Talking with the superintendent
Kelli Jacobi wraps up an ‘educational’ career
By Eileen Persike
School District of Rhinelander Superintendent Kelli Jacobi is saying goodbye to a decades-long career in education when she retires this month. Education was an easy choice for Jacobi, who said she has always been a teacher, loved school and was “one of those annoying ‘teacher’s helpers.” She helped tutor other students who needed extra help and seemed to have a way with children.
“I knew I had made the right career decision when I got my own classroom,” Jacobi said. “It was scary but wonderful!”
Beginning as a substitute teacher, being part of the team to create the elementary charter school in Rhinelander, working as a teaching principal there, moving on to become an administrator and ultimately the district’s top official has made for a full career, and plenty of memories.
As Jacobi prepares to close one classroom door and open another, we asked her to reflect on her lifetime of school experiences.
What does your career in education look like?
After graduating from Drake University in 1980, I was a substitute teacher in Des Moines for a year. Then I moved to Florida where I taught fourth, fifth and sixth grade for 10 years. When I met my husband, who was living in Rhinelander, and we decided to marry, we had to decide where to live – Rhinelander or Tampa? I came up to Rhinelander for a visit and got a position right away teaching students with special needs at West School.
I was part of the team that started the elementary charter school in 2004 and taught at NCES and then became a teaching principal at that school. I moved from that position to the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for six years and then to the Superintendent position in 2013.
Tell us about some of your favorite memories
I have so many wonderful memories from my career; it’s hard to narrow it down to a few. Spending time with my students at CAVOC is high on my list. As a “city girl” I enjoyed learning right along with my students. My colleagues learned early on that I was “directionally” challenged and not the right person to lead the hikes through the woods!
Also, I fondly remember working to start the elementary charter school and having a waiting list when it opened. Project-based learning is used much more commonly throughout the district now.
“The most challenging part of being the superintendent has been not being able to please everyone.”
What are you most proud of in your position as superintendent?
Working to pull all district employees together to make one great team is something of which I am proud. I have worked to improve communication with all families and community members to help them see and understand what’s happening with the district and with the state funding formula. I have always felt there needed to be transparency in the workings of the school district and am proud that I was able to make an improvement in that area.
What were the most challenging aspects of the job?
The most challenging part of being the superintendent has been not being able to please everyone. Although I continue to try, I have found that listening to concerns, investigating and researching them, and then following-up helps stakeholders understand that there are reasons why a decision has to go a certain way, even if the decision isn’t always popular.
What, if anything, surprised you the most as a superintendent?
I was able to see some very good superintendents do the job, so there weren’t many surprises. The surprises that come to mind first would be the number of decisions that have to be made every day and the amount of stress that comes with the job. It is definitely a 24/7 job with many demands.
“I have so many wonderful memories from my career; it’s hard to narrow it down to a few.”
What do you think you’ll miss the most?
Definitely the kids and my colleagues. I have always worked with students, or on behalf of students and it will be a big change. I have enjoyed working with the SDR team and will miss them all – board members, teachers, support staff and administrators.
Any words of wisdom for the incoming superintendent?
I would encourage Eric Burke to get to know his team. There are so many wonderful people who really care about kids, he will benefit from all of that combined knowledge. I would also recommend he work to keep the lines of communication open with parents, staff, and community members.
What are you most looking forward to for your future?
I am looking forward to spending more time with my parents, family, and especially my grandchildren. Traveling is also on my list and I am hopeful that it will be safe to travel in the near future.
Thoughts on this unusual 2019-20 school year? I’m sure you didn’t think this is how the year would end for you…
This has been a bizarre end to my career. It’s difficult not having the daily contact with students and staff. I’m sure many educators are feeling the same way. All of changes required for moving to a remote learning plan are all working as well as can be expected. The district will be able to compile the lessons learned to make improvements should a continuation or implementation of the plan be required any time in the future. Once again I would have to congratulate the whole SDR team. They rocked it!