LUXEMBOURG – Community support. It’s one of many things the new superintendent of the Luxembourg-Casco school district said she finds appealing about the district.
Jo-Ellen Fairbanks was introduced as the new superintendent at a school assembly with fanfare Friday morning. She is the fifth superintendent, and the first female superintendent, in LC’s 54-year history. Replacing Glenn Schlender, who served for eight years and is retiring, Fairbanks will start with LC on July 1.
“My educational philosophy is very simple,” Fairbanks said at the assembly. “It’s that every child can learn. And you can all learn amazing things. It’s to create a safe and secure environment where everyone can learn.”
The 55-year-old has spent the past 30 years working in education, most recently serving as superintendent of the Cochrane-Fountain City School District since July 2020. Fairbanks began her career as a science teacher and president of department in the Burlington Area School District in 1993 and has since worked not only in classroom instruction but also in curriculum and program development, supervision, budget development , collaborative strategic planning, culture building and organizational leadership.
This multi-faceted experience, particularly her work in curriculum and school finance, is a key reason Fairbanks emerged as the top candidate for the position, said LC School Board Chair, Mike Driedric. He also cited her work in Cochrane-Fountain City, where she took over a few months after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She has experience leading a district through tough times, like COVID,” Driedric told Star-News. “She has a track record of success everywhere she’s gone.”
He also noted that Fairbanks presented the board with a 12-page plan outlining how she would approach the first eight months of her term.
Driedric said Fairbanks was one of two finalists for the position, the other being Matt Smith, superintendent of secondary education for the Kaukauna Area School District.
Addressing a full gymnasium of LC students, teachers and staff at the assembly, Fairbanks said that as she considered the position, one of the first things that struck her hit was the support the community gives to the schools.
As an example, she cited the two referendums passed by district voters in 2018 that approved the spending of $27.8 million on a series of improvements that included the construction of a new gymnasium and a college, modernization of equipment and facilities for technology courses and conversion of the old college. building in what is now the Casco Career Academy, home to the Ahnapee Diesel Center (opened last fall as Wisconsin’s first and only diesel-specific credit high school) and the LEAP alternative school.
“If you look at recent elections, not all communities support their school districts,” Fairbanks said. “The fact that this community was able to come together and pass this referendum shows the support and love they have for the school district.”
“There’s a lot of community support,” Fairbanks told the Star-News after the meeting. “A school cannot function on an island. The community must support the school in order for it to grow. And that is really evident here in Luxemburg-Casco.”
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Fairbanks also noted the trust school officials place in teachers to be leaders in the classroom and on school issues.
“Some districts, there’s not that trust in teachers,” she told the congregation. “(The confidence) is really evident here.”
She said another attraction is the steps LC has taken in the state’s emphasis on Career Pathways to provide high school students with tools to succeed not only in college but also in the job market. , with new facilities such as the Diesel Center and Agriscience Center and an increased emphasis on the school’s tech-ed programs.
“The Career Pathways…LC has that,” Fairbanks said.
After the meeting, Fairbanks said it was impressive how LC was able to arrange partnerships and sponsorships with local businesses and Northeastern Wisconsin Technical College to make these efforts a reality.
“It’s very important, Career Pathways and partnering with high schools and businesses,” she said. “I remember people were talking about it 20 years ago, but nothing was done. It has changed so much. Everyone is ready to partner now to create career opportunities for students.”
Prior to 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 served as the Beloit School District’s Secondary Program Supervisor in 2007 before joining Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids for five and a half years as Associate Dean – General Education/Business.
Fairbanks returned to K-12 education beginning in 2016 with two-year stints directing the Adams-Friendship School District and Portage High School/Academy of Achievement, the latter including time in as the director 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; an MA in Interdisciplinary Curriculum and Teaching from National Louis University in Chicago; and a Ph.D. 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 that her first task when she takes office in July is to get to know the district, staff, students and community before considering any changes.
“I think it’s really to learn more about the neighborhood,” Fairbanks said, “and keep that momentum going. … My first job is to get to know the neighborhood on a deeper level, to listen to the people who have been here a long time, before making a decision.
“It’s really exciting to be here.”
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]