WATERFORD — Dena Brechtl grew up in Waterford and graduated from Waterford High School. Now, after teaching there for 18 years, she's been named Wisconsin's Rural Teacher of the Year for 2021.
The Wisconsin Rural School Alliance, which gives out the award, connects rural districts, administrators and teachers to better address the unique challenges they face.
Superintendent Dr. Lucas Francois said the award not only reflects Brechtl's work, but all Waterford staff.
"It's a reflection of the great work that many of our teachers are doing; we would love to put all of our teachers in front of this award and nominate them all," Francois said. "But Dena reflects all of their hard work and all of their commitment to improving our services to students."
Francois recalled Brechtl's work ethic and leadership back when she was a student in his own math class. During the time, Francois was also a wrestling coach and planned what he called a "grueling" offseason workout camp.
The workout camp only had two female participants; Brechtl was one of them.
"Right then and there, it was the first time that I really got to see that not only is she a great academic person, but she's a tremendously hard worker, and she will not quit she will just keep working harder and harder," Francois said of Brechtl. "She just continues to shine in so many ways. So, from my very first meeting with Dina to where she is today, she just continues to shine and be impressive."
Principal Daniel Foster described Brechtl as a humble and honest "doer," saying it was not uncommon for her to get things done well ahead of deadline.
All of this, according to Foster, carries into how she teaches in the classroom. But, Foster heavily emphasized the amount of care Brechtl shows her students. While she pushes her students, Foster said she also supports them and will follow up with them on a 'bad day.'
"She's got an incredible heart," Foster said.
Green & white blood runs in the family
For Brechtl, she said she often tells people she "bleeds green and white," saying how much she loves being apart of the Waterford community. Not only did she and her parents attend WUHS, but her great-great-grandfather, "Grandpa Gunderson," was the school board president when the school moved from a schoolhouse to the building that houses the school today.
At another point, her mother also worked as an instructional aide and she has other family still working in the district with her.
"I joke to a lot of people, I say that I bleed green and white. Because, it's just Waterford is what I know of," Brechtl said. "That's who I am. That's who my family is."
As a math teacher, Brecthtl works with a large range of students from the interventional geometry to precalculus. When she's not teaching or coaching for the high school's girls basketball team, she also volunteers her time coaching her twin daughters' basketball team at the fifth-grade level. Next year, her son will be joining her at the high school level as he enters his freshman year.
Her family, according to Brechtl, are her biggest supporters. From her "rock star" husband jokingly telling her to make everything multiple choice so he could help her more by grading assignments, to her children going with her to the high school on the weekends to get extra work done, they're "always there."
They also have always been the girls basketball team's biggest fans.
Brechtl has coached in the program in 17 of her 18 years teaching, and has been head coach for 11. While she moves from the classroom to the gymnasium throughout her days, she says that, really, she's in a classroom all day.
"The way I teach is the way I coach, and the way I coach is the way I teach," Brechtl said, "and so I sometimes I feel like I'm in the classroom all day long."
But, it doesn't sound like that is a bad thing.
"I love what I do, whether it's on a basketball court or it's standing in a classroom, or it's working with my colleagues and trying to make something better here at Waterford High School," Brechtl said. "There's not really a day that I come to work that I don't enjoy being at work, and I think that's probably why it's easy."
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