Keats named interim principal at RHS
Paul Keats had to fumble through several keys on his ring before finally finding the one that opened the locked door to the tiered classroom. “I’ll eventually figure out which one goes where,” he said. As he entered the room, it took him several attempts to figure out how to turn on the lights in the classroom. “So much for a positive first impression,” said Keats with a sly smile.
That dry sense of humor and quick wit will serve Keats well. No one would blame him for being a little flustered Thursday, the first day of school at Rhinelander High School. It was only his third full day on the job as the school’s new principal. He admitted that the week has been a whirlwind of meeting people, trying to remember names and getting to know the district that will be his home for at least the next school year.
Keats had his contract officially approved by the Rhinelander Board of Education Monday evening. His hiring followed an abbreviated search for a new high school principal following Terry Fondow’s resignation on Aug. 8. Fondow resigned due to health reasons after attempting to work through a chronic sleep disorder that has plagued him for decades. The late resignation left the district in a bind, according to Superintendent Roger Erdahl.
“It was a very awkward time of year to fill the position,” said Erdahl. “We did not have the luxury of posting the job for long before we started scheduling interviews. I know that the awkward time frame kept several interested candidates from applying. We were fortunate to have someone with Paul’s credentials in the candidate pool.”
Keats has 13 years of experience as a high school principal, serving 7 years in New Holstein and 6 most recently in Sun Prairie. He also has five years of experience as an assistant principal in Manitowoc. Keats taught Social Studies, including U.S. History and Social Sciences, before becoming an administrator. “He brings veteran skills and experience to RHS, and will lead us through our building construction and important initiatives,” said Erdahl. “Given all the moving parts we have here currently in the high school, we were seeking someone with high level high school administration experience, and Paul certainly brings that.”
Keats served as the high school principal in Sun Prairie until the conclusion of the 2008-09 school year. He has explored other interests since leaving that district, and is excited to once again be a high school principal.
“Taking time away from administration work has made me realize how much I miss it,” said Keats. “I’ve been itching to get back in, and when this position presented itself, I jumped at it.”
Erdahl said that he believes Keats is a good fit for the job and the community, and will continue to foster many of the initiatives Fondow spearheaded during his time as principal.
“Paul has a history of accomplishments in several areas that are important to RHS,” said Erdahl. “He has a proven track record in high school administration, and stood out as the experienced professional we need at this time to reach the ambitious goals we have set for Rhinelander High School.”
Keats and his wife, Margret, have three children. The oldest, Ian, is a junior at UW-Eau Claire. Their middle child, Neil, is a freshman at UW-Platteville. Their youngest, Jennifer, is a senior at Sun Prairie High School. Margret works as a first grade teacher in the Sun Prairie School District, and Keats’ family plans to stay in Sun Prairie until Jennifier graduates.
“I’ll either drive down there on weekends, or they’ll come up to visit me once things get settled,” said Keats. “It will be tough, but we talked about it and realized that this may happen if I wanted to get back into administration.”
Keats said he’s currently staying at a hotel in Rhinelander, but admitted that living out of a suitcase is “already getting old.” He is currently looking at more permanent housing options, even though he was hired on an interim basis for only the 2011-12 school years. On Monday evening, the Board of Education passed a motion to re-post the position in late winter or early spring.
“The Board directed the re-posting because of the circumstances, and felt it made sense to revisit this at a more appropriate and typical time of year,” said Erdahl. “Given the proper time frame, I feel that this position will be highly sought after around the state.”
According to information released by the district Wednesday, Keats comes to RHS with clear goals: guide the completion of construction, improve the graduation and attendance rates, aggressively pursue all of the career readiness initiatives and insure implementation of the RTI (Response To Invention) and PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Support) initiatives. All are initiatives that Fondow had taken a large role in developing.
“I look forward to talking with Terry when he feels up to it,” said Keats, who said he has yet to contact the former principal. “I certainly hope to pick his brain on the recent history of the district and some of his ideas on how to improve things. He has a tremendous level of respect around here, and I hope he can be a resource to help the district in the future.”
Keat said that, should everything go according to his plan this school year, he hopes to remove the “interim” from his title, and make the position permanent.
“I view this as a great opportunity to make a positive impression on the staff, students and administration in this district,” said Keats. “I hope that after a year of working with the staff, they are interested in keeping me.”
Keats said things have gone well so far in his first week, noting that the staff communicates well, and the students are polite.
“I’ve heard so many ‘please’s’ and ‘thank you’s’ already,” said Keats. “That makes me feel good.”
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