Banasik named Rural Principal of the Year

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Prairie du Chien High School Principal Andy Banasik was named Rural Principal of the Year by the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance (WiRSA) at the annual Rural Schools Conference, Oct. 28. He was one of six individuals and one organization honored for their contributions to rural education.

Nominated by the high school’s Academic and Career Readiness Coordinator Karen Sjoberg, who has known Banasik since he was in high school, Banasik has spent more than 20 years bringing opportunities to students in rural southwest Wisconsin. 

“His achievements are immeasurable and his efforts will continue. He is the epitome of a Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance Principal of the Year,” Sjoberg said in her nomination. 

After graduating from Prairie du Chien High School himself, Banasik put himself through college—and fulfilled his goals of playing collegiate basketball while pursuing a degree in teaching—by getting up at 4 a.m. daily and driving a bread delivery truck to earn tuition money. 

When he returned to his alma mater to teach and coach, his high personal expectations were transferred on to his students and athletes. As his career transitioned and he became assistant principal/athletic director, and then principal of the high school, Banasik has dedicated himself to searching for innovative ways to best serve the needs of the students, according to Sjoberg. Transcripted credit options through Southwest Technical College and teachers with AP experience have been added. Currently, the high schoolers can choose from 20 classes offering free technical school credits and 18 AP courses. 

Sjoberg said this is “an unprecedented accomplishment for a rural high school with less than 400 students in southwest Wisconsin.”

Examples of his fight for excellence and opportunity in this rural community include many. 

The nomination reads, “When SWTC reached out to schools in CESA 3 offering a face-to-face criminal justice class for school districts, he was the first one to respond. [This semester is] our fifth Introduction to Criminal Justice course with a SWTC instructor. When our students were interested in local CNA classes with clinicals offered in Prairie du Chien (versus traveling a minimum of 45 miles), Andy reached out to SWTC for a partnership that brought a CNA class to our students with clinicals at the local nursing home. Not only did he broker that opportunity, but he also capped it off with two online nursing prep course opportunities for our students. When CESA 3 and UW-Platteville partnered to offer an Introduction to Education class opportunity for high school students, Andy quickly agreed to participate. When UW-Platteville contacted him about an Introductory Engineering class for high school students, Andy was on board.”

Additionally, another innovation led by Banasik is the high school’s alternative education program. 

For decades, according to Sjoberg, the Prairie du Chien School District has paid to send its highest need at-risk students to a private, for-profit alternative school in the community. Under Banasik’s leadership, a house adjacent to the campus was purchased, staff was hired and the district is set to offer its own GEDO II and alternative ed programs. 

“Andy believes the smaller group setting utilizing all of our resources will better meet the needs of struggling students,” the nomination stated. “Staff from our high school will teach classes in small group settings at the house and students will also be able to simply walk across campus to take classes of interest to them in the high school building.

With all this emphasis on meeting students’ needs, it would be easy to wonder about the needs of the staff.

Sjoberg’s nomination portrays Banasik as a responsive leader who also promotes excellence with his staff. 

She said, he has found ways to carve out daily planning time for teachers and led efforts to help core instructors earn their master’s degrees to meet requirements for SWTC transcripted credit classes. He is generous with training opportunities for AP and career technical education teachers. He is supportive in resolving classroom management issues and is the first to provide sub coverage when necessary in a classroom. 

Also, Banasik’s has gathered a leadership team to guide the staff through professional leadership training and regular staff meetings during the school day without loss of student instruction time or cost to the district. 

Within the community, according to his nomination, Banasik is accessible every day of the week. He works with community leaders wherever he can to partner up for educational opportunities. 

“When a building referendum was passed, which included a new field house, there was no money budgeted for scoreboards and bleachers,” Sjoberg stated. “Andy personally went door-to-door in the community and secured the support of 24 businesses for three-year and five-year sponsorship agreements to help fund these purchases. While he expected this process to take many weeks or even months, his credibility meant he was able to do all of this in less than a two week period.”

Also recognized by the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance this year were Rural Teacher of the Year Sarah Quade, of the Monticello School District; Rural Administrator of the Year Ben Niehaus, of the Florence County School District; Rural School Board Member of the Year Jill Gaskell, of the Pecatonica School Board; Rural Support Staff Person of the Year Keith Peterson, of the Argyle School District; Rural Community Partner of the Year Door County Medical Center; Rural Advocacy Award winner Doug Mering, of the Baraboo School District.

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