FAIRMONT - Fairmont Area Schools has undergone a dramatic administration change this year, hiring a new principal, assistant principal and dean of students at the high school; and a new dean at the elementary school.
The changes come as the district begins to focus more on combating attendance and discipline issues with students, as well as finding more efficient ways to help teachers meet goals.
In general, the principal and assistant principal at each location will be responsible for what Superintendent Joe Brown calls "adult issues": staff development, curriculum considerations and standards implementation.
The dean of students at each site will handle "student issues": discipline, attendance and student environment.
Niss began her career with Fairmont Area as a student-teacher in 1994. After spending the next three years teaching in Truman, she returned here.
A math teacher, Niss was asked repeatedly over the years to take on more leadership roles, and was encouraged by former Fairmont Principal Lynn Manske to pursue administration.
Niss resisted the idea until her husband lost his job at Harsco Technologies. St. Mary's University (Winona) was offering a licensure program in Fairmont so Niss joined the class, thinking she might need the resume boost in the event her husband found a job out of town and the couple ended up moving.
Her licensure program was just wrapping up when high school principal Dave Paschke announced his retirement. Niss applied for the job.
She says her educational and leadership philosophies are similar to Manske and Paschke, but she plans to fine tune the focus of what is already in place.
"We have a lot of good initiatives here," she said. "We know a little about a lot of things. We want to know a lot."
She has begun implementing her ideas by encouraging staff to focus on the same three goals for the year. Typically, teachers choose their own goals from a list of 10.
"To make a difference in a school, you need 90 percent implementation," she said of why she wants everyone working on the same goals.
Niss never planned to become a teacher when she was growing up; she dreamed of being an accountant. But a college algebra teacher noticed she was good at helping her classmates understand concepts, and asked her if she had considered teaching.
She said no, and she didn't have plans to.
She did, however, agree to become that instructor's assistant. By the end of her time at the college, Niss had changed her major to teaching.
She said her new position as principal doesn't feel like an abandonment of that career.
"I will just be teaching the staff," she said. "There are a lot of similarities."
Niss is excited about the changes coming to the school next year, especially a proposed schedule change that could create meeting time for teachers four out of five days of the week, before classes in the morning.
She noted that teachers often have little time to work on new methods and figure out new regulations. "That is a fault of the system - time for teachers to learn," Niss said.
When working on their school administration degrees, students are told that when they are having a bad day, go down and spend some time with kindergarteners. It is a sure fire way to cheer a person up.
But Jamie Goebel found that wasn't the most effective method. For him, it was with high-schoolers that he felt most at home.
"There is something special about sitting down to talk to them, and really getting to know them," he said.
Goebel is the new assistant principal at Fairmont High School. He comes to the district from Rothsay Public School, where he served as principal.
Fairmont Area is a larger school district than Goebel has served. Rothsay graduated just 14 students last year.
Goebel applied at Fairmont Area several years ago, and he and his wife fell in love with the area during the interview process.
"We loved the town," he said. "My wife and I related to it. We truly loved the atmosphere."
Goebel will serve as the assistant high school principal, but he began his teaching career with elementary students.
"There is something special about elementary students," he said. "But sitting down and talking to a middle school student or a high school student and getting to know them ... I believe the relationship with administrators is so important."
Goebel has three years experience as an administrator and seven as a teacher. He also served in the U.S. military for eight years, with special duty as a guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns and as a member of the U.S. Army Honor Guard.
Andy Traetow was raised in a family deeply rooted in education. He begins his description of his family's local influence with, "Let's start out west and work toward here."
He then names family members: his dad is principal at Jackson High School, his uncle is principal at Martin County West, his aunt teaches in Fairmont, his cousin teaches at St. Paul Lutheran School in Fairmont. Traetow trails off ... "There are a lot of us in education."
He then moves to his wife Michelle's side of the family. Michelle teaches at Fairmont elementary, and she has family in the field.
Traetow's dad went into school administration when Traetow was in high school.
"I always looked up to my dad and the path he set," Traetow said. "I lived it growing up, and I knew it was something I wanted to do."
For the past several years, he has been teaching science to elementary students at Fairmont Elementary, most recently to sixth-graders. He was recently promoted to become the high school's new dean of students.
Traetow has a master's degree in education, a requirement to begin pursuing administrative licensing, so when a program with St. Mary's University began locally two years ago, the time was right for him to continue on his career path.
"I never had a set time table," Traetow said. "With the opening and knowing we wanted to stay here to raise our family, it was the right time."
As dean, Traetow primarily will be responsible for attendance issues and discipline issues.
Because of the change in duties, Traetow also will have to change his extra-curricular activities. He will continue to coach football, but not basketball.
As dean at Fairmont Elementary, Alex Schmidt will be responsible for handling discipline issues of 900 students, a job he feels well prepared for after earning his administrative license from St. Mary's University.
Schmidt taught second grade at Blue Earth Area Elementary for the past three years, and taught third grade in Ham Lake for the three years prior.
Elementary teaching wasn't his first, or even second, plan for a career, but it was the one that struck a chord with him.
After originally beginning an architect program, Schmidt changed course and began working toward a middle school teaching degree.
"I knew I really enjoyed being with students," he said, "and architecture wasn't for me. I wanted to teach middle school because I really liked math, but I had some elementary classes during my practicum and love it."
His experience working at a small school afforded him the opportunity to take on leadership positions, an experience he enjoyed.
When St. Mary's sent out information about the licensure program, Schmidt was encouraged by a mentor to enroll.
The program gave students the opportunity to really understand how a school works outside of the classroom, and it stressed leadership skills.
Schmidt expects to be very visible in the school, interacting with students and getting to know as many as he can.
Schmidt said not teaching in a classroom will be different, and there will be aspects he will miss.
"There are things you look forward to at the beginning of the year, like getting your class list and making nameplates and getting to know a group of kids really well," he said. "I think I will miss teaching in the classroom. I know it will be different, but I hope it will be a good different."