Head cardinal takes flight
Bangor School District’s Superintendent Dave Laehn has spent the last 33 years of his life in education. Laehn recently announced to the school board that this would be his final year as he would be retiring at the end of the current school year.
Laehn always had it in the back of his mind to be a teacher after he was influenced to do so by some great teachers and professors he had along the way. He graduated from Cochrane-Fountain City High in Fountain City, WI before attending college at University of Wisconsin - La Crosse where he earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.
He said it was specifically two of his professors at UWL, including his Spanish professor and a history professor, that really turned his focus on education.
“I had some awesome teachers and professors, but those two shaped the idea in my head and I always liked working with kids,” he said. “I love languages so Spanish was just a natural fit for me.”
Laehn began his career as a Spanish and social studies teacher in Independence for a year before he then moved to Mondovi School District where he also taught Spanish as well as coached basketball, softball and tennis for seven years.
He then decided to obtain administrative certifications from Winona State University for both the capacity as a principal and superintendent.
Laehn then became the middle/high school principal in Independence, which was a position he held for five years when his role transitioned to fill a combined position of superintendent/high school principal for the next 11 years.
Laehn made the switch from teaching to administration because he felt like he could have a positive influence on day-to-day operations and in the lives of his fellow teachers and students.
“As I look back on my career, I sometimes wish I would have stayed in the classroom a little longer because I certainly still loved being in the classroom and frankly, 25 years is a long time to be an administrator,” he added. “It was just the right opportunity for me at the time and I was lucky to work in smaller schools with communities that were very supportive.”
Nine years ago, he was selected to be the superintendent in Bangor, where Laehn says he has enjoyed his time immensely even though he has spent two of the most challenging years of his career in Bangor.
Laehn said this, his final year, has by far been the most difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic followed closely by 2011 when Wisconsin Act 11 was passed. He joked that he never had any intention of simply sliding through his final year, but it certainly would have been much easier to enjoy it if COVID wouldn’t have happened.
“There is no doubt that starting in March, this has been the most challenging year. I think the hardest part has been trying to handle the uncertainty of every day,” he said. “You always want to do what’s best for the kids and staff. Any decision you make, you’re going to upset some people and that’s not easy.”
It was a combination of the students, families and colleagues that kept Laehn in education all these years. “I think any teacher will tell you the best part of the job is the kids,” he said. “They keep you young. It’s definitely a challenge everyday but that’s what makes it so worthwhile.”
Even though he has been in administration longer than he was a teacher, Laehn still thoroughly enjoyed teaching as well as coaching and being able to continue being a part of the students’ lives as an administrator in a small school district.
“One of the things that I really loved about being in small schools was that I got to know the kids,” he added. “I had opportunities to go to larger schools, but because I attended small schools as a student, I just always felt that those connections are what keeps you going every day.”
The biggest thing he’ll miss when he retires is the relationships with people and the interaction with the kids, but Laehn said he always knew he wanted to retire while he still enjoyed the job.
One thing he will not miss is the 24/7 of the job. “With this job, the buck stops with the superintendent and ultimately, it is the superintendent's responsibility to make a decision for whatever issue may come up,” he said, adding that he will now be able to fully commit to his free time.
Laehn’s contract officially expires on June 30 and a new superintendent, that has yet to be chosen, will officially take over his responsibilities on July 1.
“I’m very proud of where our district is educationally and financially and of the things we’ve done together and built. We have an awesome admin team, staff and board that I’m very proud of,” he said. “I’m excited for the district to get a new leader that will take the district to the next level.”
Now that he is retiring, Laehn is looking forward to spending more time with his wife Sheryl, who retired last year after over 30 years as a teacher. Her last five years in education were spent in Bangor and throughout her career, she was an elementary teacher, a reading teacher and retired as a kindergarten teacher.
Laehn and his wife have two sons; their oldest just got out of the United States Army where he was serving in cyber security and now works as a system analyst for Amazon in Virginia. Their youngest son is currently a middle school math teacher in the Sparta Area School District.
Laehn and Sheryl plan on staying in the Bangor community, which he said has been wonderful to them.
“Sheryl and I are very fortunate to have ended our careers here in Bangor, it’s a great community that is so supportive of the school. We’ll still be very proud to be Bangor Cardinals going into the future,” he added. “I don’t intend to sit in my rocking chair on my deck. I will do some different things; I just don’t quite know what those are yet.”