2017-05-20 / News

Superintendent Dave Waaso Reflects on State of Island School District

By Kevin R. Hess

David Waaso, who took over as the principal and superintendent of Mackinac Island Public School in January 2010, will retire from the position this summer. Mr. Waaso spent 39 years working in public schools. David Waaso, who took over as the principal and superintendent of Mackinac Island Public School in January 2010, will retire from the position this summer. Mr. Waaso spent 39 years working in public schools. Dave Waaso has spent the last 39 years of his life in public schools. He has served in Texas and Michigan as a teacher, athletic director, principal, and assistant superintendent, and, for the last seven-and-a-half years, he has been the superintendent and principal at Mackinac Island Public Schools.

His work here will end this summer, as Mr. Waaso is retiring.

“It has been enjoyable,” he said. “I’ve liked coming to work, working with our kids, the staff, and helping make our kids successful.”

One of the things that Mr. Waaso is most proud of is the number of students who have been graduated and gone on to be successful in college, trade school, or the workforce.

“We have some [alumni] on track to be doctors, working in culinary arts, graphic design, hospitality, and more,” said Mr. Waaso. “We’ve had a lot of great students come through our school and do very well in life. Our graduates show that they get a great education, even at such a small school.”

He also believes that Mackinac Island has a great faculty.

“We have a nice mix of experienced and newer teachers,” he said. “They get along and they like to work here and on the Island. It makes for a great learning environment.”

Mr. Waaso believes the school district is in good hands with the staff they have and a school board that works with them and is supportive. The school is in good financial shape. He is concerned, however, with declining enrollment.

“We don’t have the housing or the jobs on the Island for people to come, live, and work year around,” he said. “Our early elementary grades are especially low” in numbers. There are three to four students in kindergarten through third grades. There are 70 students total. Four seniors will be graduated this year, and three youngsters will enter kindergarten next year.

The programs that could result from investing in career and technical education (CTE), funded by a tax passed by voters in the May 2 intermediate school district election, could help reverse this trend, says Mr. Waaso.

“There are several needs here for small engine repair, electricians, and other trades,” he said. “The CTE millage could help provide some of those trades and allow someone to make a nice living on the Island. That, in turn, could lead to more adequate housing and year-around work.”

One program he believes has had an immediate impact in this area is the robotics program. The high school robotics program was launched in the 2015- 2016 school year and the team made it all the way to the world competition in St. Louis. The junior high robotics program started with the 2016-2017 school year.

“Students learn how to design, program, and build robots,” said Mr. Waaso. “That’s an experience that not a lot of kids get.”

His last day on the job will be June 30. He and his wife, Mary, will be moving to St. Joseph in southwest Michigan. Much of his foreseeable future, he says, will be spent working on the home they purchased.

“We purchased an older home that needs some tender loving care,” he said. “Most of our time will be spent getting that home into shape.”

As for what lies ahead after that, Mr. Waaso is not sure.

“Will I have another job at some point? Probably,” he said. “For now, I’m just going to enjoy some time off.”

Jason St. Onge, president of the Mackinac Island school board, said Mr. Waaso would be missed.

“He brought stability to the job at a time when it was profoundly needed,” said Mr. St. Onge.

Mr. St. Onge also noted Mr. Waaso’s handling of the finances and his attitude as having a very positive impact.

“I always kid him about his Dutch heritage and being frugal, but he really saved the school district money by keeping a close eye on the budget and the expenses,” said Mr. St. Onge. “Every year he was here, Mr. Waaso came in under budget. I also remember a year when he took on multiple roles because of illnesses to other staff, including our janitor. I’ll never forget that year. Even though he was near the end of his career, he worked like it was his first day on the job. That should be an inspiration to others that no matter where you are in life, it’s important to work hard and give of yourself. He is a very patient man and he’s going to be missed very much.”

The Waasos have enjoyed their time on the Island, but are looking forward to the change.

“I imagine I will get back to the Island and visit from time to time,” Mr. Waaso said. “I’ll make sure the students are working as hard as they are supposed to be.”

Mr. and Mrs. Waaso have four sons, Skyler, Andrew, Kale, and Brodie, and one daughter, Peyton.

Peyton was graduated from Mackinac Island Public School in 2016 and is a student at Michigan State University, studying to be a physician’s assistant. The sons were already out of high school when the Waasos moved to the Island in 2010.

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