DARLINGTON – After 16 years teaching and 16 years as the principal at the Darlington Elementary/Middle School, Michelle Savatski says it is time for her to spend more time with the family and have some fun.
Growing up in Benton, she always knew she wanted to be a teacher. Her three sisters and her would take turns playing teaching each other in their basement schoolroom. She was also influence by her second grade teacher, Elaine Swift.
“She just made you want to go to school every day and made everyone feel special,” Savatski remembered.
Upon graduation in 1982, she left for college at UW-Whitewater, wanting to get away from the small town life and to become a Business Education teacher. But after one semester, she became terribly homesick and transferred to UW-Platteville where she finished her education, graduating in 1986 with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with a Mathematics emphasis.
She received her first teaching job in August 1986 at a school in Eastman, about 10 miles outside Prairie du Chien. She remembers being in tears all summer because she was terrified that she wouldn’t be able to find a job.
“Those were the days that 250 people would apply for an elementary job,” Savatski said.
The small town, with a population of about 300 people at the time, had an old red brick two-story schoolhouse that she would be teaching in. She taught fifth and sixth grade in the same classroom. But after four years in Eastman, she accepted a job in the Darlington School District a week before school started, teaching sixth and seventh grade Language Arts.
“I thought I had died and went to heaven,” Savatski joked. She was thrilled when she found out she would only be teaching just two classes. She was used to prepping for 10 different classes a day.
“But it was just amazing. They really welcomed me here.”
She began working with a veteran team consisting of Margaret Galle, Kitty Wilson and Jim Huston, which were easy to work with. She remembers a team meeting where they were discussing the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Savatski told them that her mother was still pregnant with her. They all gasped at the fact they were working with someone that wasn’t even born for that significant event.
“I have that same reaction today when discussing the anniversary of the Challenger explosion and working with people who weren’t even born,” Savatski explains.
She continued to teach Language Arts until 2002. During that time, she went back to UWP and received her Master’s degree in Middle Level Education in 1994. She decided to go back to school in 1999 because in order to renew a teaching license, teachers needed to get six credits every five years.
“I had taken all the classes that UWP had to offer and wondered what else I could take so I started taking Education Administration classes and became more and more interested in it.”
It seemed like a coincidence that she finished up her course work in the summer of 2002 when the current principal left and she was hired for the job.
“I felt very fortunate. When you teach or work in an atmosphere like this, you don’t want to leave and I didn’t. This has been my family for 28 years and I just, it is going to be difficult to say goodbye,” Savatski said becoming emotional.
She said she is going to miss the day-to-day interactions with all the students.
“I don’t mind when the students have been naughty and have to come to see me. I mean I don’t want it to happen all the time but sometimes it is fun to help them figure out what is getting in their way and trying to help them. On a daily basis they can say or do things that just make your day.”
Savatski was thrilled to learn that Lori Nodorft would be taking over the principal position in the fall.
“I have every confidence in her. I know she is ready for the task. She has been preparing for the last four or five years.”
Her husband, Jeff, commented that she will become bored after awhile but she is looking forward to being bored. She wants to spend more time with her son, Mitch, who has developmental disabilities. She is grateful to her parents and husband for really helping out so much to allow her to do her job with all the crazy hours. She is also looking forward to spend more time with son, Matt and daughter, Megan, who recently had her first grandchild, Bryce, whom she will also be doing some babysitting.
Savatski wishes that more people would understand the time commitment that teachers put into the district and that every child is coming to school with a very different story, background and experiences and the teachers are tasked with taking all of that and having to take the child from where they are and move them forward.
“This staff is passionate about taking care of the whole child not just their academic success but also emotional and social success. Sometimes that can be just as time consuming as academics.”
But the community has been so supportive of all of the districts efforts and Savatski has always felt very respected by the families and community.
“Whenever we needed to reach out for resources for programming or for needy students, the community of Darlington always steps up to the plate and it is not like that everywhere.”
Between taking care of her family and herself, Savatski would really like to be able to take care of others, especially those with children with disabilities and help them navigate the system with resources and help them make sure they are taking advantage of all that is available to them.
“It is my dream position. I have done some in my current role and I want to be able to continue that.”
She wants aspiring teachers to know that going into this job, it is not just a job but a 24/7 profession, where they will be impacting the lives of the children around them. They need to be willing to understand that they will be looked at in the community as people who are great role models for their children.
“They will never find a more rewarding career that that of teaching.”