We were sorry to report last Friday that School District of Fort Atkinson District Administrator Lynn Brown had stepped down from the position she has held since 2017. Dr. Brown, who had come here from Montello, had been on a medical leave of absence following a fall last September and just last month had extended it indefinitely. We thank her for her service and wish her the best in both her health and future plans.
At the same time, we were pleased to share some good news: The board of education appointed Dr. Rob Abbott to succeed Brown as the superintendent, effective immediately.
And then on Monday, Matt Wolf was named Fort Atkinson Middle School principal and Jennifer Statz was announced as the associate principal there.
The administrative changes might have seemed a whirlwind, but that actually was not the case. Dr. Abbott has been with the Fort Atkinson schools for 23 years, starting in 1997 as a middle school associate principal and then being promoted in 2000 as principal. During that time, he continued his education, earning his doctorate in educational leadership 12 years ago. He holds administrative licensure as superintendent, director of instruction and pre-K-12 principal, as well as educator licensure for grades 1-8 and middle-level English grades 6-9.
So it is no wonder that he was serving as district interim superintendent since October of 2019 when Dr. Brown could not continue with her duties. And it made sense that he would be appointed district administrator full time.
It also made sense that Matt Wolf was moved up to middle school principal. He started his educational career at Janesville, earned his master’s degree in educational leadership in 2015 and came to Fort Atkinson as associate principal at the middle school the following year.
And in turn, Wolf named Jennifer Statz as the new associate principal there. She received her bachelor’s degree at Wisconsin Lutheran College in psychology, biology and secondary education and began her teaching career in the New Berlin School District. Statz earned a master’s degree in educational leadership in 2010. She has been with the school district since 2000, teaching eighth-grade science until hired as the dean of students for Fort Atkinson Middle School in 2018.
See a pattern emerging?
In addition to rewarding a valued asset, hiring internally retains staff who have strategic understanding of the district’s goals and culture, and practical, institutional knowledge of how things work. Already having relationships with and respect from co-workers can be a big leadership plus, and from a practical standpoint, promotion is the most efficient and cost-effective for a district.
Hiring from within is not new in the Fort Atkinson school district. Over three-plus decades, Dr. Gerald McGowan worked his way up from a teacher at Caswell, Rockwell and Purdy elementary schools to Purdy principal and then district administrator, a post from which he retired in 1999.
And Jeff Zaspel, Brown’s predecessor, was superintendent from 2013-17. Like McGowan, he stepped into the top spot after climbing the local ladder, starting in 1986 as a teacher and then moving up to high school administrative intern, high school assistant principal, Rockwell Elementary School principal, Fort Atkinson Middle School principal and then Fort Atkinson High School principal. Ironically, the Class of 2004 followed his every move and as district administrator, he keynoted its commencement ceremony.
Undertaking a superintendent search can be a lengthy and involved process consuming as many as six months. Moreover, there has been a nationwide superintendent shortage for more than a decade, so the best candidates are in high demand. Consider that Lake Mills, Milton, Jefferson, Whitewater and Madison are but a few of the many area districts filling the top spots in the past few years. Like Fort Atkinson, Jefferson was fortunate in that it had several longtime, top-notch administrators the board could move up. However, not all districts do.
And of course, there are times when a district, for a variety of reasons, needs new blood to spur change. But when a school district already is on a successful path and has the right men and women already in place to continue guiding it forward, the choice to promote from within is an easy one.
We join the board of education in congratulating Rob Abbott, Matt Wolf and Jennifer Statz on their new roles. Fort Atkinson should take great comfort in knowing that our children’s education — and future — is in good hands.