New superintendent says his rural roots help him relate to community
Coming from a large suburban school district like New Berlin, it might seem that new Supt. Blake Peuse would be an odd match for the Northern Ozaukee School District.
That premature assessment fails to give full consideration to the man and his roots.
“I grew up in Mondovi, a small town near Eau Claire, so coming to this district has been a lot like coming home,” Peuse said.
“In a small community like ours, everyone knows everyone else, which can be good or bad. For young people, it makes life a lot more personal. You get a lot more opportunities to try different things when you aren’t competing against so many other students for things like sports teams.”
Peuse took over as the district’s superintendent at the beginning of the school year, ending a very prolonged search for an administrator.
He succeeds Joe Gassert, who served as interim administrator all of the past school year when the School Board was unable to find a replacement following the resignation of Bill Harbron at the end of the 2010-11 school year.
That inability to find a new superintendent turned into a bit of serendipity for Peuse, who was recommended for the post by a former professor.
At the time, Peuse was principal of New Berlin West Middle School and High School.
“Once I learned that the Northern Ozaukee School District was interested in talking to me, I began to do as much research as I could about the district,” he said.
That included contacting people who knew the track record of the district, and Peuse said he was impressed enough that he pursued an interview.
“After you go through the interview process, you have to ask yourself, ‘Could I be happy here?’ It is not something you figure out just in your head, but in your gut, too. If you aren’t sure you could be happy, you look elsewhere,” he said.
“I never got the impression the district was desperate to find a superintendent. It just seemed like they were intent on finding the best fit they could.”
The superintendent selection committee was as impressed with Peuse as he was with the district, and a two-year contract was offered.
“At that point, I began spending a lot of time with Joe (Gassert). I quickly began to realize this position was going to be a great fit for me,” Peuse said.
The administrative position was something he had his sights on for some time.
After completing his undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Peuse earned a master’s degree in education from Marian College in Fond du Lac and completed his state superintendent certification last year at UW-Milwaukee.
“A superintendent’s job is not something you seek for fame and fortune. To make it work, you have to be committed to making a difference for students,” Peuse said.
That is the foundation of his approach to education, and is a philosophy he finds rampant among the district’s staff.
“You might think kids in suburban Milwaukee would be much different than those in a rural area like Northern Ozaukee, but they watch the same things on TV, listen to the same music and do the same things online. From my previous positions, I have learned how kids operate. Kids are kids,” Peuse said.
The fact that the district has had three superintendents in the past three years is not a point missed by many residents.
“I have had people ask me how long I am planning on staying here, but you can’t approach a job like this with that thought. If I didn’t think this was going to be a good fit, I wouldn’t have made it my educational home,” Peuse said.
He lives in Waukesha with his wife of 15 years, Christy, and their 7-year-old daughter Delaney. That means a daily commute, but not an excuse for missing out on some critical dad duty.
“Luckily I am an early riser, so I manage to come in and do a lot of the necessary paperwork before school starts. I can get away after school to things I need to attend for Delaney,” Peuse said.
He said he has quickly learned to see the students and staff as a second family, also requiring a time commitment.
“I think we all see the importance of this job. We are not building widgets. We are preparing students for their next steps in lives, whether that is college or work after school,” Peuse said.
That means a commitment to the Core Curriculum approach to teaching, and following through on his plan to make ACT testing part of the district’s graduation requirement.
Peuse said he also plans to emphasize the district’s intervention efforts to reach out to students who are struggling as well as identify those who are not challenged by the conventional lesson plans.
He said yet another objective is to make the school district and its activities the center of the community.
The financial challenges school districts around the state face make the leadership shown by the superintendent all the more critical, Peuse said.
“When finances are tight, I don’t think it means you have to cut back. You do have to be more ingenious, coming up with strategies on how to use your funds,” Peuse said.
“Rather than making excuses, I like to stay on the positive side. I think people will characterize me as honest and respectful.”
Peuse said there have been few surprises during his first couple months on the job, but plenty of challenges.
“There have been days when the job seemed a lot tougher than I ever expected, but in general it is what I had prepared for. The real challenge will come at
around this point next year, when I get a chance to see how much I learned the first time through a school year,” he said.
Image Information: SUPT. BLAKE PEUSE already feels at home in the Northern Ozaukee School District. Peuse is shown chatting with Ozaukee High School students about their reactions to the revised lunch program. Photo by Mark Jaeger