NOTE: The following is an opinion piece. The opinions stated in commentaries, here and otherwise in our newspaper, are those of the author and not The Brillion News, Zander Press Inc. or the owners or staff.
COMMENTARY: By Ed Byrne
The retirement of Brillion High School Principal Paul Nistler and the promotion of Peter Kittel as his successor are milestone events for the school and the community.
You ask parents about Mr. Nistler and you hear terms like “stability,” “common sense,” “passion” and “high standards.”
People don’t have to search for something positive to say.
The principal’s office is right next to the front entrance to the high school, and so any visitor can look in the window and see Mr. Nistler.
Well, they could, if he was there. Usually you’d see an empty chair. Nistler was seldom in his office. Instead, he was in the commons or in the library or down in the tech ed center or observing a class.
In short, Mr. Nistler understood what Gen. George Patton modeled: a true leader is where the action is, on the front lines with the soldiers, visible and active.
At one BHS dance, I visited with Mr. Nistler at length and was surprised to learn that this respected, revered, admired public high school principal was not a product of public schools.
His parents scraped and saved and sacrificed to send their kids to parochial schools. They wanted something special for their kids, and they got it.
It occurred to me a couple of years later that a journey into Brillion High School was like a visit to a private or parochial school.
No – there were no nuns cracking rebellious boys’ fingers with a ruler.
But there was always a sense of community that often is not seen in public schools. There was also a sense of mission in the teachers. And you had a feeling that the school strove to be excellent instead of ordinary.
Private schools have to do that to convince parents that paying for a child’s education – after already paying taxes to support the public schools – is worth it.
Parochial schools that don’t do something special end up closing. Parochial schools that are special thrive.
Kids want to go there; parents want their kids to go there; grandparents help pay the tuition.
The four schools we cover have something special and passionate, and it seems to flow from their leadership. Families move into the Wrightstown School District for the schools. In Hilbert, parents know that no child gets lost or left behind. In Reedsville, the administration reminds you of a pastoral team.
I think Paul Nistler’s gift to Brillion was taking his passion for the education he received in parochial schools and making it work in a public school.
Brillion High School, under Nistler, attracted and retained great teachers and coaches, and they flourished.
In short, Brillion High School did everyday things with a passion and sense of mission that usually marks private schools.
Nistler seemed to understand the importance of that missionary zeal and he facilitated it.
His way of “being a principal” had another religious aspect: Nistler did it with rare humility, always passing off the credit to others.
The result is the creation of a culture within the school that attracts good teachers and gives them a fertile field where they have an opportunity to become great teachers.
Unlike Queen Elizabeth – who seems determined to live so long that Prince Charles will never become king – Paul Nistler found a good time to turn his legacy over to a successor.
Peter Kittel may have been the perfect choice. The term “legendary” actually fits Kittel. Most adults think of him as a legendary coach; students also talk about him as a classroom teacher in the same terms.
I hear student-athletes from other schools in the area talk about Coach Kittel, and they mention him in glowing terms.
As one boy from another school told me once: “Don’t get me wrong. I love my coaches, but I wish I could have played for Coach Kittel for just one year.”
Paul Nistler = legendary principal. Peter Kittel = legendary choice to succeed Mr.