Janesville School Board picks new superintendent in shortened selection process

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Wednesday, January 11, 2017

JANESVILLE—The Janesville School Board found a superintendent candidate it likes so much it cut the search process short.

On Tuesday, the board announced it had chosen Steve Pophal, 56, as the next superintendent of Janesville schools.

Pophal is director of secondary education at the D.C. Everest Area School District.

The decision had the unanimous and enthusiastic support of the board.

Superintendent Karen Schulte is retiring at the end of the school year. Three candidates for the position were interviewed Jan. 3. All of the interviews went well, but Pophal's interview stood out, said Steve Huth, school board clerk.

Board members spent the past week checking Pophal's references. The references came from parents, central office staff, principals, corporate CEOs, guidance staff, teachers and leaders of state organizations.

“The feedback was incredible with words like 'visionary,' 'articulate' and 'committed' used to describe the work of one candidate,” Huth wrote in a news release.

References used phrases such as “does what is best for kids,” “creates ownership” and “an outstanding leader of diverse groups where everyone feels valued,” according to the release.

At one point in a discussion about the candidate, Huth asked board President Kevin Murray, “You know what it's like when you find the right pair of shoes?”

And Murray responded, “You buy two pair.”

At Tuesday's meeting, board members talked about what they heard during reference checks.

“He (the reference) told me that if we talk five years from now, you'll start by thanking me for helping you hire him,” Board member Jim Millard said.

Board member Michelle Haworth also received glowing references from the people she called.

For Haworth, an important moment came during Pophal's interview.

“He said, 'I don't even need that big of an office because I'll never be there,'” Haworth said.

The board was impressed by the work Pophal has done both in his school district and on policy development at the state and national levels.

They also were encouraged by his ability to form alliances with local businesses.

In the D.C. Everest Area School District, 96 percent of seniors graduate with some form of post-secondary credits. Those were in the form of an AP class, a “dual enrollment” class with credits that would transfer to tech school or some kind of industry certification.

Pophal visited Janesville before his Jan. 3 interview.

“I liked the community; I liked the support for the school district,” Pophal told The Gazette. “People were friendly and welcoming.”

While here, he talked about the school district with locals at gas stations, restaurants and other places.

He said he was impressed with the school board's “laser-like focus on the welfare of the kids.”

Pophal's compensation package includes a $170,000 salary plus benefits. Schulte is paid a $169,000 salary plus benefits.


Tuesday's announcement was a surprise to some. The original schedule called for finalists going through a second round of interviews with select members of the public and school staff. Those meetings were scheduled to take place Jan. 16, with the board making its final decision Jan. 24.

Huth said board members were concerned about how it would look if they eliminated the second round of interviews.

But they also thought it would have been disingenuous to hold those interviews when the board had already found the candidate who was the “perfect fit,” based on the superintendent profile created before the hiring process began.

“Because the support was so strong from references that included staff, business leaders and the community, the board felt it was not necessary to conduct additional interviews on Jan. 16 as originally planned,” Huth wrote.

The evidence in Pophal's favor was “overwhelming,” Huth said.

In addition, the public already had provided input in a variety of ways.

School Exec Connect, the consulting firm hired to help with the superintendent search, created a “superintendent profile” before the hiring process started.

That profile was based on the results of a community survey that garnered more than 500 responses, meetings with local businesses and community leaders, meetings with teachers and staff, and a public forum that about six people attended.

About Pophal

Pophal has been with the D.C. Everest Area School District since 2002. Before becoming director of secondary education, he served as a junior high school principal.

While at D.C. Everest, he has played a role on state and national committees.

In 2014 and 2016, he was on the policy development team of the Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance.

Between 2005 and 2010, he held various positions with the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

In 2008, he was given the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators Distinguished Service Award.

Pophal received his bachelor's degree in broad field social studies with a minor in sociology from UW-Madison in 1983. In 1991, he received a master's in educational leadership from Marion College, and in 2014 he completed his superintendent license requirements at Edgewood College.

The other two candidates were Franklin Middle School Principal Charles Urness and Colleen Timm, district administrator for the Mishicot School District.

This story was changed to reflect the correct amount of the new superintendent's salary.  It is $170,000.

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