After a summer spent working with children, Susan Davenport knew that she wanted to go into education.
She had worked at a state-run facility for special education children.
Following high school, the Minnesota native went to Mankato State, where she graduated with a degree in elementary education and a minor in special education.
“When I started, I was going to be a classroom teacher,” she said. “I knew I would always stay in education.”
She worked in education a total of 34 years, beginning her career in the Wisconsin Rapids School District.
Initially, she was a first-grade teacher and then became a fifth and sixth-grade teacher.
During that time, she completed her master’s degree in reading from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and then began coursework toward a doctorate. in principalship and a director of instruction license.
She took on various leadership roles during her tenure in the Wisconsin Rapids School District, working in such areas as technology and professional development.
Her husband John, whom she met there, encouraged her to pursue administration.
He was a high school art teacher in the Wisconsin Rapids School District and later became the district’s director of instruction. He retired 10 years ago.
“I had 55 credits within the Ph.D. program when I started here (in Waupaca) and took this role. I committed to this one,” Davenport said.
She was hired 20 years ago as one of the principals of Chain O’ Lakes, Riverside and Westwood elementary schools. She was also in charge of summer school.
“My role kept changing and changing and changing,” she said.
Today, Davenport is preparing for yet another change.
On June 29, she retires as the principal of Chain O’ Lakes Elementary and the school district’s director of instruction.
“It’s been the best of both worlds,” she said. “I’ve been able to stay connected with the children but also work with the staff and go through changes.”
One change involved the transition from half-day kindergarten to full-day kindergarten during the 2001-02 school year.
“We looked at the program, understanding that lots of districts in the state had already made the switch,” she said. “There were new standards with the state and expectations. The community was ready, and the district had the room.”
Davenport said it was a team effort.
“We designed the curriculum on what we want to do with a full day and what’s best for the kids. That was always foremost and always at the center of why we did what we did,” she said.
That same school year, grades three, four and five moved out of Chain O’ Lakes Elementary and into Waupaca Learning Center.
By this time in her career, Davenport had picked up part of the role of instructional support in the district.
The instructional part of her role in the district became 50 percent of her job after Riverside and Westwood elementary schools closed in the spring of 2005.
She continued to be the principal at Chain O’ Lakes Elementary.
“The K-12 curriculum piece became my responsibility,” Davenport said, “but I shared that with the principals. It’s been unique and great to work with the administrative team. It’s always been a shared responsibility. We worked well together. We respected and challenged each other.”
As director of instruction, she helped develop an understanding of the State Standards and led the district through the process of realigning its curriculums at all grade levels and for every subject.
“This task took a number of years to complete. Along with this, we went through changes in the WKCE testing and participated in data retreats to understand what the information was telling us in regards to our instruction in the classroom. We started MAP testing to help us better understand the specifics of what the students were learning,” she said.
For the past two years, the district has been developing an understanding of the Common Core Standards, preparing for another go at aligning the curriculum for these standards and the Smarter Balance Assessment process.
In addition, evaluation systems for district, administration and teachers are being developed. “We are gathering information continually so we are prepared when the deadlines for implementation and compliance are finalized,” she said.
While Davenport saw her share of changes and challenges in her 30-plus career in education, the one thing that has remained consistent, she said, is the support of parents, staff and the community about what is best for the children.
The idea has always remained to maximize student achievement while meeting the needs of students – academically and socially.
It was last fall that she began exploring the feasibility of retirement.
“During Christmas break, I did some soul searching,” Davenport said. “I mentioned to Dr. (David) Poeschl that I was leaning toward this being my final year. In February, I made it official.”
She describes it as being bittersweet, saying it was an honor to work in the school district.
“I’ve enjoyed the 20 years,” Davenport said. “I like what I do, but I’m excited about other opportunities.”
Next up for her includes lots of reading, as well as gardening, biking, kayaking and traveling.
She and her husband want to return to the Grand Canyon for some hiking, explore Utah and also go back to the Boundary Waters.
Davenport feels fortunate to have worked with many great educators who had a passion for children and who were also were willing to learn.
“It’s a great place,” she said of the school district. “The administrators, staff, the teachers – it’s just been an honor. I feel privileged that I learned to be an administrator here in Waupaca. It really was a joy.”