Brown leaves on solid ground
FAIRMONT — Joe Brown is leaving the Fairmont Area School District after spending the last 11 years as superintendent.
Brown first came to Fairmont in 2010. Originally from Iowa, he worked a variety of jobs before becoming a school superintendent. His careers include a rock ‘n’ roll drummer, machinist in a factory, high school government teacher, two-term Iowa state senator, contract painter, and marketing and sales for UNISYS, which brought him to Minnesota.
“When we moved to Minnesota in 1993, we moved to Mankato. There was an article in the Mankato Free Press, because of the way the legislature changed the retirement systems here in Minnesota, they predicted within two years there would be thousands of teaching jobs and hundreds of administrative jobs,” Brown explained.
Brown went back to school and got his principal’s license. He worked 10 years serving four different school districts: Barnum, LeSueur-Henderson, Chicago International Charter School and Austin High School.
“Then I went to become a superintendent. I served at Grand Meadow for five years and then I came here in 2010,” Brown said.
Long-time school board member Julie Laue was on the board that hired Brown.
“When he interviewed, he was excited and he had some good experience. He had some plans for Fairmont already and we could feel that he would be a good fit,” Laue said.
Laue said that Brown’s outgoing personality and ability to connect with people has proven beneficial for the district.
“He’ll really be missed in the district,” Laue said.
In his first year in the Fairmont district, Brown cut $1.4 million and 40 jobs.
“It was hard, but we needed to fix the budget,” Brown said.
When Brown got here there were five school buildings, Lincoln, Budd, Five Lakes Elementary, the Fairmont High School and the district office was in the SMEC building. With the help and support of the board, there are now two, which Brown says is economically efficient.
Brown also was instrumental in bringing back the district’s vocational programs.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve implemented five different academies. The first one we did was welding. We now have 20 welding booths. Then the agriculture academy, which was funded by local donations. That’s not only the classroom, but the greenhouse, the 40 apple trees and the outside gardens,” Brown said.
Next they brought in the automotive academy, the culinary arts academy and now they’re working on expanding the construction trades academy.
“The sixth one will happen after I’m gone, but when the new building is built we’ll implement the HVAC academy,” Brown said.
In February, a $6.7 million bond for an expanded vocational building passed with 67 percent voter approval.
Bob Bonin is a CTE teacher for Fairmont High School. He said the nice thing about Brown as an administrator is that he’s always looking out for what’s best for the students.
“I think he had the vision that we had to look for where employment trends are at. In the entire state everyone is talking about how we don’t have enough skilled workers and Joe had the foresight to see that we would need to train kids in the trades again,” Bonin said.
Bonin explained the the school had offered some classes prior to Brown coming to the district, but when Brown came it allowed them to buy new equipment to prepare kids for the future, rather than for the past.
“The growth came underneath Joe and now all of the schools across Minnesota are saying ‘Hey, what’s going on in Fairmont? Why are they now leading?’ but that’s because we had the vision of if we build it, good things are going to happen,” Bonin said.
Brown said what he’s most proud of is that Fairmont is the only comprehensive high school in the county.
“There’s 24 college classes taught here, 23 sport teams here, five vocational academies and a wonderful band, choir, orchestra, speech and drama department.”
Brown credits the aforementioned to the stability in the district.
“We have really great school board members that have been very positive and progressive. We have stable enrollment and we’ve continued to expand our programs,” Brown said.
Brown was slated to retire at the end of the 2021-22 school year, once his current contract was up. However, he resigned a year early to take a job as an interim superintendent at another district in Iowa.
“The district is in my old senate seat. I represented the area. That was 38 years ago and the district has changed a lot. It’s exploding in terms of growth,” Brown said.
Brown also said he feels strongly that wherever you are in life you need to feel needed.
“I don’t feel needed here anymore. I have done what I can to help this district grow and expand. The areas we need to grow in is to increase academic achievement,” Brown said.
Brown said he believe his strengths are in public relations, political skills, ability to work with a budget and ability to recruit new teachers, and that his weakest areas are curriculum and instruction.
“The neat thing about Andy taking over is that he has all of those skills I have, plus a great background in teaching and instruction,” Brown said of Fairmont new superintendent, Andy Traetow. “I knew it would be an easy transition because we had someone on staff that clearly is competent and certified to take over and lead the district in a stronger direction.”
Brown said leaving Fairmont is bittersweet. He said he’ll miss the sports team, as he’s been a constant spectator at many different sporting events and other extracurriculars.
“I have a lot of Cardinal gear,” he said with a chuckle.
“Fairmont has been so good to me. Of all the districts I’ve worked in, this is the best school board that I’ve worked with. This town has so much going for it. My wish for Fairmont is that we can get more people to work close together in a positive and progressive way to continue to enhance the community,” Brown said.