Wenschlag discusses his first impressions of the Minnehaha community and explains his hopes for the years to come
You may have already chatted with him in the campus room or sung for him in choir, debated the value of international trade with him after school in Nathan Johnson’s classroom or measured the length of his forearm in Anatomy.
His name is Jason Wenschlag, and interacting with students is just one of the many ways that he practices leadership within his new role as the Minnehaha Academy Upper School Principal.
The position of principal is often misunderstood. Principals interact with students, yes, but a large part of their job goes on behind the scenes.
Teachers, parents, donors, coaches and trustees represent only a portion of the people with whom Wenschlag must converse on a daily basis.
However, as a newcomer to the Minnehaha community, Wenschlag is determined to make his position one that is clear in the eyes of MA students.
“I want to make sure students know who their principal is,” he said. “Not only do I have to be visible, but I have to have conversations with kids.”
Wenschlag certainly is in the business of conversation, as his main duties involve problem-solving, organization and communication at all levels of the school community.
He can be spotted in virtually any classroom on any given day as he learns about the inner workings of the Minnehaha community.
When you combine an emphasis on interpersonal relationships with a desire for student feedback and engagement, you get the recipe for Wenschlag’s distinctive leadership style.
With a background in business and business education and an intense interest in the topic and study of leadership, Wenschlag is devoted to teaching students about their responsibilities.
“I look for leadership in kids, and that’s an expectation I have for them,” he said. “If I can help students to discover how they can become stronger and better leaders in their lives, that’s all I can ask for as a principal.”
When asked about his first impressions of Wenschlag’s leadership style, Matt Ridenour, Leadership Studies teacher at Minnehaha, called him “a listener.”
“I was just in a meeting this morning where he was very comfortable sitting in the back of the room, not the front of the room,” he said in early September. “He listens, and I appreciate that. He’s also open to non-traditional ways of approaching school and leading a school, so openness is an attribute that I would ascribe to him.”
In the spirit of a good listener, Wenschlag has three overarching goals for his year, and none involves overhauling school programs or making huge changes.
His first goal is to learn as much as he can about the school and the people who spend time here.
“I would be crazy to come in here and tell you students to do something different that may or may not be good for you or to change a bunch of things within the school,” he said. “There may be a lot of things that are really good, and I don’t know, so it’s going to take me some time to learn.”
Wenschlag’s other two goals are to develop relationships and trust throughout the school. He does this by utilizing his own version of an “open door policy.”
“I think he’s a really personable guy,” said senior Tyler Radtke. “He keeps his [office] door open for people and I think that says a lot; it’s a symbol for me that he really wants to be involved with the community. I think it’s important for a principal who’s going to be the leader of the school to get to know the people who he’s leading, and he’s really opened himself up to doing that.”
Trust and clarity are key components in the daily workings of Wenschlag.
He promises to do his utmost — whether it’s greeting students in the Campus Room, attending Wolfpack football games, or cooking a burger at the Arena Sale — to show students what he’s all about.
And if you ever have any questions, he said, just remember: his door is always open.