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A Life’s Mission Discovered: Adams County

The UW School of Education helped give Tanya Kotlowski a sense of mission. Now she’s principal of Adams-Friendship High School.

July 22, 2016
Tanya Kotlowski

It was often a hair-raising commute to UW–Madison on snow-clogged roads, a treacherous drive that once nearly claimed her Chevy Camaro, but Tanya Kotlowski MS’01 wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

“I didn’t know what a gift I was being given. UW–Madison was what I needed to ground my career as an educator,” says Kotlowski, who traveled first from Adams County and then from Portage over three years to earn her master of science in educational administration in 2001. Today, she is principal at Adams-Friendship High School, the same school she attended as the daughter of an Adams County farm family.

Three professors — Kent Peterson, Cliff Conrad, and the late Paul Bredeson — profoundly influenced Kotlowski at UW–Madison.

“They grounded me in philosophy, and I needed that,” she says. “They made me realize that it’s the people you work with and those whom you influence that make a difference in our kids’ education.”

As a beginning teacher, Kotlowski taught health occupations at Adams-Friendship High School before taking administrative jobs at Portage High School, and with the Kettle Moraine School District. In 2011, she accepted an offer to return to Adams-Friendship as principal, in a job she treasures.

UW–Madison was what I needed to ground my career as an educator.

“It was about coming back to my roots,” she says. “I didn’t realize that it would become my life’s mission.”

Kotlowski and her staff work in a district challenged by rural poverty. In her first summer, Kotlowski did home visits to get to know families.

“I knew that these kids and their families needed me,” she says. “Today, it is my passion and my determination to make a difference in the lives of these students and their families.”

The staff at Adams-Friendship High School share Kotlowski’s commitment, she says.

“I have the most hard-working group of teachers that you’ll ever meet,” Kotlowski says. “And, it’s probably the hardest job that you’ll ever love.”

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