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Middle School Principal Announces Retirement

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Koester Retirement Crop
Principal Michael Koester of Niverville Middle School will be retiring this year.

When Niverville Collegiate Institute split into Niverville Middle School (NMS) and Niverville High School (NHS) last year, it marked the end of an era. Now another big change is coming, with middle school principal Michael Koester announcing his retirement at the end of the current school year.

Since coming to Niverville in 1984, Koester has taught everything from physical education to history to math, and he spent several years as vice principal before being promoted to principal.

Koester grew up in Thompson, then attended the University of Manitoba. After graduating in 1980, he accepted a job in Leaf Rapids, teaching physical education, although his training was in math, science, and German.

When that town’s population began to shrink rapidly, Koester and his wife decided to relocate.

“Back then, all the jobs were posted in the paper,” says Koester, recalling the day in 1984 when he read an ad in the Winnipeg Free Press for a job in Niverville. When the school board invited him for an in-person interview, he went for it. “I had to fly from Leaf Rapids to Thompson, flew from Thompson to Winnipeg, then rented a car and drove to Steinbach,” he says.

That fall, he began what would become a 36-year career at Niverville Collegiate.

His first year was a challenging one, because he had eight different classes to prepare for. He recalls teaching German, history, and science, among other things. Eventually he focused on teaching math and science.

The Changing Times

Looking back, Koester notes many changes in schools—not just in Niverville, but across the province in general.

“It was a male-dominated staff, whereas today we have more women teaching,” he says. “We wore very formal attire, suits and ties.”

But the biggest change he’s seen is the technology used in the classroom. He started out using an overhead projector, transparencies, and a Gestetner—a duplicating machine that preceded photocopiers.

Today, NMS has a set of Chromebooks in every classroom and teachers are trained in using Google products. Koester is grateful that the school division has invested so much in technological infrastructure and training, especially in light of current distance learning.

“Not every school has benefited from what our students have,” he notes.

While he admits a love of paper-and-pencil work, Koester has long supported the use of technology in school. In his first years, he and then-principal Vern Hildebrand started collecting TRS-80s, early desktop computers sold by RadioShack.

“We would look in the paper for anyone selling them, and we bought them up to develop a computer lab,” he says, recalling that when a machine needed servicing, he would haul it off Friday evening to take to be repaired, then pick it up Sunday afternoon to bring it back to the school.

Transition to Administration

In the fall of 2000, Koester felt ready for a change and became vice principal part-time, while still teaching a few classes. Then, when the principal at the time went on medical leave, Koester stepped in as acting principal of the school.

“For a short period of time I was teaching, I was vice principal, and I was acting principal. That was a little crazy. I was fortunate that I had a strong staff,” he says. “A lot of teachers had been here for many years and were very supportive.”

Eventually the division hired a teacher to take over his classes, but there were still challenges.

“Overnight I had to learn things, and take courses on the weekend to get my principal’s certificate while I also had a young family. I didn’t know if or when my predecessor would be back. I was trying to make decisions the way he would have.”

In 2003, he became the permanent principal and started to put his own stamp on the school. He still recalls one of the first decisions he made without consultation.

“I was approached by Coca-Cola about switching our vending machine from Pepsi. They were offering some great benefits, so I set up a presentation with both the Pepsi and Coke representatives, and the Pepsi guy didn’t show up,” he recalls. “So I went with Coke, and that was the first thing I did without consulting my predecessor. You’ve got to start somewhere!”

Splitting Schools

More recently, Koester oversaw NCI’s gradual transition from a Grades Seven to Twelve school to a middle school. It was a years-long process that involved visiting other middle schools to research best practices.

After putting so much work into the transition, he enjoyed the opportunity to stay on as principal of the middle school for its first year so that he could see the results of that work and experience the new school’s culture.

Although he enjoyed teaching, especially math, Koester grew to love his role as principal.

“I get to go into every classroom,” he remarks. “I get to see the good stuff in every room, the caring interactions between teachers and students, and I get a feel for the culture of the entire building.”

One of the things that has kept him in Niverville all these years is the support and respect he sees in the school and the community. He notes that calling home to discuss issues with students, he always felt that families respected him even when they didn’t agree with him. He’s also enjoyed seeing many former students remain in the community, watching them grow up, and seeing their own children walk through the school doors.

Post-retirement, Koester and his wife hope to travel. They want to spend more time with family, including their two children—both of them educators—and their baby granddaughter. They also hope to visit Europe and spend some extended time in Germany exploring family roots. Current restrictions have put these travel plans on hold, of course, so in the meantime Koester plans to focus on volunteer work.

As for the future of Niverville Middle School, Koester says, “I have no doubt that there will be a lot of good news coming from this building. It has been an honour and a privilege to be here.”

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