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District 833's Jacobus says he's in it for the long haul

Keith Jacobus, the new South Washington County Schools superintendent, said he intends to spend the rest of his career in District 833.

As Keith Jacobus moves into his office this week as the new School District 833 superintendent, he's making it clear that he plans to stay there for the long haul.

"I wasn't intending to come here and look for something else," Jacobus said in an interview.

When Jacobus applied this spring for the job to replace Mark Porter, who's contract was not renewed after one three-year term, he said he wasn't seeking superintendent jobs in other districts.

"This is a premier district," Jacobus said, and it could be one of the best in the nation. "It's a good fit for me. We have a great reputation."

Jacobus, who is 54 and taking his first superintendent job, said that he doesn't see his role as solitary.

"Success for me depends on the organization," he said. "The team is important, including the cabinet, principals and, also, the teachers."

It's important to hear their opinions and work together, he said. "They have the expertise that we need."

After his contract was approved by the South Washington County School Board at the end of April, Jacobus wasn't due to start work until July 1, but that didn't keep him from getting started.

He attended Park, East Ridge and Woodbury high school graduations. He's also been at school board meetings, sitting with other administrators, and marched with board members in the Strawberry Fest parade in Cottage Grove and was a team member in the bocce ball tournament among teams of local government officials and local lawmakers.

Jacobus has made a good early impression on board members Laurie Johnson and Ron Kath.

"He's very warm and people oriented," said Johnson after last week's school board meeting.

Jacobus is very open and puts kids first, she said. "He's coming here with new eyes."

Kath said Jacobus said in interviews that he wanted to be out in the community and so far he's making good on his intentions. "He seems engaged, outgoing and very welcoming," Kath said.

Kath and Johnson split on whether to keep Porter, but the board's vote to hire Jacobus months later was unanimous.

Jacobus has pledged to make at least one visit outside his office for each of the first 100 days. He's already met some local officials and plans to meet more of them.

Local communities are affected by district decisions, he said.

He said he would also like to meet in people's homes with anyone the hosts want to invite and he has no predetermined agenda.

Jacobus said he intends to listen, keep track of what he learns and report his observations to the board later this year.

Jacobus' education journey began in Wisconsin where he grew up and started college at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He took education courses and was a diver on the school's swim team.

Jacobus was also interested in pursuing a career in veterinary medicine so he went to Colorado, because LaCrosse didn't have a vet program, with a friend who was a ski racer.

After establishing residency, he went to Colorado State University and found that his interest in education moved to the forefront. He became a science teacher.

In school districts of varying size he has been a principal, worked in personnel and worked with teachers and curriculums as an administrator. He's coming to District 833 from the Osseo school district in the northwest Twin Cities.

The varied work experiences provide perspective, he said. "It helps you in your thinking," he said. "I don't have all the answers."

The lure of returning the Midwest after spending most of his career in Colorado, where he met his wife, Wendy, and started a family, included wanting to live where there are hardwood trees and water.

Returning to the Twin Cities area twice a year to visit her family, Wendy didn't think she could survive the winters, Jacobus said.

But the idea of moving got easier when their daughter enrolled at the University of Wisconsin -Eau Claire. Also, the older son was not quite in high school and the youngest son was in elementary school.

Their first winter in their home near White Bear Lake was typical with lots of cold and snow.

"Wendy bought a lot of winter coats," he said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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