(Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series in which Hub City Times interviews retiring educators.)
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Energy, enthusiasm, positivity. These are the things that Dave Schoepke brought to his post as principal of Marshfield Middle School since he started there in 1999. Schoepke is retiring this year, but there was a time when it seemed doubtful he would work in the education field at all.
He spent 10 years in business management prior to making his entry into education. He earned an associate degree in marketing, and after spending significant time in the business field, he went back to University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to earn his teaching certification in physical education.
Schoepke worked at Wausau East High School for nine years in various roles and then earned his master’s degree in administration at UW-Superior. From there he assumed an assistant principal role at Merrill High School for three years before finally landing in Marshfield.
He transitioned from business to teaching because he had a passion for working with students. He transitioned from teaching to administration for the challenge.
“As I was going through my teaching and moving up the line, (I thought,) ‘I’d like to run my own building and see how that would work and see once if I can take my personality and influence a building in a direction,’” Schoepke said. He added that he never pursued a superintendent position because he wanted to keep close contact with students.
“I got into the area that I wanted to get in to affect the change, and I’m hoping that I rubbed off a little bit,” he said.
The energy that he brought to the position certainly influenced the building, as he would open each school year with an assembly, always riding in to address the students on a motorcycle, go-kart, or four-wheeler.
“Every year that I’ve been here I always have found some unique ride to come in on,” he said. “I always do that because it gets the anticipation of the kids up.”
The massive barrel of coffee he totes around also deserves an assist for Schoepke’s ability to bring energy to the middle school.
Schoepke said his philosophy in education has been to always maintain an open door policy. He added that he tried to motivate students and teach them through stories, often drawing on his own life experience.
“I’m actually living your education along with you and help guide you,” he said. Whatever students needed — a sympathetic ear, a counselor, or a friend to shoot the breeze with — was what Schoepke tried to be.
Middle school, Schoepke said, is one of the two most formative periods in a child’s life, the other being ages 0-5. He said adolescence is crucial because children are “trying to identify who they are. What friends group do they want to be with?” he said. “I think for me it’s really impressionable years, and you can make some changes in kids yet. They’re vulnerable.”
Some of the biggest challenges throughout Schoepke’s career have been long hours, mandates or changes imposed by the state, and retaining quality teachers. When he reflects on his career and what he is most proud of, he thinks more about the span of his career than any single accomplishment.
“I think the biggest thing I’m proud about is that people feel good about sending their kids to Marshfield Middle School right now,” he said. “They feel comfortable when they come here. They can have a fun time. They can be who they are, but they still keep academics in focus.”
With all of the changes happening at the state level and within the district, Schoepke said now is a good time to retire.
“I’ve always kind of been a change agent,” Schoepke said. “I’m thinking the next step of changes will be significant changes, and I felt like maybe I’m leaving on the top of my game here.”
He added that he may consider other pursuits like motivational speaking or educational consulting in his retirement.
Schoepke said his replacement had not been chosen yet. Whoever that is may have to ride in on a helicopter to top Schoepke’s famous entrances.