Mary Ann Kahl said the district is ‘very family-oriented’

By Cathy Kozlowicz


When Dr. Mary Ann Kahl began as district administrator of the Walworth Joint No. 1 School District in 2015, she knew she was not going to be there for 20 to 30 years. But she was thrilled to serve her community where she has lived for the last 20 years.

“I know education. I manage organizations well,” she said.

Being at the helm since 2015, Kahl announced she is retiring as district administrator of the Walworth School District at the Oct. 22 Board of Education Meeting. Her retirement will be effective June 30.

She spent more than 40 years in education with 20 years teaching in the primary grades from 1978-1998. She previously held administrator positions at the Alden-Hebron School District and School District of Janesville. Kahl has also worked for the National Louis University as a full-time Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator for the Educational Leadership Department from 2005-2012, where she prepared many school administrators in Illinois and in Wisconsin.

“My own family is getting older,” she said. “I need to spend time with my family.”

She has a 12-year old grandson, Roland, who is temporarily living with her and going to school in the district as her daughter, Michelle, who lives in Paradise, California, had her house destroyed in the recent fire.

“This came (daughter’s house fire) right after the announcement,” Kahl said. “I am making the right decision.”

Kahl’s oldest son, Britton, lives with his wife, Megan, and two children, Quinn, 13, and Vivian, 10, in Tacoma, Washington. Her youngest son, Emanuel, lives in Madison.

Two of her three children went through the school district.

“It is a very family-oriented district where the emphasis is put on the whole child. It (the district) is very well balanced and it is education for all. We emphasize students’ strengths. We all learn differently as we all have different needs and backgrounds,” Kahl said.

Being innovative

Through her tenure in Walworth, Kahl said her goal was to support the programs and develop what was already in place. Rather than creating an upheaval, she said, the question was, how can we address all students, in the best way possible, within a budget?

For instance, an innovation and design lab, an extension of Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) programming, is where children can create their own projects such as woodworking, laser cutters, use sewing machines and coding stations is one area developed under Kahl’s tenure.

“It was developed through a conversation and sharing an idea,” she said, adding that she credits her staff and teachers for making it happen.

Kahl also helped the school – beginning in third grade – move toward specialized teaching. Before this, all the teachers would teach all the content, in a self-contained classroom.

“This (specialized teaching) allowed the students to build relationships with more than one teacher,” she said.

Through Kahl’s leadership, the district’s kindergarten has expanded to full-time and been very successful, she said, with people having the option to choose full-day kindergarten while they work.

Diversity a plus

Kahl says she has valued the family-centered community and has enjoyed the diversity in the school district, which features many kinds of ethnicity. Because of Kikkoman Foods, Inc., families have come from Japan and there are students from Thailand and China as some of the families are community restaurant owners.

“I see very few elementary schools who have two full-time guidance counselors, a full-time ELL (English Language Learning) teacher and teacher aids. Very few elementary schools have an innovation and design lab and after school program. That is unique for a school our size,” she explained.

“I would hope that I helped and supported the continued growth of the school,” Kahl said. “There are a lot of continued programs. I hoped I helped us get to the next step.”

For the rest of the school year, Kahl said she is working on continuing the day-to-day operations and making sure there is a smooth transition for the next leader.

“I want to make sure all systems are in place for the next person,” Kahl said.

She said she is thankful for the support she’s had.

“I could not have done this without the wonderful Board of Education, dedicated principals, staff, parents and a supportive community,” she said.


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