For a man who says he doesn’t like big changes, Michael Wininger is still making a pretty major one: he is leaving his job as Crescent Middle School Principal and Director of Technology to take a job in Kuwait.
“My wife has been making suggestions for years now that we go somewhere and experience something different,” Wininger said. “I’m a guy who doesn’t like big change, so I kept saying ‘no, thank you.’ Over the past few years, she’s probably suggested just about every country in the world. But when this opportunity came about, everything just lined up.”
Wininger began his education career at Frontier High School as a math teacher, where he taught for 13 years before moving to Crescent in June 2004.
“I kept hearing that the people here are fantastic but that they don’t have a direction for technology. When I came, the technology was dated so our immediate tasks were redoing the network infrastructure and working on technology professional development for teachers and administrators here,” Wininger said.
Now, high school students have a one-to-one program where each student gets a laptop to use for school purposes. The program was even expanded to middle school students, although the sixth graders do not have the option of taking the computers home. This year, Wininger says, the sixth and seventh graders will have updated iPads.
“The technology expertise here now is far and above other organizations, but the teachers really don’t know it. It’s part of the culture now. They’re doing things that seem trivial to them, now that they’re used to it, but are actually advanced,” Wininger said.
Wininger says the opportunity in Kuwait came about through his wife, who applied through the company Teach Away that places qualified teachers in positions around the world. When the call from the company came, the offer was originally for Cancun, but Wininger says their representative suggested the Kuwait school because of his background as a math teacher, principal and technology director.
“When Rebecca (Teach Away representative) started telling me about the Kuwait opportunity, it felt like a God thing and it was fabulous. My wife was watching me while I was talking on the phone with her mouth open, and we couldn’t stop talking about it afterwards,” Wininger said. In just over a week from that initial phone call, the English-language American University School of Kuwait interviewed Wininger via Skype several times, made him an offer, Wininger broke the news to his Crescent coworkers and he accepted the position of Assistant Principal for School Improvement with a two-year contract. He will be teaching seventh grade math and Algebra I, as well as helping the school’s team with the overall technology process. “It all happened so fast that it felt like it was meant to be,” he said.
Wininger says because the opportunity is so exotic and far away, he feels his coworkers are more accepting.
“They’re happy for me but sad to see me go,” he said. “I love these people and have been so blessed in terms of having great working relationships. But, I’m healthy, my family is healthy, and my parents and my wife’s parents are healthy. This is a good time for us to step out of our comfort zone. We don’t want to wait to do something like this until our children are grown up; we want them to have this experience with us.”
Wininger and his wife, Denaya, have four children: Makena, 17; Whitney, 15; Ryan, 12; and Jackson, age nine. “The kids had the same reaction as everyone else has at first. They said, ‘what?’ and then ‘where is that?’ but nobody had a panic attack. At this point, everyone is excited,” Wininger said.
Their oldest, Makena, decided to stay with her grandparents in order to finish the second year of the culinary program she started last year at Meridian Tech, and will join the rest of the family during the second year abroad. Wininger said one great aspect of the teaching opportunity is the company will pay for Makena to come visit and will also pay for the rest of the family to come back to the U.S. in the summers.
Now Wininger is working to give the Crescent district his due diligence while also working to get everything ready for his family – passports, medical exams, visas – and try to sell their home, too. “We’re burning the candle at both ends, but I’m not nervous or scared. I’m excited,” Wininger said.