Montello Schools welcome a familiar face in role of its new District Administrator

The Montello School District welcomed a new but familiar District Administrator at the start of July, with the District Director of Teaching and Learning Elizabeth Tierney Calnin stepping up to take the role. The Marquette County Tribune sat down with her last week to discuss the new position and the plans she has moving forward.

Calnin had sent out a letter to district families introducing herself as the new Administrator on July 5. In it, she said that she would be focusing on rebuilding district and school communities and cultures, expanding their equity initiatives through their multi-level systems of support and K-8 Literacy adoption, evaluating the efficiency of district operations to ensure their resources are used effectively, and refining routines and procedures around communication and engagement. 

Calnin told the Tribune that it was her goal to continue diving deep into what the culture of excellence for Montello students looks like and to continue building towards that. She also felt that they would be in a period of rebuilding, regaining trust, and strengthening partnerships. They would be taking a look at how to do all those things and developing a plan and course of action to make sure that they happen with follow-through.

She also said that she intended to meet with members of the community to get feedback to help form a plan for the district. While she has a good understanding of the school district, she said she wants to learn more about the Montello community, saying, “I know if I expand my knowledge there, if I learn and start to understand better, that’s going to help me become a better leader and go back to developing those partnerships I know we so desperately need to maintain success.” 

When asked about district achievements that the community should know about, Calnin highlighted the fact that the vast majority of students said that they had at least one or two adults that they can connect with. She said that this was one of the biggest benefits of small schools, saying that not all students in larger settings can say the same thing. She said, “Our students will tell you our teachers know us, they care about us, they love us, they want what’s best for us. So, I think that’s something our community needs to know, that our staff really recognizes the needs, the strengths, the areas for growth of all of our students. I think another thing they need to recognize is that you have a staff that’s primed for greatness. You have an innate amount of potential in here and now it’s just finding the right ingredients in order to get that to just take off.”

Before joining the Montello School District, Calnin worked in the Waupun School District for 9 years, 7 as a Chemistry and AP Chemistry teacher and 2 as an intermediate principal. She then joined the Montello School District where she was Elementary principal for 5 years and Director of Teaching and Learning for one year. She noted that this is her 16th year working in education and that she had only worked in two rural districts in that time, saying, “That’s where my heart lies, is in rural education.”

Earlier this past spring, Calnin had accepted a position as Director of Teaching and Learning in the Baraboo School District and was preparing to leave Montello Schools at the end of June. Calnin said that she changed her mind about leaving when she was approached with this offer. She said, “I was presented with an opportunity that I could not turn down for both personal and professional reasons. Professionally, this is an opportunity to continue to grow in my skillset. I’m going to develop an even wider lens of what education means essentially, for lack of a better phrase. We talk about teaching and learning but when you get into the role of the ultimate District-Level position you really get to see how every single thing fits together; how all of the moving parts form the system that is starting at 4K all the way up to 12th grade, and you get to see those moving parts. I couldn’t walk away from that opportunity in my professional career. Personally, I’m in the building where my son goes to school, where my two step-daughters go to school, where Hadley (her daughter) is going to be eventually, and to have that type of connection, if I want to, to step out of my office and go give my 5th grader a hug, I have that opportunity. Not everybody gets to say that I get the best of both worlds under one roof every single day. I couldn’t walk away from that.”

Later that evening, the Montello School Board held their first meeting with Calnin as District Administrator. President Steve Barganz said that they were very pleased with her work so far and he thanked Calnin for accepting the job offer. Calnin said she was very excited and said, “Montello is family, Montello is home. So, when presented with the opportunity to be with my family and in my home, I couldn’t turn it away.”