KINGSFORD, Mich. (WJMN) – If you’ve ever had to have a talk with the principal, you might have been shaking in your boots, but when you have a principal like Darren Petschar, you have a fun, trusting adult guiding children into bright futures. 

“It is so exciting,” said Darren Petschar, Principal, Woodland Elementary School. “You watch them as they come in as Kindergarteners and just the things they learn and the social skills that they built and how we’ve helped them grow, even through some real rough times. If a child is having a rough time, you watch and see, ‘Wow look at where they’ve come.’ That’s an exciting thing. The most exiting thig for me is, I’ve been going to graduation for the past 26 years and for a few after 12 years, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh. I remember them as a second grader or a first grader.’ It’s still even when I see a parent come in that’s registering their early Kindergartener or their Kindergartener and I’m like, ‘Oh I remember you as a…’ So it’s been a great experience and I’ve loved every minute of being here.”

Mr. Petschar graduated from Northern Michigan University’s education program to begin his journey into the field.

“Started teaching in Manistique,” said Petschar. “Then, I moved down to Lena, Wisconsin. I became a principal in Shawano, Wisconsin, and then I came up here.”

Being from the area and graduating from Iron Mountain High School, he’s glad he was able to continue his career in the area where he is from. As you can see from the way he interreacts with the students at Woodland Elementary, he is right where he belongs.

“It’s just the excitement of learning and just being around the young kids and everything,” said Petschar. “I’m probably an elementary kid myself. I laugh because my wife is in upper middle school, high school and everything. She’s at Niagra, Wisconsin and I can’t see her doing Kindergarten, and I can sit in a Kindergarten class and I love being there. It’s just the way it works. It’s how I feel. I connect with those kids and I just enjoy it.”

Don’t just take his word for it, you can see it in the whole school community.

“He Helps around the school,” said Brooklyn Crosslin, fourth grader, Woodland Elementary School. “He helps us.”

“I think he’s a really nice principal,” said Gabe LaFave, fourth grader, Woodland Elementary School.

“I had him since Kindergarten,” added Crosslin, “So the whole time I’ve been here.”

“I started at Woodland Elementary 24 years ago, and Darren was here when I started,” said Kristina Brazeau, Assistant Principal, Woodland Elementary School. “Darren’s always been passionate about education, kids, learning, enthusiastic, loves to do fund things with the staff and kids. We’ll have big shoes to fill.”

“Really special and bittersweet about all of this is that we started together,” said Bryan Johnson, third grade teacher, Woodland Elementary School. “I remember from day one, probably a story he might not remember, we were both starting new  and probably not really sure what we were getting ourselves into and he came down to my classroom when I taught first grade, and he sat down at a table, just how personable he is getting to know me, made sure to make eye contact with me and he just said, ‘What do you think? You know, about the upcoming school year.’ I remember at that time being a green, first year teacher, I don’t know that knew how to answer that question, but here we are 25 years later. Darren has done such an amazing job here. To say that we have big shoes to fill is a major understatement. With everything he has done for the school, with everything that I’ve taught, anything that I’ve wanted to do in the classroom, anything that I’ve wanted to do outside of the classroom and asked for help or support, the trough line has always been, ‘kids first.’ I don’t think anyone could deny that who knows Darren.”

As Petschar retires, those big shoes to be filled will be by Johnson as the assistant principal and Brazeau as principal

“I love Flivver Nation,” said Brazeau. “I love being a Flivver. I’m proud of the school district that I represent. The kids that come to our school, the families that are here. I think the philosophy that we’ve developed through the years, I want to continue to move forward. I believe in our kids. I want to see them do wonderful things and I think we’re moving in the right direction and I’m excited to be part of that, part of our staff, the new staff that are coming in here and just continuing to go from there.”

“This position has been in play, the process for probably back over a year or so where I was asked to fill in the office as guest principal,” said Johnson. “From that moment on I felt a really strong mentorship and I think what’s going to help that bridge is knowing Darren for as long as I’ve had and being at that level where I trust him and that comfort level where I can ask him anything. He’s going to regret saying he’s only a phone call away. The second thing I have to say is that staff have even noticed, he’s not going out quietly. He doesn’t do anything quietly. Even though he’s on his final stretch, he’s still going above and beyond to help Kristina and I already plan for next year, and that’s where that genuine care for the school comes. I know he wants a nice landing strip for us when we step into that role. Working longer hours, putting extra time not for himself but so that Kristina and I and the school have a nice transition into next year.”

“Just everybody,” said Petschar. “The staff, the students, the kids just watching them grow. I’m going to miss just the whole interaction in all of life. We have a childcare here too, so seeing those little kids and watching them grow. Just watching our staff be together. I’m ready for a new change and looking at some new things and it’s time to turn it over to somebody else to take what I built and move forward, but I’m going to miss a lot of it.”  

Even though the school must move on and build on what Mr. Petschar has already laid out, it’s easy to see he’ll be missed.   

“It’s going to be really hard not to have him here every single day,” said Brazeau. “He’s always the face of Woodland. Father Woodland is kind of the term we give him, but always with the enthusiasm and the energy to have a great day learning is his mantra that he says every day. He believes in that and that will be hard for us not to see on a daily basis moving forward.” 

“Going to miss him as a leader, a friend and a person,” said Johnson.