Eau Claire resident shares journey to becoming a principal

By Jacob Benoy

Tim Skutley, principal of Northstar Middle School, has a variety of duties that can change from day to day. © 2018 Jacob Benoy

Lockers slam. It is the middle of the school day at Northstar Middle School. For some, lunch is over and it is time to head back to class. For others, they are eagerly waiting to take a break from classes for their own lunch. As seventh grade students are reading a novel in English class, Mr. Skutley enters the classroom, to check in on not just the teacher, but the students as well. He talks and laughs with them before he leaves, going to another classroom to repeat this process.

Being the principal of Northstar was not always Tim Skutley’s plan. He started as a music teacher, moving from school to school. As he gained more experience as a teacher, he began to learn about being a principal, earning the trust of his colleagues and students along the way.

“I try to be approachable,” Skutley said. “During the day, I’m in the halls and sit in for some of classes. I want the students to feel comfortable around me.”

Skutley, 42, is the current principal of Northstar Middle School. He grew up in Eau Claire and graduated from Memorial High School in 1994. Skutley is also the winner of the Distinguished Service Award from the 2016 Wisconsin Art Education Association conference, according to Katie Larson from VolumeOne.

Even before becoming principal, Skutley was no stranger to Northstar. Towards the end of his time studying at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, he was a student teacher at Northstar during the spring semester of 1999. After graduating from UW-Eau Claire with a bachelor’s degree in music education, he moved to Huntington Beach, California, and taught at a middle school there for one year. Moving back to Eau Claire in 2001, he taught music, moving between Memorial High School, South Middle School, and Northstar Middle School throughout the day for one year. After that, he worked as a teacher at DeLong Middle School, another middle school in Eau Claire, for six years, said Skutley.

“I like getting to work with middle schoolers,” he said. “They’re at the age where they’re starting to figure themselves out, but still listen to adults because they’re adults. They’re still moldable.”

While working at DeLong, Skutley applied to be the assistant principal and got the job. He worked as an assistant principal, moving between DeLong and Northstar, for three years. While working there, he married and earned a master’s degree in teaching. With experience as an assistant principal, he went back to Northstar Middle School, where he started as an interim principal in 2011. Since then, he has stayed and become its principal.

“After working around a music classroom for eight years, I realized I wanted to know about every classroom,” Skutley said. “That was a big reason I first applied to be the assistant principal.”

As the principal, Skutley takes on a variety of jobs throughout the day. He arrives at the school every weekday at 6:30 am. From there, he works on the school budget, plans the school schedule and calendar, and plans professional development for the staff. He hires and supervises staff for the school, as well as answer any questions staff or families may have. Throughout the day, he is present in the hallways and sits in on classes, doing his best to be approachable for the students. At night, he occasionally represents the school at board meetings and community events.

Paul Steffens, an English teacher at Northstar, said Skutley does not put up a principal façade or act. He does not try to be principal, he tries to be Tim Skutley.

“He is good at knowing what the kids need and the staff need,” he said. “It’s an incredibly hard thing to do, but he does it pretty well.”

Steffens has worked with Skutley since he first became principal at Northstar almost eight years ago. He said he enjoys working with him, has integrity, and is an advocate for both staff and students.

Skutley has been an educator for 18 years as of now and continues to lead at Northstar. When asked about why he went into education, he responded,

“I went into education because I love teaching and being with kids.”