Mineral Point Superintendent Luke Francois, Ed.D. was honored by the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance (WiRSA) as the Administrator of the Year at the annual Rural Schools Conference Monday, October 30 in Wisconsin Dells.
The WiRSA Board of Directors established the Rural Administrator of the Year Award to recognize a school administrator/principal/director who has made significant contributions to his/her rural school district in one or more of the following areas:
- Positive impact on students and student achievement.
- Significant contributions to rural education.
- Demonstrated collaborative efforts in the community.
- Innovative leadership efforts to strengthen and preserve rural school districts.
Dr. Francois was new to Mineral Point, and new to the profession of District Administrator, in 2011. 2012 saw him lead the district to a successful $1.1 million recurring operating referendum to erase a structural deficit he inherited. This has been vital in giving the district financial stability.
In 2015, the district received the distinction of being recognized by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction for demonstrating high reading achievement growth for students with disabilities. 2015 was also the first of three years running the district has been recognized by DPI with a Bronze Health Award for successfully equipping students with the knowledge to make healthy decisions that will positively contribute to their academic success.
These improvements combined to bolster Mineral Point to the top of the charts with the 2016 DPI State Report Cards, earning a five star, or Significantly Exceeding Expectations, accountability ranking. In addition, out of 180 districts participating in the CESA 6 Effectiveness Project, Mineral Point saw unprecedented academic growth during the 2012-13 through 2015-16 time frame. This is significant, especially considering the district Francois inherited in 2011 was near the bottom of CESA 3 in academic performance.
Much of the credit for the academic success can be linked back to the formal implementation of the Professional Learning Community (PLC) process in 2015. Like with any new initiative, it can be met with resistance, but after seeing results of improved student achievement due to the weekly collaboration time between staff, it has become an embedded part of #PointerNation culture.
Knowing the district needed to do better in providing course offerings to students, Dr. Francois chaired the 2012 committee that would go on to establish Building Opportunities and Occupations through Telepresence (BOOST). This is a consortium of five rural, southwest Wisconsin school districts that now share course content in a virtual environment.
Since the completion of the middle/high school in 1996, the adjacent football field has sat vacant while games are still being played at the old high school. Starting in 2012, Dr. Francois championed a Stadium Project Committee that has raised approximately $500,000 of private donations to date. Bleachers were installed this spring and Pointer varsity teams are close to finally playing games at the “new” school.
After leading the district through its first-ever strategic plan in 2014, he heard the community’s wish to improve transparency and communication. Realizing this is a task he could not accomplish alone, he hired a full-time Communications Director to be the public relations specialist, which was virtually unheard of in a small, rural district. In this day and age of school choice and scrutiny of public education, telling the story of #PointerNation has become more important than ever before. The communications program exploded and has produced multiple state and national awards and speaking engagements. In a 2015 survey, 84% of stakeholders report being satisfied with communication from the district.
Increased communication surrounding the positive efforts Dr. Francois has spearheaded have helped to make Mineral Point a destination district. Upon arrival to Mineral Point, the district was losing more students to open enrollment than it was gaining. In 2017, this trend has completely flipped by a significant margin. Mineral Point is also attracting top-notch staff who are bringing their fresh and innovative ideas with them.
2016 saw Dr. Francois receive the school board’s support for his proposal of taking over operations of the Alternative School, previously operated by CESA 3. For students struggling in a traditional school setting, they quickly blossomed under their new surroundings. The endeavor has been so successful, the school quickly outgrew its location and has moved to a new location this year with additional staff and a new name, Options in Education.
Community engagement is also at the forefront of Dr. Francois’ time and energy. He is Immediate Past President of Mineral Point Kiwanis, a past member of the Public Library’s Board of Directors, Ex-Officio for the district’s Excellence in Education Endowment Fund, holds Coffee with Community sessions, and has served on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. He also crafts a monthly column for the local newspaper and his school online blog, as well as articles in the district’s quarterly print newsletter.
Besides the academic accolades, a true sign Dr. Francois is having a positive impact on #PointerNation is the increase in results from the staff climate survey, now showing tremendous satisfaction with employment at Mineral Point. Contributing factors to this growth include Dr. Francois’ weekly Two for Tuesday videos informing staff of the latest news, handwriting a birthday card note of thanks to each staff member, bringing back the award program for milestone years of service, and increasing the number of events where staff come together outside of school to relax and have fun.
Dr. Francois also gives Mineral Point a voice at the state level by serving on the WI Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Control, as well as formerly serving on the WI School Music Association Board of Directors. In 2017, he was named a Master Educator Assessor by State Superintendent Dr. Tony Evers. He also now serves on the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators Policy Committee. He is a past member of US Representative Mark Pocan’s Education Advisory Committee.
The district has exciting endeavors it’s embarking upon this year, including offering mental health counseling services to students on site, as well as implementing the Families & Students Together (FAST) Program. After providing 1:1 Chromebooks for high school students a few years ago, an upgrade has been made to 1:1 MacBooks with the middle school then receiving the Chromebooks. Mobile hotspots are also available for students to take home who do not have internet access, addressing an equity issue many rural schools face.
Francois is a graduate of Middleton High School. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education: Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where he also was an Academic All-American Wrestler for the Warhawks. While serving as a mathematics teacher for nine years in two districts, Waterford Union High School and Middleton High School, he completed a Masters of Education from National Louis University in 1998 and a Masters in Educational Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2002. Most recently Dr. Francois received his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Edgewood College in 2013.
In his previous role, he served as associate principal and athletic director at Middleton High School for seven years. Dr. Francois has completed certifications as a Virtual School Administrator, National Certified Master Athletic Administrator, and the Wisconsin School Leadership’s Academy. He is also a Past President of the Wisconsin Wrestling Coaches Association, and former President Elect of the Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association.
Luke and wife, Tiffany, have four children: Kennedy (10th grade), Lucas (7th grade), Jacob (5th grade), and Matthew (1st grade).
“I always believe that when you surround yourself with good people, good things will happen,” said Francois. “I accept this on behalf of the #PointerNation staff that, day to day, work so hard to make Mineral Point Schools recognized as a distinguished district. The Mineral Point community has great people that care about kids, and their support is vital to the success of our schools.”
“I would also like to thank WiRSA for recognizing and rewarding the efforts of administrators that work through challenging situations each and every day, all in the name of helping kids,” he added.
Past winners of the WiRSA Administrator of the Year include: 2016 Tom Wermuth, River Valley; 2015 Patricia Vickman, Southern Door; 2014 Randy Bergman, Prentice and Scott Foster, Land O’Lakes; 2013 Aaron Mithum, Kickapoo; and 2012 Leann Chase, Tomorrow River.
The Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance was formed to help rural school districts address the unique issues that affect rural schools as they seek to achieve the highest quality education for every student. Members include a cross-section of administrators, educators, school board members, post-secondary representatives, rural community members, business leaders, and other concerned individuals who want a strong voice for rural education.