Janesville School District Superintendent Steve Pophal announced his retirement Wednesday, reasoning it’s “time to begin the transition into the next stage for me and my family.”

Pophal’s last day as superintendent will be June 30, 2022.

“The decision to retire has been a difficult one, honestly,” Pophal told The Gazette. “I think, like a lot of people in my generation, this isn’t just a career for me, it’s a lifestyle. I put everything I have into this 24/7, and it became a bit of my identity. I couldn’t have had a better place to culminate the 39-career career that I’ve had in public education. I’ve been blessed to have a high-functioning school board to work with me hand in hand.”

Pophal said he is grateful for his leadership team and the staff at all the schools who are “on the front lines.” He refers to the teachers as the heart and soul of the organization, as well as custodians, food service workers, maintenance workers and the district’s secretary.

Over the past 19 months, Pophal said he has had to make difficult decisions in response to the spread of COVID-19. But the struggle to stay ahead of the pandemic did not play into his decision to retire, he said.

“I’m not running away from anything. I am running toward something,” Pophal said. “While the last 19 months have been quite an unpredictable ride, those were just opportunities for leaders to rise up and to truly be leaders. I don’t want to say it’s ever easy to lead. It’s easier to lead when things are predictable than when things aren’t.”

For his next chapter, Pophal said he is looking forward to focusing on his family.

“I have elderly parents who are 90 and 86, who live in my home,” Pophal said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to support them to stay independent for as long as possible. And my two children—one lives in California and one lives in Florida. We look forward to being able to spend more time with them.”

Pophal said he intendeds to follow the advice of a retired friend who urged him not to make any big life decisions within the first six months of retirement.

“My wife and I are certainly looking forward to doing some traveling sooner than later,” Pophal said. “But more than anything, it’s about relationships with family, friends and finding other ways to continue to be woven into the fabric of a healthy, dynamic community.”

School board response

After working closely with Pophal for the past five years, members of the school board said they were sad to hear of his pending retirement.

“It was a surprise to me,” board member Kevin Murray said of Pophal’s retirement news. “I know that he gave 150% every day, all day. I couldn’t be more happy for him to make a decision that’s going to positively affect him and his family.”

Murray said Pophal “has been like a brother to me. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. He’s somebody that I can go to for advice, and I will miss him personally.”

Board member Greg Ardrey said Pophal “has done an excellent job during his time as superintendent, as well as continuing to move the district in a positive direction.”

Ardrey said “the last year and a half has taken so much out of many of the leaders during the whole COVID situation. I guess, when you’re of that age and you can make that decision, it makes it a little easier.”

Board President Cathy Myers said she and Pophal talked about his decision to retire before he made it public.

“I gave him the space he needed to really think about what is in his best interest and make sure that he is taking his life in the direction that he wants to,” Myers said.

Superintendent search

The school board is already taking steps to find Pophal’s successor, which Myers said could take several months. Ardrey said he hoped a new superintendent could be selected by next January.

In the meantime, the board will consider the profile and skill set they would like the next superintendent to have.

“I’m speaking personally here about the things that I care about, but obviously we need people with great skills at managing ... a large district,” Myers said. “But I think our community and our board and our faculty and staff really want somebody that has great interpersonal and communication skills and a good vision for what we need to do to keep the district strong.”


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