Frank Calarco comes home to Tosa West

Former Trojan student now school's principal

Aug. 25, 2010

Frank Calarco's new office at Wauwatosa West High School has that start-of-the-school-year look to it.

The desk is tidy, and photos and inspirational messages adorn the walls and bookcases. The back wall is emblazoned with "Tosa West" in big, block letters, even though the second T isn't quite finished.

And while Calarco might be the newest occupant of the office - he starts as West's new principal next week - he's not exactly a stranger to the school district.

He grew up in Tosa schools and taught at Longfellow for 15 years before becoming principal at Roosevelt. He also has coached football at East and West and girls basketball and track at West.

"I was kind of shocked (after the appointment to West) because I really loved my job at Roosevelt," he said. "But I have to say, like within 30 seconds, the hair was standing up on my arms.

"I said, 'Oh my God, I'm going home.' "

Enthusiasm evident

Calarco is a 1983 graduate of Tosa West; he also went to Eisenhower and Whitman. After a dissatisfying run as an insurance salesman, he went back to school for an education degree, and his first job was as a student supervisor as West.

After spending a year in Columbus, Wis., a teaching job came open at Longfellow in 1992, and Calarco has been in the district ever since.

After five years as principal at Roosevelt, he found out this summer that he was being appointed to the post at West after some internal reorganization in the district. Former Principal Patricia Luebke was named the new administrator for the district's Plank Road Schools Program.

"I was elated," he said of learning of his new post.

Superintendent Phil Ertl said Calarco was moved into his new role because of the success he has had working with students in his other roles throughout the district. Ertl also cited Calarco's "participatory" leadership style as a plus.

"His enthusiasm is contagious," Ertl said. "I think he's got that long-term commitment to Wauwatosa and the school district."

Keeping an even keel

Calarco has met individually with more than 70 staff members at the school this summer, from custodians to student supervisors to secretaries, and that has helped increase his comfort level as the first day of school approaches.

"I just feel very supported going into this school year," he said.

His favorite two days of the summer so far have been registration, "because that's when all the kids were back."

As a new principal, Calarco said, he doesn't expect to change much at West right away. His main goals are to make sure the school provides a "safe, positive learning environment" for students as well as opportunities for all students to participate in an extracurricular activity, club or sport.

"I want to see every kid out for something," he said.

Plans to stay awhile

But mostly, he can't wait until the new school year starts.

"I think if you talk to any educator, this is the greatest time of the school year because everybody starts with a clean slate. Everybody's enthusiastic and rested and everybody … is just very optimistic about the school year," he said. "Everything about the beginning of the school year is exciting."

Calarco said he hopes to provide stability to the principal's office at West, which has seen four principals in the last seven years. Ertl agreed, saying he hopes Calarco finishes his career at West.

"I think they just need somebody sitting in this chair for a while," Calarco said.

And who better than a homegrown Trojan, who, in the words of his former football coach, "bleeds green?"

"I feel very lucky to be back here," Calarco said.


AGE: 45

FAMILY: wife, Jody (a Tosa East grad); daughter, Maddy, 8; son, A.J., 6

WHERE HE'S WORKED: traveling teacher at Whitman, East and Longfellow, 1992-96; PASS teacher, Longfellow, 1997; business education teacher, Longfellow, 1997-2005; principal, Roosevelt, 2005-10

BIGGEST SURPRISE SO FAR? I think I've been really surprised at how many people actually want to talk to you when you're a principal. Between e-mails, phone calls (and) drop-ins, my days have really been consumed from 8 to 5 with (talking to) people.


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