Luxemburg-Casco School District hires its first female superintendent
LUXEMBURG – Support from the community. That's one of several things the new superintendent of the Luxemburg-Casco School District said she found attractive about the district.
Jo-Ellen Fairbanks was introduced as the incoming superintendent at a fanfare-filled school assembly Friday morning. She's the fifth superintendent, and first female in that role, in L-C's 54-year history. Replacing Glenn Schlender, who served for eight years and is retiring, Fairbanks will start with L-C July 1.
"My educational philosophy is very simple," Fairbanks said during the assembly. "It's that every kid can learn. And you all can learn amazing things. It's to create a safe, secure environment where everyone can learn."
The 55-year-old has spent the past 30 years working in education, most recently as superintendent of the Cochrane-Fountain City School District since July 2020. Fairbanks started her career as a science teacher and department chairperson in the Burlington Area School District in 1993 and has since worked not just in classroom instruction but also curriculum and program development, supervision, budget development, collaborative strategic planning, culture building and organizational leadership.
That multifaceted background, especially her work in curriculum and school finances, is one of the main reasons Fairbanks emerged as the leading candidate for the job, L-C School Board President Mike Driedric said. He also cited her work at Cochrane-Fountain City, where she took over a couple months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
"She has the experience of leading a district through challenging times, such as COVID," Driedric told the Star-News. "She has a track record of success wherever she's gone."
He also noted Fairbanks presented the board with a 12-page plan that laid out how she would approach the first eight months of her term.
Driedric said Fairbanks was one of two finalists for the job, the other being Matt Smith, director of secondary education for the Kaukauna Area School District.
Speaking to a full gymnasium of L-C students, teachers and staff during the assembly, Fairbanks said when she was considering the position, one of the first things that struck her was the amount of support the community has for the schools.
As an example, she cited the two referendums passed by district voters in 2018 that approved spending $27.8 million for a raft of improvements that included building a new gym and middle school, upgrading equipment and facilities for tech-ed classes and converting the old middle school building into what is now the Casco Career Academy, which houses Ahnapee Diesel Center (opened last fall as the first and only credit-bearing, diesel-specific high school in Wisconsin) and L.E.A.P. alternative school.
"If you look at the recent elections, not all communities support their school districts," Fairbanks said. "The fact that this community was able to come together and pass that referendum shows the support and love that it has for the school district."
"There's a great deal of community support," Fairbanks told the Star-News after the assembly. "A school can't operate on an island. The community has to support the school for it to grow. And that really is evident here at Luxemburg-Casco."
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Fairbanks also noted the trust school officials place in the teachers to be leaders in the classroom and on school issues.
"Some districts, there isn't that trust given to teachers," she said in the assembly. "(Trust) is really evident here."
She said another attraction is the steps L-C has taken in the state's emphasis on Career Pathways to provide high school students with tools for success not just in college but also in the workforce, with new facilities such as the diesel center and Agriscience Center and increased emphasis on the school's tech-ed programs.
"The Career Pathways … L-C has that down," Fairbanks said.
After the assembly, Fairbanks said it's impressive how L-C has been able to arrange partnerships and sponsorships with local businesses and Northeastern Wisconsin Technical College to make those efforts a reality.
"It's highly important, Career Pathways and making partnerships with secondary institutions and businesses," she said. "I remember people were talking about that 20 years ago, but nothing was done. It's changed so dramatically. Everybody is ready to partner now to create career opportunities for students."
Before becoming superintendent in Cochrane-Fountain City, Fairbanks served as director of instruction and professional development for the CESA 9 academic agency in north central Wisconsin, where she oversaw instruction for three school districts. She then was supervisor of secondary curriculum for the School District of Beloit in 2007 before joining Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids for five and a half years as its associate dean — general education/business.
Fairbanks returned to K-12 education starting in 2016 with two-year stints in leadership with the Adams-Friendship School District and Portage High School/Academy of Achievement, the latter including time as principal of an alternative learning school.
She holds a bachelor's degree in secondary science education, with minors in chemistry and biology, from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; a master’s in interdisciplinary curriculum and instruction from National Louis University in Chicago; and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis from UW-Madison.
Outside of education, Fairbanks also owned, operated and served as master chocolatier of Melt Chocolat in Plainfield for eight years until 2020.
Fairbanks told the Star-News her first order of business when she starts the job in July is to get to know the district, the staff, students and community before considering any changes.
"I think it's really to learn about the district," Fairbanks said, "and keeping that forward momentum. … My first job is to get to know the district at a deeper level, listen to the people who've been here a long time, before making a decision.
"It's just really exciting to be here."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Luxemburg-Casco School District hires its first female superintendent