WATERFORD — New Waterford High School Superintendent Luke Francois knows he has some big shoes to fill.
Former Superintendent Keith Brandstetter, who served in that position for 20 years, was the one who hired Francois for his first teaching job at WHS in 1994, when Brandstetter was the district’s assistant principal. Brandstetter retired at the end of June.
“Keith was such a staple, not only to the school district, but to this community,” Francois said. “To fill those shoes, I knew was going to be a tall order.”
Francois left WHS in 1999 for a teaching job in his hometown of Middleton, and most recently worked as the executive director of business services for the Sauk Prairie School District, northwest of Madison. Prior to that he was superintendent and business manager of Mineral Point Schools, southwest of Madison.
Francois wants help from district stakeholders — including those who don’t have school-age children and business and community leaders — in determining future goals.
“I’d like to hear their voices through a new strategic plan that really guides me and my work over the next three to five years,” Francois said. “We don’t need to decide the direction, we actually need to take the direction from the community.”
The new superintendent knows that one of his biggest responsibilities in the next couple of years will be overseeing projects funded with $10 million in borrowing approved through an April referendum.
“I think one of the largest things that I can do for this district is to make sure that we’re fiscally responsible in how we manage the taxpayer dollars,” Francois said.
Some of the projects to be completed with referendum money include a new family and consumer education room with a residential and commercial kitchen, an additional fitness center and a small animal lab.
Although students in the district overall do well academically, according to state assessments, Francois is still looking toward improvement, especially for students with disabilities and those living in poverty.
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“I would like to become the district that services all students to high levels,” Francois said.
Another area of focus for Francois in the coming year will be a staff health and wellness initiative.
“I really want to make sure that physically and mentally our teachers and support staff have a good culture to thrive in and that they’re well in the classroom and can do their best work,” Francois said.
He also hopes this will help to drive down the district’s ever-increasing health insurance premiums.
In addition, Francois wants to ensure that teachers get the professional development they need to successfully shift their curriculum from a traditional model to embracing technology with the district’s shift to one-to-one. One-to-one means the district provides an electronic device for each student to use to complete school work.
A special place
Not only is WHS important to Francois professionally, as the place where he started his career, it also holds a personal significance. Francois and his wife Tiffany met and married while they were both teachers at the school.
“It was a community that just obviously had attracted us both in our professional lives but then in our personal lives will always have a special place for us,” Francois said. “To come back again is really a unique opportunity to see Waterford as it was but also as it’s evolving and growing into something new.”
Francois said he wants to see the district on a cycle of continuous improvement, and said he’s open to hearing challenges and concerns from the school community as well as helping them celebrating victories.
“I’m a person that will serve with great honor and dignity in this position, because it matters,” he said. “Waterford gave me my first opportunity. I want to give back and make sure that this community that’s now given me a second opportunity is well taken care of.”