For Jolene Danca ‘99, ‘13, at the core of everything is relationships.
Relationships with her family. Relationships with her community. Relationships with the students she oversees.
Jolene, who was most recently an assistant principal at the Winona Area Public Schools Middle School, is taking her love of relationships to the next level after being promoted in September to principal at the Alternative Learning Center. Jolene is now leading a staff of nearly 20 and overseeing more than 100 students.
Jolene, a Turtle Lake native, received both her bachelor’s degree in recreation and leisure in 1999 and a K-12 educational leadership certificate in 2013. She credits part of her love for relationship-building in Winona to WSU and the personal attention and focus given to her during her time in college.
“(The WSU community) takes a lot of pride in their campus and in the environment they create,” Jolene said. “Because of the fact that it isn’t huge, you’re able to make genuine authentic relationships.”
That was exactly what Jolene needed in her life when pursuing her degrees, she said. Jolene had originally started at university twice the size of WSU, but it was not as relationship-minded and became a toxic environment for her.
“Winona State was a second chance for me,” she said. “It was exactly what I needed.”
Jolene – who played for the WSU’s Girls Volleyball Team – said her coaches, teammates, and the staff within the athletic department became a second family to her.
“I remember walking through the hallways and Coach Sawyer’s office was right there,” she said. “What a guy to take you under his wing.”
Her professors were the same.
“People at WSU always had empathy and understood where I was at,” she said, adding that she felt she could open up to professors in a way she couldn’t at her previous university.”
WSU was the springboard that helped her gain momentum.
Since her time at WSU, Jolene has gone on to open two small businesses while also working full time in the Winona Area Public Schools district. She owns Scrappin’ on the Ranch, which is both a renovated rental property for hosting scrap booking events and a three-site campground for hobbyists, outdoor enthusiasts, and vacationers. She also owns Eupraxia Winona, a fitness center that specializes in kettlebell classes.
“Everything in my life is really about relationships, community and family,” Jolene said.
In many ways, those groups combine into one another – similar to how they did at WSU.
“In a school, you’re in a community and in a family,” she said. “And it truly is a family.”