Fecke’s heart is at Sky Oaks

Principal Kay Fecke was pictured with Sky Oaks students this spring after reading aloud to them in the school’s media center. (Submitted photo)

Principal retiring this month

Kay Fecke describes herself as a 24/7 person. Days often stretch into evenings in her job as principal of Sky Oaks Elementary School in Burnsville, but the preoccupations of work can pop up at any time.

“When I finish this job on the 28th (of June), I don’t know what I’ll do in the middle of the night,” joked Fecke, who is retiring after a career spanning 31 years in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191.

Fecke has bounced around the district as a teacher (mostly sixth grade), assistant principal and interim principal, but spent the bulk of her career at Sky Oaks — including 13 years in the classroom that preceded her nine years as principal.

She’s a loyal Eagle (the school’s mascot) and fierce champion of a school that’s been at the forefront of the district’s social and demographic change.

“I can get real weepy about it,” Fecke said. “I can honestly say I’ve never met a parent, ever, who does not want the best for their child. There’s where the responsibility comes, because you’re entrusted with these wonderful little people. Oh, my goodness — you better bring your ‘A’ game.”

The Illinois native taught for seven years in her home state before moving with husband Bob to Minnesota, where he took a job with Toro in Bloomington.

Fecke started as a parent volunteer at Edward Neill Elementary before being hired there as a long-term substitute teacher in 1982. She was hired full time at Vista View Elementary in 1984. Fecke has also taught at Rahn Elementary and in Chaska for a year. She’s been an assistant principal at Hidden Valley Elementary and was interim principal of Vista View in 2002-03 before being appointed Sky Oaks principal in July 2004.

Teaching — the ability to influence a child for an entire school year — is an “honor,” Fecke said.

Being a principal ups the ante, but without the direct control a teacher can exert on the classroom, Fecke said.

“As a principal, you don’t always see those immediate results of your decision-making,” she said. “That, I think, weighs heavily. … It makes you not take things facetiously. You just don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘Well, I can come back and fix it.’ You don’t always know.”

Fecke says the Sky Oaks staff has made measurable progress in closing achievement gaps among the district’s most diverse student body. According to state Department of Education figures from February, Sky Oaks had 221 black students (African immigrants and African-American), 215 Hispanic students and 174 white students.

“Our kids are making progress,” Fecke said. “It shows on our math assessments. We don’t have our MCA scores yet (for the recently completed school year). But we know we’re making progress and we know we’re closing the gap, and we know there’s a gap and we’re mindful and respectful of it. We change our strategies to meet the needs of the kids we have.”

Education has benefitted from a greater emphasis on assessments, Fecke believes.

“We’re into diagnosing, and that has really changed in my career,” she said.

Sky Oaks — labeled a “racially identifiable” school by the Department of Education — has received extra funding through
compensatory aid given to high-poverty schools in Minnesota. At Sky Oaks, 73 percent of students this year were eligible for free or discounted meals.

“There are incredible financial supports provided outside of the regular supports, because we have students who have needs,” Fecke said. “We’ve been able to hire reading interventionists and math interventionists. We talk about ‘targeted instruction.’ That (compensatory aid) is one more way we’re able to support that specific instruction to meet student needs.”

Closing the achievement gap is a “slow, steady climb,” said Fecke, a mother of two and grandmother of three who lives in Lakeville.

“We’re reflecting what’s happening across the country,” she said. “But like everywhere else, you plan, you do things strategically, and you get the results.”

New principal

Sky Oaks’ newly hired principal is Drew Goeldner, who begins July 1. He was principal of Rice Lake Middle School in Wisconsin.

Goeldner began his teaching career in District 191 as a substitute. He has been a teacher, math coordinator and curriculum coach in St. Paul Public Schools and principal of Haugen Elementary in Rice Lake.