2019-20 Wisconsin Associate Principal of the Year Debra Paradowski, Arrowhead UHS

Student safety, self-confidence, inclusion, and an inviting nature are hallmarks of Debra Paradowski’s leadership as an associate principal at Arrowhead Union High School. 

In her time as associate principal, Paradowski has initiated numerous new clubs and programs to fit the needs of students of all backgrounds to ensure all students are connected and involved. Two and a half years ago she started the student-centered Students Leaving A Mark program also known as SLAM. The purpose of the group was to promote intellectual, emotional and social growth, tolerance, motivation, and resilience to improve school climate and culture one voice at a time. Starting with just 15 students it has grown to over 65 members and volunteers who have added murals to the hallways, painted the walls in the study halls, renovated the staff lunchroom, created meaningful ways to recognize student and staff excellence, and made a difference in a person's last days on her birthday before her passing from cancer. Because of SLAM, Arrowhead Union HS has observed an increase in positive behavior, attendance, academic accomplishments, and school pride.

She helped co-plan "Lake Arts Projects" that involve the Milwaukee Dance and Theatre Arts Community with Arrowhead’s Music and Art Departments. The experience immerses students creatively and collaboratively with other disciplines to develop performance-based projects providing a sense of pride, self-confidence and a deeper understanding of the meaning of community. She also helped developed the WINGS program which helps acclimate incoming freshmen with their transition to high school life in a fun, nonjudgmental, and inclusive way. Paradowski has also sought to provide her students with cultural experiences and accompanied students in their travel to China, Guatemala, Ireland, and Thailand.

In one classroom assignment students were asked to write about their favorite educator and many wrote about Debra.  One student wrote "As a freshman and sophomore, I would get in trouble so I would see her often. Every time, she would work with me on ways I could improve my behavior (not just in school but outside of school too). Most teachers thought I was a lost cause and treated me like a criminal but not Ms. Paradowski. She actually cared about me, always being a resource I could use. She was always in my corner. During my pre-expulsion meeting, to decide if I would get expelled or not, she stuck up for me when it seemed everyone else wanted me gone. I saw Ms. Paradowski bark like a momma dog protecting her puppies. She made me realize I couldn't continue doing the things I was doing as long as she was sticking her neck out trying to protect me." Another student wrote “She always finds the good in any situation and is in an amazing mood. She taught me how to be open to change and gave me the best season and school."

Paradowski holds a bachelor's degree from UW Milwaukee and a master's degree from Cardinal Stritch University. She is a Principals' Center Board Member at Cardinal Stritch University.