Despite that, the School of Education alumnus has come out of retirement – twice – to lead local school districts. Strobel, who earned his master’s degree and doctorate from UWM, became the interim superintendent of the Greendale School District Aug. 10.
After spending 31 years as superintendent of Mukwonago Schools, Strobel retired in 2013. But then the West Allis School District asked him to fill in for a year as superintendent. After talking it over with his wife, Jane, he decided to accept that job. When that assignment ended, “I absolutely thought I was retiring again, but then Greendale called,” says Strobel. He will serve as interim superintendent for a year while the Greendale School Board searches for a permanent replacement, and then assist with the transition.
Strobel says he found that retirement didn’t quite replace his longtime passion for education. “I really like coming to work in a school district every day. I like being able to work with a fine group of educators again.”
Education has been his career goal since high school. “Like many others, I had that one teacher who — besides my mother and father — had a major impact on my life.” Inspired by that high school history teacher, who was also a basketball coach and assistant principal, Strobel became a teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools. After developing an interest in school administration, he took a position at Waterford as an assistant principal.
He was attracted to UWM’s master’s and doctoral program as part of that career goal, earning a master’s degree in educational administration and supervision and a doctorate in urban education and administrative leadership. “UWM’s program is very strong, and I had great professors,” he says. He particularly remembers the support he received from Gail Schneider, his major adviser. (Schneider retired two years ago). “I liked the emphasis on leadership – it was administrative leadership, not just administration or bureaucracy.”
In his 33 years as a school superintendent, Strobel has seen changes that make the job more challenging. “The educational expectations have changed. What we once expected from the top quarter or half of students, we now expect from all students so we have a greater need for accountability.”
And, the job has become much more political, Strobel says. “I don’t think that’s a positive thing. It used to be more nonpolitical. Everyone was working for the best interests of the students, and people were willing to make compromises to reach consensus. Now the attitude of many in politics is: “This is the way I want it and I’m not going to move an inch.’ That has filtered into K-12 education.”
On the positive side are the rewards of working with dedicated staff and teachers. “My job is working with parents and the community and being an advocate for the teachers.” The public image of teachers has suffered,” he adds. “You hear a lot of negativism about education and teachers on talk radio. It’s important to me to let the teachers and educators know they are important and appreciated.”
With the hard work ahead and getting to know the community, he doesn’t expect to have a lot of free time for hobbies. “When I’m not working, I like to spend time with the family.” His son, Grant, is also a teacher, and his daughter, Amanda, a CPA. His family also includes four grandchildren.
He’s interested in the experience of working with a small school district – Mukwonago had about 5,000 students, and West Allis had around 10,000; Greendale has around 2,600. Greendale is also unique because the boundaries of the school district are the boundaries of the community, notes Strobel. “In Mukwonago, our district spread over 10 different communities.”
Strobel was also impressed by the high quality of the schools in Greendale, and the district’s commitment to keep moving forward. ‘I was very impressed with the Board of Education. They weren’t looking for a placeholder. They made it clear they wanted to move forward as they transitioned to the next superintendent.”