February 23, 2021 – Jackson, WI – “Gratitude,” said Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School Superintendent David Bartelt. “That is what I feel. I am so thankful I was able to be part of this ministry, this school.”
After 20 years at the helm Bartelt is stepping down. He filed his letter of retirement this week with the KML Board of Directors.
During a brief one-on-one conversation with Bartelt, he focused on the family, faith and future of the local high school in Jackson.
“This place is full of fantastic people,” he said. “My greatest accomplishment is working with the teams of people that are really part of our growth and culture.”
It was the summer of 2001 when Bartelt and his family moved from KML’s sister school, California Lutheran High School.
Coming to the Town of Jackson, KML administration was undergoing an expansion as Bartelt arrived as the school’s first superintendent. Twenty years later, he has been the only superintendent.
“When I first started, I was the only one doing a lot of the work,” he said. “I was the business manager; I did all of the publications and over the years we have grown and really created a much better system then when I had to do it alone. Now I am surrounded by people who do their jobs so much better than I ever did.”
Not only has the past 20 years seen a change in staffing but also expansion of the KML campus and a dramatic increase in enrollment.
“When I started, we were around 300 students, give or take, and now we’re at 521,” he said.
The campus has also seen three major developments totaling $15 million. “I came here in the summer of 2001 and we were digging dirt in September of that year. It took me 90 days to start building,” he said. “That was our outdoor athletic facilities, cafeteria, locker rooms, a second gym and a 2-story education wing. The next project was the Performing Arts Center in 2013 and then the third project, the science and innovation wing, was completed in 2020.
“We’ve been in a constant building-and-expansion mode and it has been exciting to be part of,” he said.
Faith, according to Bartelt, has been part of the fabric of his calling and commitment at KML.
“That is everything,” he said. “Part of my job description is to be the spiritual leader of the school and to make sure our mission is sound and we are a Biblically-based ministry, which makes us unique. I could not do any of this without faith. If I could summarize my life at KML in one word it would be ‘gratitude.’”
“I am so thankful that I was able to be part of this ministry, this school.”
The students, according to Bartelt, helped keep KML moving forward. “Not only is it why we do the work we do but it is for the students and the families of these kids; helping them grow academically, emotionally and spiritually. That has been the most gratifying thing. For me it is the energy and being in the hallways it brings excitement and that’s important.”
Questioned whether the curriculum helped provide the students a top-notch education, Bartelt cited the school’s vision statement.
“We have a Christ-guided success path for all,” he said. “We consider ourselves to have an extremely rigorous curriculum and expectations for our students but in the last seven years we’ve invested so much in our learning center, which then allows everyone to be successful here. It’s not just rigorous, we’ve developed this really powerful support system for all students and that has been one of the main reasons we’ve been growing because we can make everyone successful here in some way.”
As for the future of KML, Bartelt sees a surge in enrollment. “We’re perfectly positioned our enrollment to not simply surge forward but lurch forward faster in the next 5-to-7 years,” he said. “We will see more than 150 increase in enrollment, God willing.”
“I am so thankful and grateful I had the opportunity to be here this long. I know it is odd for superintendents to last this long but I’ve been able to do it because I’m surrounded by fantastic people and that’s what makes KML special,” he said.
“We serve our families who want to be here. They commit to us; they pay tuition when they could get education for free but they choose to pay tuition and fully commit to the school and it works. It really creates this KML family feel. Even though we are growing people say ‘KML family, KML family,’ and that is something I’m very proud of because we are a KML family.”
On Monday night the KML board of directors accepted Bartelt’s letter of retirement. That letter is posted below.
With retirement June 30, 2021 Bartelt said family will be his immediate focus. “My wife is excited I will be home more often,” he said. “She is looking forward to that because I have a very busy schedule and I’m gone a lot of nights during the week.”
Bartelt also has two grandkids. “My son is a pastor at the Lutheran church in Lake Geneva and he and his wife have our first two grandkids. I also have a daughter, a graduate of KML, who is a surgeon in Birmingham, Alabama and she’s going to be a mom in mid-May and we’re excited to have the freedom to be part of both of those families.”
There is a process underway to fill the post as an executive committee explores a succession plan and places a call through the Lutheran church body. “Right now, they are evaluating the job description and the entire administration structure of the school to make sure this is the direction they want to go,” Bartelt said.
Over the next two weeks there will be evaluations and a list of nominations for the position. A call will be extended and the person who receives the call will have two weeks to decide whether to accept the position.
Bartelt had a final thought.
“I love KLM. This is the most fantastic school, ministry. It is filled with teachers who excel and love the kids,” he said.