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Fairmont grads find there’s no place like home

FAIRMONT — Once a Fairmont Cardinal, always a Fairmont Cardinal.

The saying is true for the more than 80 staff members at Fairmont Area Schools who are also graduates of Fairmont High School.

The staff includes a 1964 graduate, 2015 graduate and many years in between.

There are 41 graduates working at Fairmont Elementary School. Nine are teachers and 32 are support staff. Fairmont High School has 40 total, with 14 teachers and 26 support staff.

Support staff includes administrators, such as counselors, dean of students and principals; as well as custodians; food service; specialists; paraprofessionals and Title I aides.

When asked if the district looks to hire former graduates, Fairmont Area Schools Superintendent Joe Brown said, “Our goal is to hire the best person for the position open. In the last 10 years, we’ve hired a lot of faculty that were originally from Fairmont and decided to come back home.”

At the start of the school year, 17 new faculty were on board, with 10 being Fairmont High School graduates.

“I think this says a lot about our school district and our community that we have that many people that want to come back home after they’ve gone off to school,” Brown said.

Chelsey Haase is a first-grade teacher at Fairmont Elementary School and a 2001 graduate of Fairmont High School. She obtained her teaching degree from Minnesota State-Mankato. Coming back to Fairmont was not something she originally saw in her future.

“As a high-schooler, I never thought I’d come back. But now that I am back I don’t think I could picture us anywhere else,” Haase said of herself and her family.

Other staff agreed that as a student, they did not see themselves returning home, let alone working at their alma mater. One of those is Maisy Diegnau, a fifth-grade teacher at Fairmont Elementary. She is a 2014 graduate of Fairmont High School and in her first year of teaching.

Diegnau received her degree in elementary education from Winona State University and then worked at a camp in Michigan for one year. She then worked briefly at a charter school in Minneapolis.

“I had a conversation with [elementary school co-principal] Michelle (Rosen) about some job openings here and she encouraged me to consider it. I applied and interviewed and moved back,” she explained.

Diegnau’s classroom is the same one she sat in when she was a fifth-grade student. Her teacher was Doris Mancell. She said Rosen was her sixth-grade teacher.

In addition to those connections, Diegnau’s mother, Jenni, is a veteran kindergarten teacher at Fairmont Elementary as well as a former graduate of Fairmont High School.

“I never thought we would be teaching together in the same school district, much less the same building,” Diegnau said.

Over at Fairmont High School, 1989 graduate Todd Segar had the opportunity to work next to his father, David.

David taught chemistry at Fairmont High School while Todd taught biology. The pair’s time teaching overlapped for six years.

“Originally I wanted to go into physical therapy,” Segar noted.

He went on to get his master’s degree in microbiology and the program required that he do some teaching. Segar liked it more than he anticipated.

“I swore I would never live in Fairmont or teach and now I enjoy doing both,” he said. “It was a great gift. It’s two of the best things that have happened to me.”

Traci Lardy, dean of students at Fairmont High School, graduated from Fairmont High School in 1986. She and her husband, Nick, were high school sweethearts and graduated together.

Lardy went to Augustana, where she received her teaching license. She taught at Fairmont Middle School for several years before obtaining her master’s degree in organization management, with a specialization in leadership.

“I’ve had the opportunity to use my education degree in different avenues,” Lardy said.

She ran the education department at Mayo and was director of Presentation College before returning to Fairmont Area as dean of students. She has been employed by the district for a total of 12 years.

Speaking of changes she has noticed from when she was a student until now, Lardy said, “I think it’s interesting to see the focus come back to the vocational area. That was big during my time here.”

There are other examples of staff who not only graduated from the district, but worked there, left to work elsewhere, and then returned. Two are new high school co-principals Jake Tietje and Alex Schmidt.

“We both started our careers elsewhere, and then we came here, went away and then came back,” Schmidt said.

Tietje, 1997 graduate, worked as a P.E. teacher and then dean of students at Fairmont Elementary School. He then served as principal at Windom Public School for six years before returning to Fairmont this year.

Similarly, Schmidt, a 2003 graduate, worked as dean of students at Fairmont Elementary School for two years. He then spent two years with his family in Germany, where he worked as principal at an elementary school. Schmidt returned to Fairmont in 2017 and worked as an instructional teacher before assuming the position as co-principal this school year.

“People wouldn’t be coming back to this community if it wasn’t a great place to be in,” Tietje said.

“I think it also speaks to the experience they had at this building. There’s positive memories of this building,” Schmidt said.

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