Dr. Chris Kamrath, Principal at Westside Elementary School, presented his Rotary introduction talk.
Chris grew up in Chetek, Wisconsin, where his dad was a teacher and a coach and his mom was a pharmacist. He had a passion for running and enjoyed music. He describes his early life as “pretty typical” up to about high school, when he worked at the bait shop in town as well as the rod and gun club.
He worked three summers at Luther Park, a Bible camp in Chetek. After being a counselor for two years, he worked the third year as a coordinator, and that was when he really firmed up what he wanted to do for a living. He wanted to work in education.
He started his career by attending UW-Barron County, a two-year system that feeds into the four-year system at UW-Eau Claire. He admired UW-EC’s education program, and it was a bonus that they had a marching band!
During this time, he could live at or near home, and he treasures the memories that he built with his grandparents while he was going to school, as he got to spend time daily with them and grew quite close with them as a young adult. He also discovered a love of coaching during this time as he was able to serve as an assistant coach with his dad. And his uncle instilled an interest in him in being a principal.
He participated in cross country until he learned of a heart disease that prevented him from running competitively, but he soon found a new interest: forensics.
“I enjoyed the competitive aspect of forensics,” said Chris. “It took me to some neat places around the country, competing in national tournaments.”
After earning his undergrad in Elementary Education in 2006, he earned a Masters in Reading in 2009.
“I enjoyed reading so much, and my masters was a fun program with professors that really had a passion for it,” he said.
Chris was a teacher for seven years right out of college. He spent a year teaching at St. Bridget’s in River Falls and then six years at Chippewa Falls teaching 4-5th grade as well as second and third grade science. He also coached high school track and cross country as well as middle school swimming.

PhD studies inspired by teaching experience

During his first seven teaching years, he became curious about the impact of separated families on a student’s education.
As a title teacher, (3 years in Chippewa Falls) he knew that many students were from divorced families. He generally worked with the lowest students literacy wise, and wanted to know if it was just random luck.
“It was a big part of my life – when I was not coaching and teaching I was researching,” he said. “It was fun for me; I enjoyed it. Separation happens. My goal was to find out how it affects kids.”
In his studies he found that economic status had the biggest impact, at least on state test scores.
Chris achieved his doctorate in Educational Administration at Bethel in 2013.  

The road to River Falls

Prior to accepting the position as principal at Westside, Chris spend five years in administration, one in Wausau and four in Somerset.
Chris said Wausau was a big town, with 13 elementary schools. He learned a lot and had planned to spend a longer time there, but with the arrival of their third child, he and his wife, Sonja, found out that Somerset was looking for an administrator. He spent four years there and really enjoyed it.
After growing up in a small town, he knew he wanted to live in a larger community. Early in their marriage, Chris and Sonja had lived in Houlton and enjoyed the small town atmosphere with easy access to the Twin Cities area.
“I wanted something in between, with district level support but some size,” he said.
River Falls fit the description. He’s in his second year at Westside now and has no plans to leave.
“We love the small-town feel with big city options,” he said. “We have lived in both types and found this to be perfect for us. People were so good to us, with a welcoming willingness to show and tell us things about the community.”
Chris, Sonja and their three boys, Miles (4th grade), Luke (3rd grade) and Charlie (kindergarten) love exploring outdoors nearby.

Personal and professional passions

In his spare time, Chris enjoys running, to the point where he refers to his marathon addiction. He runs about six each year with a goal to do one in each state. He also enjoys hunting and fishing with his boys and is grateful to be able to hunt on his own land.
He is a sports fan and enjoys Twins, Packers, Badgers and Timberwolves games when he can. Last year, he won tickets to the NFL draft and was able to get a photo with the commissioner and meet Packer legends on the stage.  Last year he worked as usher for the Twins. He got a season ticket this year, but unfortunately, has not been able to use it.
His professional passions include supporting professionals by:
  • Encouraging collaboration and breaking down walls
  • Building relationships with students and staff
  • Being invested in the community
  • Helping staff continue to grow and develop
He is active in his professional learning community and enjoys seeing teachers learn from each other.
“For me, it’s all about having a mission and then putting everything you have into that mission and doing it with some perspective,” he said. “Building relationships with student and staff – that’s why I go to work each day and that is one thing I love about being an elementary principal.”
Other important relationships are those he builds with families. He enjoys being a part of all the things his kids are and serves as a scout leader with the Lions, coaching football in the fall and basketball in the winter. He is certified to coach baseball this summer.
Chris joined the Rotary because he wanted to be involved in a service group and his father-in-law had recommended it, being involved with the Stillwater club.
“I enjoy helping others and the community,” he said. “I have really enjoyed learning at each meeting I can attend.”