Novi Woods community honors retiring principal

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published June 29, 2023

 Novi Woods Principal David Ascher poses with a commemorative plaque dedicating the Nest area at Novi Woods Elementary School to his legacy at the school on May 22. Ascher was heavily involved in bringing the Nest outdoor learning area to fruition.

Novi Woods Principal David Ascher poses with a commemorative plaque dedicating the Nest area at Novi Woods Elementary School to his legacy at the school on May 22. Ascher was heavily involved in bringing the Nest outdoor learning area to fruition.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

NOVI — After 12 years as principal of Novi Woods Elementary School and 28 years with the Novi Community School District, David Ascher officially entered retirement, or as he prefers to think of it, “repurposement,”  June 28.

“I’m retiring because I’ve had a wonderful career,” said Ascher. “There’s no drama. There’s only happy emotions. I’ve seen over the years people leave for all different reasons, and I never wanted that. I only wanted to leave when I was happy and leave on my own terms, and I only wanted to leave when I felt like I had done a really great job.”

Ascher grew up in Poynette, Wisconsin, but discovered his passion for teaching while giving swimming lessons during his college years at Purdue University. After graduating from Purdue, Ascher taught for two years in the West Lafayette School District in Indiana. He then moved to Michigan for his wife, Kimberly, who is from South Lyon, and began teaching at NCSD.

Along the way he earned two master’s degrees from Michigan State University. He taught first, fifth and sixth grades, and he was a co-principal at Novi Meadows before coming to Novi Woods.

“Some of my fondest moments are when you know that you’ve helped a student, or you’ve helped a family, or when you know that you’ve helped a teacher who has been able to help a student,” said Ascher. ‘It’s pretty easy to help the student or students who know the material or learning comes easy for them, but when they’ve had to overcome something, whether it’s a learning issue or an emotional struggle, or something traumatized from their home … helping students who maybe have emotional struggles or learning struggles and to know that maybe you’ve been able to help them just a bit, really, really is remarkable. And you don’t always know right away. What I have learned is that you don’t always realize the impact that you make sometimes for years later.”

He shared that since he announced his retirement, numerous colleagues and students have come out of the woodwork to share how much of an impact he made on their lives. He said that often they have spoken of things that he did that at the time he didn’t think were a big deal, but that ultimately made big impacts on the lives of students, parents or fellow educators.

For example, Ascher said he had a former student tell him that she was inspired by a comment he had told her in the fifth grade — to smile because she would learn more and have more fun. That student is now a teacher.

He said he once felt urged, with no idea why, to call and check on a colleague. He called and left her a voicemail, saying he just felt compelled to check on her. The teacher told him a year later that she had saved that voicemail, as when he called she had been going through a difficult time, and his words had helped her to get through it.

Ascher said one of his favorite things he has done at Novi Woods is to help implement the Lead with PAWS program, which teaches kids to Practice kindness, Act safely, Work together and Show respect. Through the program, he has made over 6,000 positive phone calls to parents to compliment students for doing something extraordinary.

“So much of what we do as educators, and really people, is about making connections, and I’ve tried my best to focus on the positives and reach out to people,” he said. “It’s meant so much to me that I’ve been able to focus on the positives.”

In honor of his retirement, many people gathered May 22 at “The Nest,” which is an outdoor learning area that features a garden and an amphitheater, to surprise Ascher and dedicate the area to him as part of his legacy at Novi Woods.

The cast iron plaque was made by Mike Engerer, of Printnology Inc., whose kids attended Novi Woods, and it was funded by staff donations. It reads in part, “During his time at Novi Woods Mr. David Ascher taught us many things. He taught us to have grit and to hold high expectations. He showed us the importance of building a strong school community and reaching out to others.”

A Buddleja davidii, also known as a summer lilac or butterfly bush, will grace the garden at the Nest. Fourth grade teacher Michelle Donberger said the plant was perfect, as it has “David” in its Latin name.

“David has helped us grow so much and in so many ways,” said Donberger. “What a great symbol to have this butterfly bush here, that you will always have your roots here with us, but you really have helped us to grow and flower and bring wonderful things to Novi Woods, just like this butterfly bush will bring wonderful things to this garden.”

“Hopefully, it will smell better than me,” Ascher joked.

The majority of the Novi Woods staff were in attendance at the surprise dedication, and many were dressed as Ascher for a theme day, by either wearing Purdue or Wisconsin shirts, or dressing in his traditional-style shirt.

“The great thing about Mr. Ascher is that he cares deeply about people,” said Donberger.  “So if he sees some sort of problem or issue, he’s going to work to make it right.”

Donberger said that Ascher created lots of things to help the large population of Japanese students who come to the school who do not yet speak English. She said he made an introductory book in Japanese that shows where all the different rooms in the school are and what each class looks like. She said he found a need for the kids to be able to connect with other kids and not feel alone.

Kokone Wakui, 14, shared that when she first came to Novi Woods as a kindergartener she couldn’t speak English, and that Ascher, who does not speak Japanese, found ways to break the communication barrier and encouraged her to learn English.

“If it weren’t for him, I don’t think I’d be speaking English right now,” Wakui said.

Shion Wakui, 12, said that Ascher’s simple act of remembering his name really made him happy and want to learn English.

Kokone and Shion’s mother, Akiko, recalled how Ascher had given Kokone a card with emoji on it so that she could tell him how she was feeling every day, and said that it really made a difference.

“He is special because he is very present. He is not the type of principal that just stays in his office. He’s in classrooms. He wants to be involved with whatever you’re doing, and he usually supports whatever you’re doing,” said Danielle Courtemanche, a Novi Woods kindergarten teacher.

Ascher said that they’ve worked really hard to shine light on all the varying types of diversity within the district and at Novi Woods, and to welcome all the differences.

On June 9, Ascher was also honored to be the caboose of the train of fourth graders who were clapped out on the last day of school. He said he was asked to be the engine, but declined to give that to a retiring first grade teacher. He said he wanted to make sure his retirement did not take away from the students receiving their honorable clap-out.

“I’m grateful for the recognition, but Novi and Novi Woods are in a great place, and I’m glad to have been a part of it,” Ascher said.

He said he is looking forward to “reinventing” himself. He said a retired friend of his advised him to not call it retirement, but rather “repurposement,” because retired people need to find a new purpose.

“Sometimes when you are retiring, it feels like you are writing your own eulogy,” Ascher said. “People will come give you a hug, and they get you all teary-eyed, and I’m like, ‘Look, I’m not dying here. I’m just not going to be at Novi Woods every single day. So we can still be friends. Here’s my phone number. Call me. We’ll talk about it.’ Yeah, it’s wild.”

Ascher said he will now focus on being a great husband and dad to his two adult children. He said his parents are aging and he plans on being able to spend more time with them in southern Wisconsin. He said he will also have more time for his hobbies, which include playing the guitar, woodworking and scuba diving.

“Right now, I’m just enjoying where I’m at,” he said.