School: Wilson Junior High School
School District: Manitowoc Public School District
City, State: Manitowoc, Wisconsin
About the Nominee: Lee Thennes was nominated by Wendy Smith, the parent of two students. Ms. Smith and her family have known Mr. Thennes since 2010, when he taught at Lincoln High School. Her oldest son, Brandon, always spoke highly of Mr. Thennes, talking about how all the students really liked and respected him and about how he connected to the entire school community. Ms. Smith and her family were elated when they learned Mr. Thennes was promoted to principal at Wilson Junior High School, where her other son, Luke, has been attending since 2015. Since that time, they have been extremely satisfied with the dedication and care Mr. Thennes exhibits each and every day.
Luke was diagnosed with autism, anxiety and other health impairments. According to Ms. Smith, Mr. Thennes is a major reason why Luke is enjoying school and is succeeding, both in school and in the community. Luke believes that Mr. Thennes is one of the best principals out there, and that Wilson is one of the best schools he has attended because of Mr. Thennes and the culture of acceptance he creates with his school, staff and students. Ms. Smith can attest to the fact that Wilson, as a result of the efforts of Mr. Thennes and his staff, is a school that accepts everyone, including students with special needs. The staff does everything possible to give special needs students the best possible educational outcome, just like any other child. They even encourage them to be involved in sports and activities, regardless of their abilities, which not only enables collaborations, acceptance and cooperation, but encourages diversity within the school.
Mr. Thennes creates an environment where all students are accepted, appreciated and acknowledged. At Wilson, the staff holds a monthly school forum to recognize students making a difference, both in and out of school. Mr. Thennes uses this opportunity to discuss the importance of giving back, treating others as you want to be treated and being the change you want to see in the world. Wilson is known to hold "fun days" to help local groups raise needed funds and material donations, especially for organizations that the students are involved in or have a heart for.
Every morning, Mr. Thennes is outside greeting each and every student into the school, setting their morning off on a positive note. Long after school is over, he can be seen at after-school activities cheering each and every student on, regardless of ability or activity. He praises the accomplishments of these groups on the school website, on the PA system or by individually recognizing these students. He puts his heart out there for each and every family and student. One example would be this past year, when a student was injured very badly by a bus accident right outside the school. Mr. Thennes asked the entire student body to make cards for her. He called the family daily for updates and tied ribbons around the trees to let the family know everyone was thinking of them until she came back. He also helped raise funds and gift cards for travel and medical expenses. On his own time, he even traveled outside the city to show his support for the student and her family.
Mr. Thennes is always involved and promotes a positive, safe place for all. He makes sure the students' emotional and academic needs are met and promotes a sense of community by leading by example. Mr. Thennes also makes sure staff and parents are on the same page through the website, emails and other methods of communication. According to Ms. Smith, having a son with autism means you always wonder what his future will look like and how the school is preparing him for the real world. Mr. Thennes and his staff not only teach the core and elective classes and try to have each student reach their acadmic potential, but they also teach them life skills such as social skills, teamwork, acceptance, building community, respect and diversity. He does a lot for each student, treating them fairly and genuinely caring about each person in his school. According to Luke, "Mr. Thennes always makes time for anyone with a problem, even when he doesn't have time. Besides he's just a really cool, fun guy."
These are some of the many reasons why Mr. Thennes is a LifeChanger!