Education

Retiring principal encouraged successor to move into administration

Westhaven Elementary principal to take over for retiring Douglas Elementary principal

Douglas Elementary School Principal Teresa Case is retiring, and her replacement is Westhaven Elementary School Principal Geoff Schwalenberg. The Belleville IL District 118 School Board is expected to appoint a replacement for Westhaven's principa
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Douglas Elementary School Principal Teresa Case is retiring, and her replacement is Westhaven Elementary School Principal Geoff Schwalenberg. The Belleville IL District 118 School Board is expected to appoint a replacement for Westhaven's principa

When Geoff Schwalenberg was a new teacher at Douglas School, he said the principal encouraged him to someday pursue an administrative position.

In July, he’ll take over for that principal, who is retiring after 26 years.

As she prepares for retirement, Douglas Principal Teresa Case says she’s humbled to hear she made a difference in Schwalenberg’s career. Case saw potential in him and said she’s glad Belleville District 118 officials saw it, too.

“He stood out right away as a strong leader,” she said.

Schwalenberg, 48, lives in Swansea with his wife and children; They have five daughters, ranging in age from 13 to 26 years old. He’s currently the principal at Westhaven Elementary School.

On Tuesday night, the District 118 School Board will consider Kelly Harter, dean of students at West Junior High, as Schwalenberg’s replacement at Westhaven. Early in her teaching career, which began at Union School, Harter said she knew she wanted to become a principal. It was important to her to find that position in District 118, she said.

“It’s like family,” she said. “... It’s a big district, but the schools are so small.”

Harter, 31, lives in Swansea with her husband and two children, a 4-year-old and 1-year-old.

Superintendent Matt Klosterman said Harter is the recommendation, but nothing is official until board members vote next week.

Leaving Westhaven will be “bittersweet” for Schwalenberg, but he said he’s excited to get back to the school where he started his career.

“There are very few things that could have pulled me away from this place,” he said of Westhaven. “But really, I think that’s the most appealing thing: just getting to go back and to kind of finish this adventure where I started it, so to speak.”

...Once a Tiger, always a Tiger.

Teresa Case, retiring principal, on Douglas School

As he was moving on to other positions in District 118, including a year as dean of students at West Junior High, Schwalenberg said Douglas School was in the back of his mind.

“It was just a home,” he said.

Case said she’s felt the same way about the school.

“I think once a Tiger, always a Tiger,” she said. “... You can feel the love, and I think it transcends in the building.”

Schwalenberg’s first job was teaching fourth-grade at Douglas. He later taught sixth-graders there.

“When you come into education, you’re excited; you’re nervous. ... I just remember having a lot of fun in my classes,” Schwalenberg said. “... We’d do a speech, and I wasn’t averse to standing on a desk, you know, and playing the part and animating it.”

She was really instrumental in saying, ‘I think you’d make a good administrator. I think this is a path you’d really like’ and was very supportive of me.

Geoff Schwalenberg on retiring principal Teresa Case

When he returns to Douglas in a few months, Schwalenberg said he hopes to use his experience to help the building grow and improve.

He said it was Case’s support when he was starting his career that “made me know that I was going in the right direction with administration.” He called her a mentor and friend.

“She was really instrumental in saying, ‘I think you’d make a good administrator. I think this is a path you’d really like’ and was very supportive of me,” Schwalenberg said. “That sticks out to me. I remember those times.”

Case had a mentor of her own when she was a new teacher; She said former superintendent Jim Rosborg had a “huge influence” on her life through his encouragement.

Case’s last day is June 30, but she likely won’t be saying goodbye for good. She plans to travel and spend more time with family, including her grandchildren, during her retirement. But she said students have requested that she continue to bring them treats — something she’s been doing about once a week as principal.

“I’ll be dropping off baked goods to Douglas still,” Case promised.

Klosterman said he remembers Case’s baked goods from when she would share with administrators.

“Her baking prowess is well known,” he said. “… I’m probably carrying around about 15 pounds of the stuff that she makes.”

The Belleville District 118 School Board meets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at 105 West A St. in Belleville to consider appointing Harter as the new principal at Westhaven School.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

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