As the Waunakee school year comes to an end, the district is losing a warm, caring principal.
Marcy Peters-Felice will retire after about 30 years in education, the last 10 as Waunakee Middle School principal.
Originally from Trinidad, Peters-Felice worked as a registered nurse in a pediatric ward there prior to becoming an educator. She discovered how much she loved working with young people after she was transferred to the geriatric ward.
“I realized then I had this connection with kids,” she said. “At the same time, Al, who is now my husband, he was a Middle School teacher and he moved from Trinidad to Oshkosh to go to school.”
Peters-Felice said she realized 36 years ago she could “kill two birds with one stone” – be closer to Al and return to school for a degree in education. Thirty-three years ago, their son was born. Al had finished his master’s degree and went to Madison to pursue his doctorate.
Marcy Peters-Felice began as a middle school math and science teacher in the Madison School District and worked there for 10 years, then for two years out of the district office in Madison before getting her administration license. She returned to Oshkosh to become the principal at Webster Stanley Middle School, where she had done her student teaching. She rented an apartment there and commuted home on weekends.
For four years, Peters-Felice made the drive to Madison on weekends, then returned to Oshkosh on Sunday evenings. During the winter of 2010, she was involved in a car crash and another harrowing driving experience.
“And after that, I thought, I can’t be doing this. I’ve got to move closer to home. And then within the next two weeks, I see this posting for the Waunakee Middle School,” she said.
She said she knew a district like Waunakee would be looking for the “best of the best.”
“Lo and behold, I got called in for an interview,” she said.
She said being a principal was far different from being a teacher.
“All of the sudden, I was not only in charge of a room, I was in charge of a building. And not only was I in charge of children, I was in charge of students and adults,” she said. “It’s almost as if everyone expects you to have the right answer, to have an answer and to have the right one. It was very different to go from having to manage kids to managing kids and adults.”
Also, as a woman of color, some parents in Oshkosh would not shake her hand or meet with her.
“They knew I was the only black principal at Oshkosh. Like in Waunakee, I’m the only black woman working in the Waunakee school district. So the parents all knew who was the principal of Webster Stanley Middle School,” she said.
Peters-Felice said people always question new leaders, but she felt supported in Waunakee.
“Waunakee is different. The support I get from families in Waunakee I never got as a teacher in Madison and I never got as an administrator in Oshkosh,” Peters-Felice said.
She attributed that support to the respect Waunakee families have for education, but said at times, she and parents had to agree to disagree.
“It’s hard to tell parents that when we’re dealing with discipline issues and they don’t agree with whatever my decision is, and I say, this is one of those times when we have to agree to disagree,” she said.
After working in three different school districts. Peters-Felice said Waunakee was the place she had to retire from.
“I don’t know that I could work in another school district after having worked in Waunakee because my expectations would be unreal,” she added.
One shining moment of Peters-Felice’s career was receiving the Schools of Promise Award for her first year as principal at Webster Stanley Middle School. She came to the Capitol and met then state Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster.
“That was huge for me because my teachers work hard, and my kids work hard,” she said.
The other high point was landing the Waunakee Middle School Principal job.
She remembered when the Madison School District was adopting the same math program as Waunakee’s, and Jane Fazio, Waunakee Middle School math teacher, came to talk with them.
“Everybody in Madison was like, ‘Oh my God – Waunakee school district is meeting with you guys?’ There’s this respect for Waunakee,” she said.
She said getting hired in the district was “unreal.”
“I remember many times, my first few times driving to school on Hwy. Q, I would say, is this a dream? It was a district I held in high esteem, and for me to actually work the district was like holy moly, this is amazing,” Peters-Felice said.
The other highlight – her love for kids – has lasted throughout her career, and she will miss them. Now, with schools closed during the coronavirus pandemic, she feels sad about not being able to say goodbye in person.
“They are my babies. They mean the world to me,” Peters-Felice said.
She sends out an email to students each Friday just to check in.
“You wouldn’t believe how many emails we get back, many of them just saying, ‘Thank you, Ms. Peters-Felice. Thank you for the update,” Peters-Felice said. “It’s like when we have a fire drill and I’m holding the door for them, all of these kids saying, ‘thank you.’”
Peters-Felice said she is always proud of the students and humbled.
“To me there’s a trust and a humility that goes along with that trust when you get to do what I do, which is work with kids,” she said.
Peters-Felice often thought she would retire at age 63, and she will turn 63 next month. Her mother passed away last year, and three years ago, she lost her younger sister. She began to think of the future.
“There’s something I always say now: Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. All we have is today,” she said.
Peters-Felice began contemplating the idea of retirement in October and eventually made the decision, she said. She hopes to spend the next few years taking trips and dancing with her husband, Al, who is also retiring, she said.
At some point, she and Al may move away from Wisconsin and its cold winters.
“I always just keep thinking about tomorrow. It’s not promised to any of us,” Peters-Felice said.