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'Selling hope': SV Elementary principal set to retire

Spring Valley Elementary Principal Kenneth Lasure has been in education for 31 years; 23 years as the Spring Valley elementary principal. Lasure said he'll miss the daily interactions with students and teachers, but the energy it takes to run a school just isn't there anymore. Matthew Lambert / RiverTown Multimedia

SPRING VALLEY—In 1994, Kenneth Lasure and his family arrived in Spring Valley when he took a position as the middle/high school principal. Lasure finished the last few months of the school year, moving from Black River Falls where he was a high school assistant principal.

At the April 10 Spring Valley School Board meeting, a meeting he's attended for decades, Lasure presented the school board with a letter that said he will be stepping down from his position in June as the elementary school principal after 23 years.

It wasn't a lack of caring about his position. Rather, Lasure loves his school, his faculty and most of all, his students.

"Working with kids recharges your battery," Lasure said. "When I was younger I wanted to be where the action was...I've pretty much satisfied that part of me."

Born in southern California, then relocating to southern Wisconsin, Lasure was told by his parents one thing about college: that he was going.

"No one in my family had gone to college," Lasure said. "For the five of us, the understanding was you will go to college. Not what you will do, how you will do it, you will go to college."

Lasure knew that he wanted to work with people, that was for sure, and had two great motivational teachers in middle school that he still remembers today.

"The big deal for me was the people who stepped up and made positive contributions, that were always still there building people up," Lasure said. "A lot of them were not necessarily the classroom teachers. It was also the coaches that you're involved in and the people you look up to."

While at Belleville Middle School, Lasure said he seeked guidance from two teachers: Steve Vogler and Gary Lotecher.

Vogler was a middle school science teacher who also coached baseball, football and wrestling, all sports Lasure played.

Lasure said the way Vogler taught was unique. Vogler wasn't giving the information but wasn't setting unrealistic standards, something Lasure did in his own teaching career.

"There was always a way he was interacting with kids," Lasure said. "He treated kids the way he knew they would have the potential to grow to be. Not how they were now."

Lasure was told by Lotecher that if he couldn't spell his name correctly that he'd fail. Lasure can still spell it without missing a beat.

Lasure said Lotecher and Vogler were similar in their teaching styles and called Lotecher a "down-to-earth man."

Lasure emphasizes his belief in the individual, not the goal set out for the individual.

Lasure preaches a phrase that he even uses in his email signature: "I believe in you, you can do it, and I'm not going to give up on you."

Working in the elementary, Lasure noticed a trend in students, that they were "predisposed to love their teacher." And that love poured over onto him.

Lasure said the difference between the elementary students and others was simple: an energy and desire to learn.

"The kids are so malleable, so moldable, so hungry to try and figure things out...the bigger issue to me is making sure we're studying what we expect from kids," Lasure said. "And we sell hope. That's what the kids need."

Privatized education vs. public education

Lasure calls public education the United States' greatest "economic engine, giving chances to people who wouldn't had a chance otherwise.

"If you look at the United States prior to World War II and post World War II, the economic growth was on the back of public education," Lasure said. "Public education allowed the janitor's kid, in my case, to grow up to say I want to make a bigger difference...I think right now is an exciting time to be in education because we see a lot of really good thinking with brain research and practicing what we know."

Lasure called education a bit of "a shell game" where people involved don't have to "take responsibility." Lasure, a product of public education, sees a push towards privatized education and questions why there is such a push towards it.

"If the greatest economic engine ever known, in the history of man, was public education, why are we looking to move away from that? Well, political expediency maybe. That's all.

"My concern for our country is people trying to defund public education and de facto resegregation of public schools. That troubles me."

Colleagues react

Spring Valley Superintendent Dr. Donald Haack has worked with Lasure for only three years and said he had hoped to work with him for many years more.

Haack said the retirement came as a bit of a surprise, but he understands Lasure's decision.

Spring Valley School Board Treasurer Brian Wang called Lasure "a valuable asset" to the school district and said seeing Lasure go is difficult.

"Hate to see him leave, but he's leaving on a high note," Wang said. "He's leaving on his terms."

When Spring Valley School Board President Peter Coyne moved to Spring Valley in 2000, Lasure was one of the first people he met. Coyne has two sons that are the same age as Lasure's sons, Kyle and Cory.

Coyne said the consistency of Lasure is something he'll miss: "It's the same with Ken. You always had the same."

Coyne has been a board member for eight years and said the transition of friends to colleagues was "fairly seamless."

Ultimately, Coyne, Haack, and Wang can attest Lasure's greatest contribution was his gifts to the children.

"He put a lot of emphasis on taking care of kids," Coyne said.

"He knows everybody," Haack said. "I will miss working with him and hopes he sticks around the community."

"There's always a time in someone's life when you just know that it's time," Wang said. "Ken feels the time is now. It's been an honor to know and work with you."

Raising a family in Spring Valley

Lasure spent four years as a representative of the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators for building principals in the CESA region.

Along with that, Lasure also helped establish the Spring Valley Education Foundation in 2002. The foundation is a nonprofit that partners with other community organizations to fund school district needs.

Both of Lasure's sons, Kyle, 28, and Cory, 26, went through Spring Valley public schools while Lasure was the principal. He said having his sons pass through his school was a lot of "mixed emotions."

"I couldn't be the dad at my son's own events," Lasure said. "As they ended up in the middle school and high school, that's when I switched to the elementary. It allowed me, as the elementary principal to actually attend my children's events because the best thing about being a principal in a small school is you get to do a lot of different things. The worst thing about being a principal in a small school is you have to do a lot of different things."

Lasure and his wife Laurie, a speech and language therapist at Somerset, enjoyed raising their children in Spring Valley; he described the level of education his children received as "second to none."

"When I got hired I was told that Spring Valley is the best kept secret in Wisconsin," Lasure said. "But there are opportunities, and being the best kept secret in Wisconsin only goes so far. I would stack our students, our graduates against any in the area."

Lasure can't wait to have his Sundays back, a day that's been reserved for paperwork. His plan is to just enjoy his time with his wife.

"If you have a break in the calendar, that's a vacation, and what's a vacation for but getting caught up on work," Lasure said.

He looks forward to taking naps, getting more involved with the Spring Valley Lions Club, or maybe just doing nothing.

What's most important is this: Lasure believe in you. Lasure knows you can do it. Lasure is not going to give up on you. Whether he's the principal or not.

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal in December 2016 covering government, school board, and writing features about the community. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism.