Local deans educate, enforce rules

FAIRMONT – They each carry a lofty title you’d expect to find on a college campus, but for Andy Traetow and Alex Schmidt being a dean of students simply means doing everything in their power to ensure that Fairmont Area students have a positive experience in education.

Traetow, dean at Fairmont Junior/Senior High School, is no stranger to the district, having taught sixth-grade science and coached high school sports. His current position at the school has been in place for a few years.

Schmidt joins the system after teaching second and third grades at Blue Earth Area. He serves as Fairmont Elementary School’s dean of students, a new position this term.

“The primary thing we deal with is student discipline,” Traetow said.

This includes more than a reprimand or punishment. They teach and reinforce positive behavior and educate students about how to handle situations.

And their efforts are paying off.

Traetow offers data from the first semester of this school term compared to the last term as proof. Physical aggression is down by half. Chronic defiance dropped from 110 instances to 35. Bullying plummeted 82 percent. Overall referrals for discipline are down 43 percent.

The one increase shown was for inappropriate language, up by 30 percent.

“But that’s because we are addressing it,” Traetow explained.

Of the 800 students under his guidance, only 16 exhibited repeated behavior.

“The vast majority of our kids are making positive choices,” he said.

“Almost 90 percent of our students have not had referrals,” Schmidt said. “So many kids out there are making great choices.”

At the junior/senior high school, the staff sends Traetow all student referrals electronically on his cell phone.

“No matter where I am in the building, I’ll know,” he said.

At the elementary school, staff members complete written forms concerning a student’s inappropriate action, Schmidt said, adding that he is brought into the situation if a teacher’s efforts to correct a problem are unsuccessful.

Students at both schools receive instant feedback concerning their behavior, and parents also are notified.

“Kids can see adults as people who care about them,” Schmidt said.

“The follow-through is the key thing – letting them know the process from both sides,” Traetow said. “They feel better leaving my office than they did coming in.”

Because his position is new this school term, Schmidt received “guidelines” rather than a written job description. He handles issues with students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

“Most of the referrals happen at recess or in the lunchroom,” he said, with hitting or other similar physical contact.

“I see a lot of kindergartners, and I see a lot of sixth-graders,” Schmidt said. “The kindergartners are still learning, and the sixth-graders – they’re sixth-graders.”

Most kindergarten students require a single visit to rectify and explain the issues.

Creating a smooth transition from the elementary school to the junior/senior high school is a top priority for Schmidt and Traetow.

“Our district is pretty unique,” Traetow said. “They (students) only change buildings once.”

Meetings between sixth- and seventh-grade teachers will help create common expectations and goals for a smooth transitioning for students, and activities, such as a visit to the high school, are planned.

“We also want them to experience the building before they go there,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt and Traetow share a common goal of becoming a school principal, and they have the educational foundation in place. In addition to a bachelor’s degrees, both continued their education for two years to earn a master’s degree and an additional two years to obtain a degree in education administration.

Although being a dean of students doesn’t require a principal’s license, Schmidt said he “couldn’t do this job” without the level of education he has attained.

“I still teach every day,” Traetow said. “We continue to educate the whole child.”