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For new School District of Menomonie Area principals Mike Kennedy and Casey Drake, the first day of school brings in more faces and names they have to learn.

Learning those names and getting to know the students is just part what they’re looking forward to in their first year leading schools in the district.

Students walking through front door on Tuesday morning brought a lot of excitement into the building Kennedy said, as he begins as the new principal at River Heights Elementary.

“It’s always great to have the kids back and the energy back in the building, that’s why we do what we do.” Kennedy said. “The months go on in summertime, educators are just waiting for the kids to come back that way we can get back to what we love to do.

“So that’s been exciting to have the energy back in the building and get to meet the kids, trying to learn everyone’s name,” Kennedy said.

Drake welcomed the freshman to the Menomonie High School last Thursday before the remaining students began on Tuesday morning.

He has been preparing for the day for almost two months, and getting that time to learn what the job entails before students join the fold was beneficial to Drake. The time gave him the opportunity to meet much of the staff at the school and get to know them.

“It was really nice having about six or seven weeks of being on the job before school actually started so that I had a little time for myself to get used to the staff members that were here and get to know them, the curriculum and the building and really have that in place before the kids actually start coming today,” Drake said.

Besides getting to know students and staff, Drake’s big focus as he begins his role as high school principal is developing the writing skills of students. During their time in high school, Drake wants students to learn to be able to think and write critically for all classes in school.

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“We really want to have our students when they leave us in a few years, when those freshman leave us in four years, they really have mastered that ability to think about and then correlate a coherent writing sample that will take on a lot of different opinions, viewpoints and information and really coalesce that in their writing,” Drake said.

Drake spent the last five years as the associate principal at Lincoln High School in the Wisconsin Rapids Public School District. Drake also spent time teaching at Lake Geneva area before the move to Wisconsin Rapids.

Drake’s wife, Sarah, is a Menomonie alum and she is also beginning her tenure in school district as a teacher at the middle school.

Moving back to the Menomonie area was something the Drake family had thought about for some time. Getting the chance to challenge himself, progressing from an associate principal to principal, all while moving to Menomonie to set down some roots was the perfect opportunity for Drake.

Kennedy previously served as the PK-12 principal for the School District of Plum City before taking the River Heights job. Kennedy’s wife Erin enters her third year as a first-grade teacher at Wakanda Elementary and being in the same district was a significant factor in Kennedy’s desire to take the new position. Kennedy also spent time in Iowa — the Preston Community School District and the Dubuque School District — before his time in Plum City.

“My role as I’ve seen it for this year but definitely at the beginning of year is to listen and to learn and to get a good feel for how things operate in the school, get to know the kids, get to learn the procedures and how things operate because River Heights in an awesome school and I’m very grateful to be here and be a part of it,” Kennedy said.

As both Kennedy and Drake assume their roles leading schools in the district, both welcome the opportunity to meet new students and get to know their staff. For Drake, becoming a welcoming presence in the community is key to doing his best as principal in leading the school.

“I want everybody — both students, staff and community members — to view me as an approachable person that’s willing to listen and talk about whatever concerns or issues or feedback that we might have,” Drake said, “and really work going forward to build the best school we possibly can in our community.”

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