New Principal at Blakewood
New Principal Brings a Career of Compassion and Caring to Blakewood Elementary School
Sometimes an offhand suggestion or just a few words from someone can change your life’s path. That’s what happened to Lee Waechter, the new principal at Blakewood Elementary School.
Waechter was home after graduating from St. Norbert College with a business degree when two friends who were special education teachers suggested he substitute teach to make some money.
“I just saw what they were doing and kind of fell in love with it,” Waechter said.
Special Education is specialized instruction for students who learn differently or have a physical or mental condition that presents a barrier to learning. Students who need special education get individualized education plans, or IEPs, that are designed to deliver meaningful instruction so students can learn, grow and succeed.
For Waechter, it became a lifetime passion to bring dignity and attention to a group of students who might feel marginalized in school.
“I just wanted to be great to people who weren’t treated well and give them a voice,” Waechter said.
Waechter enrolled in Milwaukee Teacher Education Center (now called the Urban Living Collaborative) – a resource for people to earn their teaching certification and start working in schools at the same time.
Outside his classroom, he could see his students standing apart from their peers and empathized with their feelings of being excluded.
“I could feel it on the kids’ behalf,” he said. “They were struggling.”
Waechter said he started getting involved at recess playing games with all the students. If he was seen as a fun teacher, it might help raise the esteem of the students he worked with.
“The (other students) saw it as my students get to work with Mr. Waechter, not that they have to work with Mr. Waechter.”
His attitude toward whole-school culture and acceptance earned Waechter a role as an assistant principal in Milwaukee. He completed a masters degree and is deep into a doctoral program focused on special education. Before being hired as Blakewood’s principal, he had an administrative position in Racine as a special education supervisor. He started looking for other positions when he realized he missed working directly with students.
At Blakewood, Waechter spent the summer and early fall getting to know South Milwaukee, the students and teachers. As a former college baseball pitcher and quarterback at Madison College, Waechter knows the value of having a vision and a team with a common goal.
“My most crucial role is as an instructional leader, and that has a lot of components to it,” he said. “Teachers can’t really engage until they believe that we’re all moving in the same direction.”
When it comes to the students, he wants them to believe in what they’re doing, to build a culture and community that brings families into the school. If that happens, he said, students will meet the challenges they’re given – on tests and in their social and emotional lives.
“How do we make ourselves and our school a little bit better today than it was yesterday? That’s what I’m really focused on building this year.”