Associate principal Dan Bender, principal Amber Torres and associate principal Renee Gugel began their careers as administrators at Wilmot Union High School this week (Submitted/The Report).

By Jason Arndt

As school started for area schools, it wasn’t just the students who had their first day, but also for three new Wilmot Union High School principals.

The new principals are a 100 percent turnaround from last year and happened in less than three months.

In July, when associate principal Thomas Blair resigned to take a principal position in the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District, the Wilmot Union High School board tabbed Renee Gugel as his successor.

Gugel worked 10 years at Grayslake Central High School, where she served as the Dean of Students and Department Chair, and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and a Master’s Degree in both Educational Leadership and English. She later received a doctorate in Educational Leadership.

According to Gugel, who lives in Antioch, she felt compelled to apply as an associate principal at Wilmot because of its reputation.

“Although I was ready to be an Associate Principal, I loved Grayslake and I wasn’t going to leave just to leave,” said Gugel 46, and originally from Woodstock, Ill. “Wilmot has been on my radar for some time. We have many friends and coworkers who live just over the border and they rave about Wilmot.”

After Gugel came principal Amber Torres, who received board approval on Aug. 14 to fill the vacancy after John LaFleur resigned.

Torres, a 34-year-old Kaukauna native, comes from Racine Unified School District, where she served as academy principal at Racine Horlick for two years. Torres was also a principal at Roosevelt Elementary for four years.

Wilmot’s new principal carries a Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre and Communications from Carthage College and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Cardinal Stritch University.

Inspired by Wilmot
Three days later, Torres and Gugel saw inspiration at the Wilmot football home opener against Kenosha Bradford, where they received their first exposure to the Panthers’ student section.

“This was the moment that lead us to come up with #InspiredbyWilmot as our theme for the year,” Torres said. “When I was in the stands at the first football game, three days into my position, we approached the student section to introduce ourselves.”

The student reception, according to Torres, reaffirmed her instincts.

“The students began to cheer,” she said. “This was repeated for Renee as well. This was a defining moment for me that my instincts were correct and Wilmot is definitely where I belong.”

Unlike Torres, Gugel’s wait to meet students was longer, since she spent most of the summer working in an empty school.

“I finally got to meet and interact with the students,” Gugel said. “They were so polite and excited about everything and that excitement was contagious.”

Bender completes the puzzle
Less than two weeks before school started, Dan Bender was approved as the new associate principal, replacing Luke Braden, who became principal at Brookwood Elementary School in Genoa City.

Bender, however, does not have to travel far after teaching social studies at Westosha Central the last 13 years.

“I loved all my students and athletes,” said Bender, who was involved in the Falcons athletic program. “I had a lot of history there. I know a lot of parents and former students.”

“I can honestly say that I did everything I could to be the best teacher and coach at Westosha Central. That was the hardest part of leaving,” he said. “I will miss all the students at Central and I will miss the classroom.”

Bender, who received a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, earned a Master’s Degree in Administration and Educational Leadership from National Louis University in 2007.

For Bender, seeking an educational leadership position has been long-awaited.

“I always knew I wanted to be in a leadership role of a school,” he said. “After many years of teaching, I feel like I am ready to make the jump as a school leader.”

The jump, like the former track event he coached, has been a whirlwind experience the last few weeks.

As he boxed up his classroom at Westosha Central, Bender decided to leave his Falcons gear behind, hoping his former colleagues can find a use for them.

“This was very tough for me. I simply left my polos and coaching gear in my room for people to take,” he said.

Rapid transition
Although the transition has been rapid, the three have worked together to maintain the school’s vision, using each other’s strengths.

“Working with Dr. Gugel and Mr. Bender over this last week and a half has been whirlwind,” Torres said. “Our strengths compliment on another and our values naturally align with the already established vision of WUHS.”

Strengths include differing school environments, Gugel said, stating they are working to develop new ideas.

Bender agreed, adding his two new colleagues have been willing to work towards the same goal.

“We are coming up with ideas and policies that are in everyone’s best interest,” he said. “We all have different backgrounds and strengths.”


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