Westbrook-Walnut Grove named Principal of the YearWESTBROOK — After 34 years of being an administrator, Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School Principal William “Bill” Richards, was named Principal of the Year by the Minnesota Association of Secretaries to the Principals (MASP).
WESTBROOK — After 34 years of being an administrator, Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School Principal William “Bill” Richards, was named Principal of the Year by the Minnesota Association of Secretaries to the Principals (MASP).
Richards was nominated by high school office manager Karen Kolar, an MASP member. This is the second time Kolar nominated Richards, but the first time Richards was awarded.
“Years ago I nominated him, then I was on the board so I couldn’t,” said Kolar, who sent in her nomination last winter.
Her letter of recommendation coupled with a letter from a teacher and a student did the trick for Richards.
Kolar, who has worked with Richards for 20 years, attributes a large part of his personality to being “very approachable.”
“Even if a kid comes in with the most trivial thing, he’ll listen just as closely as if someone was having problems at home or failing classes,” she said.
Beginning his career in 1978 as principal at Walnut Grove High School, Richards moved into the role of high school principal for Westbrook-Walnut Grove when the school districts merged.
“I tell people I got the principal of the year award because I have the faculty of the century,” Richards said. “They make me look good.”
He has placed emphasis on arts education throughout his leadership years, and his effort is still reflected in Westbrook.
Beth Kleven, who worked with Richards in the ’90s for “Art Magnet,” a program then available through Minnesota Center of Arts Education, said that bringing the program to the school was “his vision.”
“Visual arts were the focus in this area, but there were not a lot of arts reflected in the school,” Richards explained.
Years later, the program has been renamed Art Partners and is still very much alive at W-WG High School. Art Partners helps with funding students to work in various areas of art.
Additionally, the school organizes an annual art festival for high-schoolers to showcase their work.
“Doing the art festival was an enormous amount of pressure, but he (Richards) was there every step of the way,” Kleven said about the time when she was involved in its organization. “That is the key to being a good administrator — knowing what people need.”
As a teacher, now, working with Richards, Kleven said her experience remains the same.
“He’s very hands-on as a principal but lets you do your own thing in the classroom,” she explained. “We’re lucky, and it’s not always that way.”
Kleven, who wrote one of the three letters, said that although she deals with a lot of writing — especially because she’s a language arts teacher — there was a lot of pressure involved in penning the letter.
“This was to give a man acknowledgement he should have,” she explained. “I didn’t want to say anything that would change their opinion.”
So why the emphasis in arts education?
“The pressure on testing is a misguided effort,” said Richards, who is also the director for school plays. “There are things that have equal value, and if students had more time in the arts they might have better results in their ability to think and solve problems.”
Kolar added that her boss is also very involved in student council fundraisers.
“One year he grew his hair ridiculously long,” she said. “For every donation, he had a braid in his hair.”
Twelfth-grader Sarah Schoborg said she sent text messages to school friends asking them what they thought of their principal before she could write the whole letter.
“Everyone came back with the same thing,” she added.
“Mr. Richards is always smiling in the hallways,” Schoborg said. “He’s very upbeat and if you know him, you’ll know what it means — he’s an all-around good guy.”
Ideally, Richards encourages his students to be a “three-legged stool” with “legs” in academics, athletics and arts so they can be well-rounded.
“I just want them to be comfortable — not the strongest wrestler or the best artist,” he explained. “Just be comfortable with who they are so they can step out of here and take care of themselves.”