New WSHS principal pledges to lead with ‘empathy and partnership’

Heather Fitzloff infographic

When a colleague alerted Heather Fitzloff that Winona Senior High School was looking for a principal, she couldn’t believe it.

“Are you kidding me?” was her initial reaction. 

For Fitzloff, it was almost too good to be true. The school. The people. The community. The location. It was everything that she was looking for in the next challenge of her career. She had to apply.
 
“I was like ‘Oh, my goodness,’” she said. “I have been waiting for this for a long time. It was kind of surreal … and it still is.”

Fitzloff was approved by the school board on Thursday night as the new WSHS principal. She has served as an assistant principal at Prior Lake High School since 2012 and replaces Mark Anderson, who is leaving to become the principal at Fergus Falls High School. Fitzloff is from the La Crosse area and has had her eye on openings in Winona for years — but this move is about more than a homecoming.

“I have heard a lot of great things about the school district, especially the last few years,” Fitzloff said. “Getting the opportunity to interview, I was a little more nervous than I wanted.”

Despite those nerves, Fitzloff won over the interview committee, which consisted of administrators, teachers and staff members. 

“We are so excited to add Heather to our team,” said Dr. Annette K. Freiheit, Superintendent of Winona Area Public Schools. “She will continue to improve the experience for all students at Winona Senior High School and build a culture of respect, collaboration and excitement for learning through a variety of experiences.”

During her nine years at Prior Lake High School — which also included a one-year stint as the interim coordinator of the Bridges Area Learning Center when the permanent coordinator was deployed — Fitzloff focused on priorities that put students at the forefront. 

“Staff have always known that any decision I’ve made is really centered on what’s best for kids,” Fitzloff said. “I am a straightforward person who leads with empathy and partnership.”

At Prior Lake, Fitzloff helped lead in the development and implementation of an innovative program called MNCAPS (The Minnesota Center for Advanced Professional Studies), which is a partnership of education, industry and community, immersing students in profession-based learning experiences. She also took an active role in leading the educational planning process during the COVID-19 pandemic, was the lead administrator for the Parent Advisory Council and was the lead administrator responsible for the Special Education Department.

Fitzloff said one of her goals as WSHS principal is to continue to work toward a model that allows a personalized four-year plan for each student to prepare them for the next step in their life — whether that is college or a career.

She is also dedicated to helping the district on its equity journey, something that was important to her at Prior Lake and will continue to be a priority in her new position.

“It’s really about looking at equity from a systems standpoint,” Fitzloff said. “I’ve always been the person to ask: Are we doing everything we can for our students? Are we providing the support and opportunities for all students to reach their full potential as they look at their individual post-secondary options?”

Fitzloff was drawn to WSHS because of the district’s climate work and partnership with the Regional Centers of Excellence and the Minnesota Department of Education. “That’s a great place to start,” she said. At Prior Lake, Fitzloff and her staff did a lot of professional development with Dr. Sherroky Hollie, the executive director of the Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning. WAPS teachers have been doing a book study featuring Hollie’s work during the school year. 

“These are the essential, intentional pieces we need to address as a district. We can identify systemic practices that aren’t equitable for our students,” Fitzloff said. “Every student should feel safe and loved, first and foremost. If they can feel that, and we look at where we can implement change to better support all students through high expectations and personalized learning … we will see our students thrive.”

Fitzloff has three sons, and one bonus son from her partner, Mike. Connor (23) attends the University of Minnesota, Bradley (20) attends the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Camden (19) is a paraprofessional in La Crosse with aspirations of becoming a special education teacher, and Cade (16) will be a junior in high school. 

Fitzloff has 14 years of administrative experience. In addition to her time at Prior Lake High School, she also was the principal at Richland Center High School in Wisconsin from 2010-2012. She served as the assistant principal and activities director at the school the two years prior. 

Fitzloff received her Master’s degree and her principal licensure from Saint Mary’s. Her undergraduate degree is from Illinois State University.

She officially begins July 1, although her head and her heart are already preparing for her new challenge. 

“I can’t wait to start meeting people,” Fitzloff said. “So many have already reached out via email and text. I received an email from a teacher that was on the interview committee congratulating me and said she was excited that I accepted the position. To have folks welcoming me already, solidifies my decision. I can’t wait to get started.”