Wendy Reinsch Fisher didn’t know if she would stay in Minnesota for the long term when COVID-19 hit.
She had been visiting her son, daughter and son-in-law in the Twin Cities and couldn’t return to China, where she had been working as a leadership program coordinator for an international Montessori school.
The opportunity to serve at Great River School came up, and while she felt fortunate to land that position, she knew the school was in a transition stage and wanted to find a job a bit further away from the Twin Cities. That happens to be in Faribault as Cannon River STEM School’s incoming executive director.
“For me personally, I like to find a place that I call home,” Reinsch Fisher said. “[Great River School] has given me all the kinds of tools and knowledge and training to do good work in Faribault … It just feels like a really good fit.”
Reinsch Fisher will officially step into her role as executive director July 1, but until then, she’s been visiting Cannon River STEM weekly to get to know staff and students. She will succeed Theresa Gunderson, who has served as interim executive director since November 2020.
Deni Buendorf, who serves on the Cannon River STEM School Board and served on the Executive Director Search Committee, said Reinsch Fisher’s 20 years of experience with charter schools and Montessori schools was impressive. She was part of the original team that opened the first charter school in the state of Maryland and served as head of schools for Mountaintop Montessori in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“We all felt strongly she was the best choice and recommended her to the board for hiring, and they fortunately agreed; it was unanimous,” Buendorf said.
What drew Reinsch Fisher to Cannon River STEM was the school’s emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum, which she considers important in the current world, and for focus on the whole child and experiential learning.
“I think what I love about it is the teachers I’ve been able to meet so far seem so passionate and dedicated to building on things that are going well and looking at things that need improvement,” she said. “It’s the opposite of a place where people are stuck in their ways. I want to go someplace where I can partner with the community and make a difference.”
Reinsch Fisher currently has a home in Minneapolis, but a family friend owns a vacant house in Faribault where Reinsch Fisher plans to stay as she becomes more familiar with the area.
“I really, really enjoy being part of the community which I serve,” Reinsch Fisher said. “My experience in Charlottesville was so wonderful in that way … You really need to be a part of the local community to get that full experience and be authentic about ambassadorship for the school.”
Reinsch Fisher noted a couple of topics she’d like to bring to the forefront under her leadership at Cannon River STEM. One is a focus on social-emotional learning for students and how mental health, well being and relationships impact the ability to learn and succeed.
Although she doesn’t know of a school, organization or business that has perfectly mastered the delivery of these lessons, she said, “It’s something that’s exciting to me. It’s something where the next generation can be better than we are.”
Social justice is the other piece Reinsch Fisher wants to add to the equation. To her, that means empowering students to feel a sense of purpose by inspiring a sense of optimism in the next generation and finding excitement and hopefulness in the midst of challenges.
Reinsch Fisher’s favorite part of the school experience is the students. If a teacher has a family emergency and can’t be at school, she jumps at the chance to step in and work directly with students. Walkabouts are part of her daily routine, visiting classrooms to read to students, mentor gardening projects or simply say hello.
Of teachers, she said, “Those are my people.” Having taught for a long time herself, she understands the challenges and empathizes with those experiencing new struggles.
“I hope to have a long and fruitful relationship [with Cannon River and Faribault],” Reinsch Fisher said. “I’m just really excited to start meeting people, and with more folks getting vaccines and the world opening up more, to instill a sense of community in person. That’s important.”