energize himself. He might even find time to buy a new seat for his scooter, which is covered with light blue duct tape right now.

The Westby Area School District Board of Education hired Robert “Bob” Bothe to replace Stoker beginning with the 2018-2019 school year. Bothe (pronounced Booty) was employed at Clintonville High School, where he has worked since 2016. At Clintonville, Bothe is the Associate Principal for Clintonville High School as well as the Activities/Athletic Director.

Bothe was selected from a field of 43 candidates. A total of five applicants were interviewed by a large committee consisting of administration, staff, parents and public representatives.

Westby Area School District Board of Education President Gerry Roethel said the board is looking forward to having Bothe on board.

Bothe’s contract with Westby begins on July 1. He will earn $90,000 a year, plus benefits. The negotiated salary is $2,000 more than the district is currently paying outgoing Principal Karl Stoker.

***Dorothy Robson can be reached at dorothy.robson@lee.net or (608) 606-0811.

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