Within the past six years, Country View Elementary School principal Michelle Nummerdor has had to deal with some memorable situations.
One was in 2014, when the western side of the school was hit by an EF-3 tornado in the early morning hours of June 17; the other the transition to virtual learning that happened earlier this year with less than a week’s notice.
But those aren’t the moments that have meant the most to her over her 32 years in education, she told the Press last Wednesday.
“The best memories are those ones where former students come back and want to visit,” she said. “They come back, and they’ll say, ‘I just wanted to say hi and thank you for all you guys did.’
“School is a second home – it matters to the adults and the families, and it really matters to the kids, and you see that,” Nummerdor added.
Nummerdor, along with fellow principal Sandy Eskrich at Savannah Oaks Middle School, are retiring at the end of June. The two started their careers in the 1980s and intended to take time off to be with their children when they both moved to the Dane County area with their families, but found it difficult to stay away from education.
Together, the two have a combined 67 years of experience in education. They are just two of the principals who are leaving the district this year – a third, Tammy Thompson-Kapp, who was hired at Stoner Prairie Elementary School in 2018, announced her departure last month after accepting an administrative job in a different school district.
Business manager Chris Murphy will also retire from the administrative team this year – it will be his second attempt at retirement, after he announced his planned departure in 2015 but was asked to come back as a consultant.
Nummerdor started her career as an elementary school teacher in the Delavan-Darien School District in 1988, teaching second and fourth grade for nine years. From there, she was an elementary school principal in the Pardeeville Area School District before coming to Verona to be the part-time director of New Century School before spending the last 19 years at Country View.
“It’s been a very fulfilling, meaningful career,” she said. “Mistakes were made, there were successes, there were challenges, always a lot of learning. But it’s been such an important part of who I am.”
Eskrich’s career in education began in 1985 in Bloomington, Illinois, where she was a grades 1-3 child development specialist, and transitioned into being a school psychologist. When she moved to Wisconsin with her family in 1993, she was brought in as a contractor to do student evaluations for both the Oregon and Verona Area school districts.
Eskrich was elected to the Verona Area Board of Education while being the middle school psychologist for Oregon Middle School, but moved to Badger Ridge Middle School and Core Knowledge after leaving the school board.
She’s been at Savanna Oaks for close to a decade, first as an associate principal and then as principal.
Nummerdor and Eskrich are ending their careers in a way they couldn’t have imagined – at home, with their staff conducting virtual learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and participating in Zoom calls where the district is taking the next steps at how to reopen safely in the fall.
Had it not been for such a tragic reason, Eskrich said, the transition to virtual learning could have been a great way for the district to explore other means of education.
But it was sad, she recalled, as SOMS eighth graders came up to her upset on March 13 as their teachers cautioned them to take their belongings home with them just hours before Gov. Tony Evers ordered all schools to close.
Not only was it a loss for the students, Eskrich said, but it was a loss for the eighth grade teachers who were expecting to send off their latest set of graduates off onto a new venture after years of watching them grow.
“That Friday afternoon, so many eighth graders came to me and said, ‘Mrs. Eskrich, are we coming back on Monday?’” she said. “When I think about that last day at school, I think about those eighth graders … they were the ones saying, ‘don’t let this happen to us, we want to be together.’”
Eskrich’s first role in the district was much like many adults who live in Verona – as a parent of three children who attended K-12 in Verona schools.
She was a member of the original site council for the current Country View building when it outgrew what was most recently the high school K-Wing building, and was a member of the school’s parent-teacher organization.
“I walked into (VASD) very naturally as a parent,” she said. “You just get committed to a community – why would you walk away from something that you believe is doing good work, and the work is engaging?”
Having the experience of a parent, a school board member and a site administrator gives Eskrich the ability to see an issue from all sides, she said. It allows her to make decisions that empower students and keep them engaged, she added, but also while understanding the limitations on taxpayer funding.
No matter what role she had at the time, Eskrich said she was always impressed by the dedication and professionalism of educators, and the board members that support them, in the district. For everyone Eskrich worked with, it was about how to find the best and most powerful solutions to support children, she said.
“That was true back in … 1982 when I came out of college for the first time … all the way to this morning, when I was on a Zoom call with two dozen teachers and other administrators,” she said.
One of the things Eskrich said she’ll miss most is working with the people, especially those who strive to uplift students, as well as their fellow colleagues. She’ll also miss watching the transition that happens to students at the middle school level.
Sixth graders come to Savanna Oaks still as children, Eskrich explained, while the eighth graders have spent three years trying new things and discovering who they really are. Other students come to school with the weight of the world on their shoulders that their peers don’t have, she added.
“That’s the power of middle school, to recognize that developmental variability, and honor it as an opportunity for kids to have some experiential learning,” she said. “Middle school should never be disparaged, or something to endure … it’s really to engage in.”
One of the things Nummerdor said she’s loved most about being in education is different every day.
You never knew what was going to happen from one day to the next, she said – one day, it’s an owl getting stuck in a soccer goal net, the next it’s turkeys running across the playground or a global pandemic.
“You’re dealing with hundreds of children and adults and families, and it’s a very dynamic, non-static career,” she said. “That’s the beauty of it; that’s what was always fun.”
Some of those situations weren’t ones she could predict, though – the tornado that hit Country View, causing $4 million in damage, was one of the most surreal moments she remembers she experienced.
It was days after school had finished for the year, but gave the district a relatively tight window to repair the school so it could reopen in time for fall 2014.
“Thankfully it was just a building and materials, but there’s emotion that goes with that,” she recalled.
Other changes and challenges have presented themselves over the years since Nummerdor became an educator, she said.
Education, and how it’s delivered, is one of the biggest shifts Nummerdor said she’s seen during her career. The prevalence of technology in schools has changed how students are taught, but has especially allowed VASD teachers to conduct personalized learning and focus on individual needs.
“It’s really trying to strengthen that collaborative effort with family and school together, and just really help figure out what each child needs in order to be successful,” she said.
The way that school funding is viewed has been one of the changes Nummerdor said she’s seen that has become a challenge.
Schools are expected to be more than just an education institution, she explained – they’re also required to be a place where children know they will be able to get a meal and have emotional and mental health support.
“But that takes resources,” she said. “I think the big challenge is that funding piece, and just making sure that we have everything we need to meet the needs of all the kids.”