Haffner in the big chair at Gresham school

New superintendent starting 24th year with school district


Gresham Community School has a familiar face taking the administrative reins.

Newell Haffner, who is starting his 24th year with the school, is the new principal and superintendent as of July 1, taking over for Keary Mattson, who retired at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

Haffner received news of his promotion in a funny way, he told the Leader.

“I went to bed that night thinking that they weren’t going to call or anything, but they called me at about a quarter to 10, got me out of bed and told me the news,” Haffner said, noting he was contacted via Facetime, an online video conferencing system. “I was like, ‘Woo-hoo!’”

Haffner said he was pleased to continue to serve the school and community he has called home for decades.

“It’s probably the most unique way to get a job I’ve ever had,” he said.

Haffner was the K-12 school’s science teacher for the upper grades for more than 20 years, and he has served as the assistant principal since 2013. He was selected from a field of three other finalists.

The Gresham School Board has hired Ben Heninger to teach band classes and succeed Haffner as the assistant principal.

For Haffner, the opportunity to run a school is a cause for joy, but it’s tempered by the reality that his teaching career is ending. He admitted it felt weird walking into the school in mid-July to clean out his classroom instead of getting it ready for the new school year.

“I’m so used to coming in July and setting up my bulletin boards and getting stuff ready,” Haffner said. “It was a big shock for me.”

Becoming an administrator didn’t enter Haffner’s mind when he was in college to become a teacher. It wasn’t until Bob Klopke, who sits on the Gresham School Board, commented that Haffner would be a good administrator that the idea formed in his head.

Haffner was further encouraged by Mattson when the school was looking for an assistant principal. Haffner said he was hesitant at the time to take the position, but when he learned he could still teach at least part-time and that being an administrator meant impacting the education of all students and not just the ones in his classroom, he made the leap.

Haffner has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s in middle level education, both from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. He obtained his superintendent’s license through Marian University in Fond du Lac.

Haffner also is the bishop for the Gresham Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he hopes the lessons he has learned through his faith leadership will serve him well at school.

“It’s a much different type of leading,” Haffner said of his church role. “It has taught me more about the gray areas of the world than the black and white, and it’s given me a better understanding when parents come in with issues.”

Haffner’s biggest challenge is expected to be how to improve the aging school’s infrastructure. Voters rejected a referendum in May that would have expanded the school and demolished the oldest portion of it. Haffner said he and the board are working on ways to modernize the building.

“I’m one of these people who is not happy being average,” Haffner said. “I always want to do better than I can. When I’m average, I feel like I’m sitting around and doing nothing.”

Haffner also seeks to find a way to offer advanced placement and college-level courses at the school. He said he is talking with Northeastern Wisconsin Technical College and other schools to explore options.

“I don’t believe that, just because we’re little Gresham, we can’t have the things the big boys do,” Haffner said.