Ashwaubenon High School principal Nelsen preparing to retire
By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – Brian Nelsen will soon be presenting a senior class at Ashwaubenon High School for graduation one last time.
Nelsen, whose 33-year career in education has included being at Ashwaubenon since 2000 and the district’s high school principal for the last six years, is retiring at the end of this school year.
“It’s been 33 years, both as a teacher and administrator,” Nelsen said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with the kids, and so as we wrap things up I think the things I’ll miss the most are the relationships with students, teachers, colleagues, that type of thing.”
Nelsen began his career as a special education teacher for 13 years and also coached football and basketball.
He started at Pulaski High School and then taught and coached at Green Bay West, where he had graduated from high school.
“I really enjoyed teaching and coaching and working with kids,” he said. “In fact, I’ve always considered myself a teacher.”
Nelsen started as an assistant high school principal at Ashwaubenon in 2000 when the AHS principal was Mark Sheedy, who had also been at Pulaski when Nelsen was there.
“I had originally worked with Mark at Pulaski High School, where he was the assistant principal there at the time,” Nelsen said. “In fact, he hired me twice. He hired me out in Pulaski and then he hired me here (in Ashwaubenon). He used to joke that typically he doesn’t make the same mistake twice, but he did. Mark not only is a very good friend, but he was a wonderful mentor, and I learned a lot from him.”
After being hired as the assistant high school principal at Ashwaubenon, Nelsen noted he then had the opportunity to be the principal at Parkview Middle School before becoming the district’s director of public services and special education and then the high school principal.
“I really missed the students and the energy of the high school, and so when Mark Sheedy retired, I had an opportunity to become principal and finished out my last six years in this role, and really it’s been my dream job,” he said.
Over the course of his career, Nelsen said the big change in education has been technology.
“I think back to my first year teaching, I don’t even remember us having email,” he said. “Now there’s, of course, all the technology… There’s been a wonderful integration of technology to help support instruction in the classroom that wasn’t available when I initially started my career 33 years ago.”
Though technology can be an effective tool, Nelsen also pointed out it can also be a distraction in school.
“It’s important that we balance, and set expectations, for the students in terms of what’s helpful and good, and then when it’s time to put phones away and get busy,” he said.
During his time at Ashwaubenon, Nelsen said he has “always taken a lot of pride that the Ashwaubenon community and the school board and the administrators always ensure that students get what they need.”
“Over the years, that included facilities,” he said. “I was here in 2000 when we put on the field house and the library and the new science labs and the music addition… and then more recently the PAC and the pool and the turf field outside.”
Upon Nelsen’s retirement taking effect at the end of June, he will be replaced by Dirk Ribbens, currently an assistant principal at AHS.
Nelsen said he has already been working with Ribbens to make the transition to principal.
“He’s going to do a wonderful job,” Nelsen said of Ribbens. “Dirk has been the assistant principal here (since 2007). Really my role has been to just help him to ensure that there’s a smooth and easy transition. The last couple of years I’ve included him in a lot of different things to make sure that he is poised and ready to step into the role.”
When the district was searching for the next high school principal, Nelsen said he was a “tour guide” for the candidates seeking the job, but didn’t have an active role in the hiring process.
“I just didn’t feel it was my role to have any part in hiring my replacement,” he said.
Nelsen said he felt it was time for him to retire at the end of the current school year.
“You reach a certain age, and I just felt like it was time,” he said. “I enjoy what I’m doing and had enjoyed what I’m doing, but it was time to move on and spend more time with my family. Really these jobs become a family commitment in terms of the long hours and four or five nights a week. It’s time to share more time with my wife, who’s been very supportive, and my kids, who are now adults.”
Nelsen said he plans to take some time off after retiring at the end of June.
“Julie, who’s my wife, has asked me… ‘Brian, how do you go from (working) 65 to 70 hours a week and just turn that switch off?’” Nelsen said. “You know, I started thinking about that. When you spend all your time at school, I don’t have any real hobbies other than I would come to work. And so, I’m going to take the summer and go through my job list at home and try it out. I got some good advice that says sometimes it’s nice to just do nothing for three to six months.”
Nelsen said he plans this summer to enjoy the time he has with his wife and then this fall possibly look into doing something, though he has no plans at this point to go to work.
He said he will continue to live with his wife in Ashwaubenon.
“Our home is in Ashwaubenon,” he said. “Both of my children are Ashwaubenon High School graduates, and so it’s more than a house, it’s our home. We plan on staying in Ashwaubenon for now and in the near future.”
When asked about what he expects it will be like when he presents the graduating senior class for the final time at the AHS commencement June 2, Nelsen said “graduation’s about the kids.”
“Graduation isn’t about Brian Nelsen or the principal,” he said. “That’s the kids’ day, and so I’m going to approach it the same as I always have every year. It’s a celebration of all the students’ success that they’ve experienced the last four years.”
In his final weeks as AHS principal, Nelsen said he is finishing up what he needs to do for the current school year.
“A good part of this job in spring is planning for next year,” he said. “I’ve been kind of deferring to Mr. Ribbens in terms of how can I help and support (him) in getting done the things that need to get done to start the school year next year.”
Nelsen said he believes there is “no greater career than education and having the opportunity to work with students, teachers, parents and community.”
“It’s been very rewarding,” he said. “Ashwaubenon has always been a very special place, and it’s really why I stayed. There’s never any reason to go anywhere else, because it’s just such a wonderful learning community, and it’s a collection of people that care about kids. It’s been a perfect match for me.”