As a principal, Eric Wightman ’96 creates a caring culture for his school

Eric Wightman '96

Saturday, May 1, is School Principals Day, and we recognize Eric Wightman ’96. He is in his eighth year as principal of E. W. Luther Elementary School in the School District of South Milwaukee and his 16th year in the district.

His school was among a select number of schools around the country to be named a 2020 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. The award recognizes schools for academic excellence and making strides toward closing achievement gaps.

“The poverty level of students in our school is a contributing factor in how closing student achievement gaps is monitored by the state,” he says. “This is a very specific target for us. All of our students should receive the same access to high quality instruction and have equitable opportunities to succeed.”

Wightman is native of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, a first-generation college student. He always knew that a college education was in his future. “My parents always set that as a goal for me, and it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t go to college,” he says. “From the time I was a kid, education was the only field I ever considered going into. I always liked the idea of teaching others and encouraging others.”

He received a master’s degree in education administration in 2000 from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He taught for a few years before going into administration “so I could still work in a school but be the kind of leader who could shape the environment of an entire school rather than just my own classroom,” he says.

What he likes the most about being an educator is developing relationships. “You can see growth and change in the students,” he says. “It’s very rewarding and that’s what keeps me doing it. It’s about building rapport and relationships with so many different kinds of people I work with every day — students, staff, parents. It’s the culture at our school.”

The education he received at Ripon provided him with a solid base, he says. He majored in educational studies and history. “My course in the education department at Ripon College served me well,” he says. “It gave me a great foundation to be a good educator throughout my career, and I’m grateful for it.”