When the calendar turns to February in a few days, it will mark the end of Kelli Jacobi’s seventh month as superintendent of the Rhinelander School Distict. And while it is just a little more than half a year, Jacobi has faced issues that some superintendents don’t have to face in a career.
“I don’t schedule my days so when issues arises, I take it as it comes,” Jacobi said, joking about her hectic first semester as superintendent.
But Jacobi has faced a slew of issues, ranging from the opening of a new medical clinic on site, to the arrest of a teacher stealing from the district and an illness outbreak that shutdown one school and led to a voluntary pick up of another.
“I think I have had to make decisions that maybe my predecessor didn’t have to make,” Jacobi said.
While Jacobi may have had to deal with unorthodox issues, it was her goals when she took over as superintendent that helped her steer the district through the tough times.
“I have an open door policy,” Jacobi said. “I want those that I work with and those in the community to feel like they can come to me with anything.”
It was those open avenues of communication that helped Jacobi and the district deal with tough issues when they came up.
The first of the major issues came when then English teacher Joshua Juergens was found to have been stealing from the school and growing marijuana in his home in early November.
“It was a very difficult situation,” Jacobi said. “We worked with law enforcement and followed the procedures we had in place. I think since I was new, I really relied on the procedures and that is what we followed.”
Another issue cropped up when a flu outbreak forced the closing of one school and a voluntary pick up ordered at another facility.
“Once we knew we had an abnormal situation, we watched the numbers and made sure all the players had what they needed,” Jacobi said. “We have a great school nurse in Kerri Schmidt and we worked with the Oneida County Health Department.”
With so many moving parts, Jacobi said having good communication was key.
“Everyone worked very well together,” Jacobi said. “We also had to reach out to parents and help them if they needed it and let them know this was an abnormal situation. We want kids in school and we know kids need to be in school but we had to give those facilities a good scrubbing and prevent the health crisis from escalating.”
While Jacobi has fostered good communications inside the school, she also takes seriously her role as embassador outside the school. And that has helped her address the public when it comes to issues including the newly implemented referendum that saw area tax bills go up.
“I do receive calls about the referendum,” Jacobi said. “I listen to what the caller has to say. I then inform them about what the referendum money is going for. There is no fluff in our budget, those things are long gone. This money is used to make sure our class sizes don’t get out of control and making sure we don’t have cut programs. Once people hear where the money is going and why, a lot of times they understand.”
Jacobi said she does not dismiss the concerns of taxpayers and that is why she is also championing ways to bring more revenue back to the Rhinelander School District.
“I have done a lot of work with the Rural Schools Task Force in Madison,” Jacobi said. “They are looking at how rural schools are funded and some of the inequities in the current model.”
Jacobi was one of the many representatives that petitioned Madison to look at rural school funding which led to the committee co-chaired by Rhinelander Rep. Rob Swearingen.
“I went down to Madison in the summer before I was officially the superintendent and talked with our representatives about the needs of rural schools,” Jacobi said.
Jacobi also has overseen the opening of an onsite clinic as a joint venture with Aspirus that has lowered health care costs for the district.
“The clinic came along with perfect timing as we were looking for ways to cut costs and comply with the Affordable Healthcare Act,” Jacobi said.
While the first seven months have been hectic, Jacobi said she looks forward to the remainder of the year and hopes to work on some of her other goals she set when she took the superintendent position.
“I want to get into the classrooms more, be involved in the education process more,” she said. “I hope to get to every building at least once a week.”
Jacobi said the district is also working on a new strategic plan and it is looking at how teacher salaries will be restructured with the implementation of Act 10 which took away collective bargaining rights.
In the meantime, Jacobi said she is keeping her door open and getting out into the community.
“We are lucky to have such great staff and community support in Rhinelander,” she said.