Madison Elementary principal to retire
Greg Kaster reflects on his decision, the school district, and his past 16 years
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — On Tuesday morning the Marshfield School Board held a special meeting, accepting the retirement of Madison Elementary Principal Greg Kaster, the latest of several principals recently leaving the district either by accepting new jobs or retiring.
Former Marshfield Middle School Assistant Principal Jim Hoese and Principal Dave Schoepke retired at the end of 2015. Todd Felhofer left his role as principal of Lincoln Elementary at the conclusion of last school year to become the district administrator for the Greenwood School District. Most recently, Marshfield High School Principal Steve Sukawaty verbally resigned his position and said he is accepting a job as principal at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Port Washington.
Kaster, 54, has been the principal at Madison for 16 years. His retirement is effective June 10.
Reasons for Kaster’s retirement
While Sukawaty expressed concerns about Marshfield School District’s stability in terms of personnel turnover, Kaster said it was simply time for him to retire.
“A lot of people go, ‘Boy, Greg, are you being pushed out? (Are) things happening?’ And the answer — I’ll be blunt — no,” Kaster said. “My dad told me one time, because he was a teacher, he said, ‘Greg, you’ll know when it’s time to retire. No one can tell you. It’s in your guts,’ and you know, … it got in my guts.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, school board member Frances Bohon said she was “caught by surprise” at Kaster’s retirement, and Marshfield School District Superintendent Dee Wells praised his performance.
“He’s just such an excellent principal,” Wells said. “It’s kind of a sad loss, actually.”
Wells added, “He was very caring, very passionate.”
“I worry about losing a lot of our history with our longer term staff members because we need to have a good mix of people who’ve been here for a while with the newcomers for smooth transitions,” Bohon said.
Kaster said he has had a good relationship with the district.
“The district’s been super to me,” Kaster said. He said it was simply becoming more difficult to access the passion he has always held for his position, and that made him feel, “Maybe it’s time for someone else.”
The continuing implementation of technology in school curriculum was also a factor in convincing Kaster that it was time to leave.
“That’s not my strong suit, and I’m more of a people person,” Kaster said in reference to technology’s increased presence in the schools. “I’m not sure I’m the best person for that.”
When asked about the recent turnover in district principals, Kaster said that it is commonplace for lots of movement to occur in that field.
“It goes with the territory that you move on,” Kaster said. “I think you get to a point where you’re very effective to a point, and then it’s harder and harder to be effective, and I’m not sure there’s a reason for that.”
Kaster has two daughters, and his wife teaches in Pittsville. He said he thought he and his wife would stay in the Marshfield area. Kaster and his wife recently bought a new house after losing their former home in a fire. He said he began thinking about retirement around May of last year, and the fire may have contributed to his decision.
“That took a lot out of the year,” Kaster said. “That didn’t help with the passion because I was exhausted every night.”
He said that, “The community stepped up huge,” to support him and his family after the fire.
Looking back on his career
Kaster, who taught early in his career, said he sought to become a principal because he felt he could impact more students in that role.
“In a classroom you make an impact on 20 to 30 kids, and I thought, ‘As a school administrator, I can reach the hundreds.’”
One of the things Kaster is most proud of over the course of his career is happening now, as 28 students from China, ages 10-12, have come to attend Madison Elementary for two weeks.
“I don’t know any elementary school in the state that’s doing something like this,” Kaster said. He added that he hoped his students would remember the Chinese immersion program long after their time at Madison ends.
One of the other biggest accomplishments of his tenure, Kaster said, was “allowing students a voice in the building.”
“I think they know that I listen,” Kaster said. Each year Kaster brings back Madison alumni that are Marshfield High School seniors for a kind of roundtable discussion.
“That’s the (most fun) day of the school year,” he said.
He said one of the main challenges of his tenure was serving students who go home to difficult environments. However, he said that local organizations that interact with families in difficult situations — such as police, human services, and the schools — work well together in Marshfield, which Kaster said is not the case in all communities.
When asked what made Madison special, Kaster answered with zero hesitation.
“No brainer, the students and staff,” Kaster said. “We care. We’re for real. Bottom line, we care. We care for kids. We care for each other.”