Tim Nitke has completed his final lap around the race track and will retire from the New London Racing for Education Program.
Nitke has worked within the community of New London for decades. He retired from the police department after 28 years with the last four years as the New London School Liaison Officer.
Nine years ago, shortly after retiring, former New London School District Administrator Bill Fitzpatrick approached Nitke with an opportunity to develop a way to keep kids in school and graduate on time.
Fitzpatrick had informed him that New London had a higher dropout rate than the state average. In addition, several teachers had informed Nitke that the reason most of the students were receiving a failing grade in class was because they did not do their homework and did not show any effort in the classroom. This information finalized his decision.
“I accepted the challenge. I figured that if we could change student’s attitudes toward school and homework at young age we might make a difference,” he said.
He had already started the Beat the Heat program, a program were high school students participated in drag racing, but he remembered a conversation he had with Brian Quaintance about kart racing.
“Brian was very involved in kart racing with his two sons, and he tried to convince me back then to try kart racing instead of drag racing with the high school students,” he said.
Remembering this conversation, he thought that there would be an interest in kart racing at the New London Middle School starting in sixth grade through eighth grade.
His plan was to start a program involving youth and go-kart racing. He wanted to help students who were not finding success in school or those students who were identified as “at-risk” of not graduating.
“I figured kids loved to race karts and that would be their reward if they did their homework, showed effort in the classroom, and were respectful towards their parents, teachers, and classmates,” he said.
Nitke researched the requirements and the work needed in order to race the karts, and he knew he needed an ideal place to work on the karts. He approached the newly hired middle school technology teacher, Brent Dusek, and discussed his vision for the Racing for Education program.
“I not only needed him to help with this project, but I also needed his classroom space to work on the karts,” he said. “Luckily Mr. Dusek agreed to help and we formed a partnership which quickly became a friendship. He recognized the need of the program and was instrumental in the organization.”
The program of racing karts for education quickly gained attention amongst the students. In the first year they had more than 120 students sign up. The program is free and each student selected had to abide by the programs guidelines of homework completed, respect, and effort in school. Students are selected based on whom Nitke and Dusek felt would best benefit from the program.
Nitke recalled their first year of racing at GSR Kartway in Clintonville. They only had two karts and he used his own truck and trailer to haul the karts to the track. Tools, parts, and equipment were scarce, but they managed.
Through funding and community involvement over the past nine years, Nitke has helped the Racing for Education program expand. The program has nine karts, a large trailer for hauling, a nice truck for pulling the trailer, and a van to help transport the students.
Each year more than 100 students sign up for the program and approximately 32-40 students are selected to race. The program has generated many inquiries and positive comments from other communities.
“Racing for Education is not just about racing karts at a track,” Nitke said. “It is about parents working and sharing time together with their child. “It is about kids finding new positive friends and working hard to achieve success.”
Nitke said that he knows the program is successful because every year they had students who wanted to stay connected and help even though they were moving up to high school. He further added that the very first group of kart racers in the program, all graduated from high school.
“I would like to think that maybe we helped develop some good study habits when they were in middle school,” he said.
Racing for Education is a yearlong commitment, Nitke said in response to his retirement.
The mentors have to be available every Monday and Wednesday night from the first week of May until September. It was time, but he also knew he had two excellent partners who will continue the program.
“Brent Dusek and parent volunteer Mark Locy are excellent mentors and instructors for the program,” he said. “We worked together for nine years, developed a friendship, and shared a common goal. We wanted all of our students to be successful.”
Nitke will be greatly missed in the district and administrators are hopeful that he will stay connected to the schools.
“Tim has built relationships with students that extend well beyond the race track, and continues to serve as a mentor to many individuals, young and old,” New London District Administrator Kathy Gwidt said. “We extend our gratitude to Tim for all he has done for the School District of New London staff and students.”
Even though Nitke is retiring from the program he will continue to work part-time driving for the New London Transit Service.
“I don’t think I will ever fully retire and not work some sort of a part-time job,” he said. “But I am looking forward to spending more time with my wife, Karen, and our children and grandchildren.”