There’s a lot more to him than his height

By Kenny Kiratli

Kenny Kiratli ('17) attends Northwestern University.

Posted: October 23, 2015

Jason Wenschlag’s past experiences have formed him into the leader he is today

Within walking distance of Lake Nokomis, directly off Minnehaha Parkway, 30th Avenue South, barely wide enough to fit parked cars, is lined with houses on either side.

In front of the houses is an assortment of overhanging trees that patchily shade the street and sidewalk below; only warm, cozy light is allowed to pass through, giving a certain glow to everything below.

“I’ve lived on this same street for my entire life,” said Jason Wenschlag, principal at Minnehaha.

Growing up, Wenschlag attended Roosevelt Middle School, and became familiar with his community through education, athletics and employment.

“I was really active in sports, and I worked all the time,” he said. “Since the age of twelve, I’ve had a job – I’ve never not had a job.”

In 1985, Wenschlag began high school at Roosevelt. Immediately, he became the center of attention.

“In high school, my height was such a big deal,” he said. “Everyone talked about, asked about and noticed my height.”

Standing at 6’11”, Wenschlag towered over all of his peers. He used this physical difference to his advantage and became a Minnesota prep basketball standout.

By his senior year, he was ranked one of the top high school basketball players in the state.

Wenschlag was offered an athletic scholarship by North Dakota State University (NDSU) and made his commitment to play Division II basketball there.

“Jason was a tremendous shot blocker,” said Mark Arzdorf, Wenschlag’s teammate and former power forward for NDSU.

“We played well together. We were both lousy free throw shooters, but we still made it work. Neither one of us were big scorers, we were more defense-oriented players.”

To Arzdorf, however, it wasn’t Wenschlag’s on-court accomplishments that should be noted nearly 25 years later, but instead, his leadership contributions.

“[Wenschlag] was a very detailed-oriented man,” said Arzdord, “very goal-driven. As student athletes at NDSU, we were in the public eye a lot. In pressure situations, he was confident.”

After his final year of basketball eligibility, Wenschlag stayed another year at NDSU to achieve his academic goals.

“I took my time getting through by business degree and I went for five years,” he said.

He graduated and received his degree from NDSU in the spring of 1993.

Although an entire year absent from the court allowed Wenschlag to finish his degree, it also resulted in basketball’s disappearance from his world.

But, during the summer after his college graduation, a peculiar telephone call brought basketball back.

“I got a call from an agent who happened to be a sports psychologist as well as a rabbi out of Florida,” Wenschlag chuckled. “He was doing a study on tall athletes.”

This agent also had connections with basketball clubs overseas and was able to land Wenschlag a tryout with two foreign teams – one in Copenhagen, Denmark, and another in Lugano, Switzerland.

“I made the team in Copenhagen,” said Wenschlag. With his career in business still undecided, this spontaneous opportunity seemed to be optimal. Later that year, Wenschlag was off to Denmark. “[The experience] was fantastic,” he said.

After the conclusion of the team’s season in Denmark, Wenschlag headed back to the states. He was still undecided on a career path and took time to explore his interests.

While working as a bookkeeper for a human resources consulting company, he found the answer to his future.

“I wanted to go into business,” he said. Already possessing a business degree from NDSU, Wenschlag enrolled at the University of Minnesota to receive his masters.

But, one night, while studying for a class final, Wenschlag had a striking epiphany.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘This is so boring, I don’t even know what I’m reading and I don’t even know why I’m doing this.'”

These thoughts led to self-reflection, which, in turn, allowed him to break free from the illusiveness of receiving his business degree, and steered him the direction of education.

Wenschlag redirected his course at the University of Minnesota and aimed for a career in education.

After receiving his teaching license and master’s degree, Wenschlag began as a student teacher at Eagan High School.

At age 27, he purchased a home right across the street from his parents’, and got married in 2000 to Amy Lynn, a Minnehaha graduate.

Because of a lengethy commute, he left Eagan in 2002 to teach business and coach girls’ basketball and softball at Bloomington Kennedy.

“Then what happened was that I wanted to become a full-time assistant principal,” he explained. “I interviewed for a job at Richfield High School.”

Wenschlag was hired in 2005 by Richfield’s current principal, Dr. Jill Johnson, and began his work as an assistant principal.

In 2008, a new Richfield superintendent was hired, Dr. Robert Slotterback, who immediately recognized Wenschlag’s administrative talent, and promoted him to principal at one of Richfield’s elementary schools.

The K-2 elementary school, Sheridan Hills, was noticeably welcoming to Wenschlag.

Here, Wenschlag became a standard unit of measurement. Whether building with blocks, observing a cabinet or analyzing statutes, students would ask, “how many ‘Wenschlags’ is this?”

After two years serving as the Sheridan Hills principal, Wenschlag transferred to a Wayzata elementary school to continue his work as an elementary school principal.

Influencing this decision was Dr. Johnson, who had made the switch from Richfield to Wayzata the year Wenschlag began his work at Sheridan Hills.

“[Wenschlag] is a man of a lot of integrity, a hard worker, and is knowledgeable about leadership and education,” said Johnson. “He was a really great guy to work with.”

Initially, being to work in a new environment seemed ideal, but each day’s commute to Wayzata from South Minneapolis was a headache.

Wenschlag took notice to a job opportunity at Richfield after only one year at Wayzata.

“We had an opening for a high school principal,” said Slotterback. “I called Jason up because I knew he’d always been interested in becoming a high school principal.”

Wenschlag interviewed for the position and was hired in 2012.

“I saw it as an opportunity to go back to the high school level and provide some stability,” he said.

Three years later, after the 2014-2015 school year, Wenschlag found himself at a crossroad as a small, Christian private school less than 10 minutes from home had an opening.

He had 18 years, nearly all of his professional career, of experience invested in public education, and wasn’t planning to leave Richfield.

“When Minnehaha Academy opened up, it really drew my attention,” he said. “But to give up 18 years in public education and what I had in that world took a lot of thinking, a lot of prayer and a lot of faith.” In the end, Wenschlag put his faith in God and in opportunities that were given each and every day.

“We’re not guaranteed tomorrow; that’s the truth,” he said. “So, I chose to make the decision for something that I thought was really unique and wonderful. And that was to come here as the principal.”

Now only four miles from his work, 30th Avenue South is a reminder of Wenschlag’s past.

Forty years ago, as a young Jason Wenschlag first began to familiarize himself with his lifelong home, the trees that would grow into a shading canopy were but small saplings – it took thousands upon thousands of days for them to become what they are today.

Throughout the years, as Wenschlag fortified his legacy, these trees matured right along with him, and grew into subtle indicators of his years of constant growth.

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