New staff join MFL MarMac

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New staff joining the MFL MarMac School District this year are (front, left to right) Kathy Ruhser, Pat Wille, Samantha Baumgartner; (back) Nikki Brevig, Carissa Otto, Brett Jackson, Melisa Jones, Brandon Burke and Cheryl Drowns. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Aug. 23 didn’t just mark the first day of school at MFL MarMac for some students. For nine staff members, it was also their first official day of classes with the district. Joining the staff this year are Carissa Otto, Kathy Ruhser, Brett Jackson, Brandon Burke, Cheryl Drowns, Melisa Jones, Pat Wille, Samantha Baumgartner and Nikki Brevig.

Carissa Otto

Carissa Otto will teach special education at the elementary school. A Dumont native, she attended North Iowa Area Community College and Buena Vista University, where she graduated with a degree in elementary education, with endorsements in reading and early childhood.  Otto earned her master’s in education at the University of Northern Iowa. She has worked for the Ames Community School District as an early kindergarten teacher, Central Decatur Community School District as an early childhood special education teacher and at Green Hills Area Education Agency as a special education consultant.  

Otto and her husband, Dustin, who is a mechanical engineer for Reel Core, live in Waukon with their two dogs. She was first inspired to become a teacher by three elementary educators.

“They each built relationships with each student and their families, and then had them grow and succeed based on their abilities,” she shared.

When her husband accepted the position at Reel Core, Otto said she wanted to get back into an early childhood classroom, particularly working with students with special needs. 

“I find passion and drive supporting students to do their best and make improvements. I like the challenges of problem solving to figure out what works best for each student,” Otto said. “I am most looking forward to getting to know and building relationships with the staff, parents and students at MFL MarMac and working to support all students.”

Kathy Ruhser

Kathy Ruhser is MFL MarMac’s new K-6 general music teacher. She lives in Elkader with her husband, Curtis, and the couple has two daughters who live and teach in Chicago and Knoxville, Ill. 

Ruhser received her music education degree from Luther College. She first taught band at a school in Minnesota for two years, before joining Central Elkader, where she taught both music and band from 1980 to 2012. Since then, Ruhser has substituted at several area districts, including MFL MarMac.

“When the opportunity to teach K-6 music came up, I was happy to take on the assignment,” Ruhser shared. “Music has always been an important part of my life, and, early on, I felt I could help instill that same love in members of the next generation.”

Whether a student is a producer or consumer of music, Ruhser said she hopes to have something to offer them. 

“I look forward to getting to know my students at MFL MarMac and help them have a rewarding and fulfilling musical experience,” she added.

Brett Jackson

Brett Jackson will join the McGregor Center staff this year as a special education teacher. He is originally from Prairie du Chien and liked that the position at MFL MarMac would allow he and his family—wife Amanda and sons Knox and Kruse—to move back to the area.

Jackson graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville with a history major and social science minor. He’s never used those degrees, however.

“I always wanted to be a teacher, especially a high school history teacher,” he explained, “but I then started working in special education and just really started to enjoy it.”

In 2008, Jackson began a five-year stint teaching at-risk students at Crossroads Academy, in Decorah. During that time, he went back to college at Upper Iowa University, earning a special education endorsement. He most recently taught special education at Decorah Middle School.

“I enjoy working with students of all academic abilities, while also being a mentor and advocate for them,” Jackson said. “Everyone who I have talked to about MFL MarMac has said positive things about the district as a whole, which really makes me feel good about making this change. Overall, I am just excited to meet the teachers and students.” 

Brandon Burke

Brandon Burke will take on several duties at the middle school, including sixth grade English and language arts and seventh grade social studies and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math).

Burke, who is engaged to Jillian Haberichter, is a McGregor native and attended the University of Northern Iowa. Although he substitute taught with the district last spring, this will mark his first teaching position.

“As a graduate of MFL MarMac, I loved my time as a student and wanted to raise my family in our wonderful community,” he said. “I wanted to give back to the next generation as my teachers did to me. I want to make a difference in the lives of young people.” 

Burke said he’s most looking forward to having his own classroom and creating an engaging learning environment for his students.

Cheryl Drowns

Cheryl Drowns will teach ninth grade science at the high school, as well as chemistry and physics. A University of Dubuque graduate with majors in biology and secondary science education, she has spent the past five years teaching at Beckman, in Dyersville. Drowns is married to Cory, and the couple has a daughter, Lilly, who is in first grade, and a son, Benjamin, who is in preschool.

Drowns said her teachers inspired a love of science and environmentalism in her.

“I decided to teach so I could share that interest with students,” she said, “and for the freedom to explore a wide range of topics in science.”

She’s excited to live in the Driftless Area and be part of the close-knit, small communities that make up the MFL MarMac School District. She hopes to get her students excited about science.

“I have taken students to competitions and would like to continue and expand that this year,” Drowns noted.

Melisa Jones

Taking over business education courses at the high school this year is Melisa Jones. She currently lives in Prairie du Chien and has three sons: Chance (22), Caleb (18) and Corbin (15). Jones earned her 5-12 business education degree from Upper Iowa University and is finishing up her master’s in special education.

In the business sector her entire adulthood, Jones said she’s always wanted to teach. She looks forward to growing the school’s business program.

“I want to help prepare students for life after high school and focus on the skill sets needed to reach their personal goals,” Jones remarked. “Given the opportunity to take this part-time teaching position allows me to remain a part of the education community and have an influence on students’ education, while focusing on growing my own business outside of education.”

Pat Wille

Pat Wille will teach high school physical education and also serve as a paraprofessional. A Monona native, Wille has done some subbing and coaching over the years, and jumped at the opportunity to bring that experience to MFL MarMac.

“I love physical education,” she said. “I’m excited to bring new ideas to P.E. and make it fun.”

Samantha Baumgartner

Samantha Baumgartner will serve as K-12 guidance support, primarily serving K-8, but 9-12 as needed. Baumgartner grew up in Elkader and attended Loras, where she initially majored in elementary education. She later transferred to the University of Northern Iowa, completing her first level of student teaching before pursuing an undergraduate degree in family services. Baumgartner completed her undergrad degree at UNI in family services, with minors in psychology and mental health, and is now completing her master’s in K-12 professional school counseling through Buena Vista University. Following graduation, she spent some time as a behavioral health intervention specialist and provided mental health services to children and families in the area. Baumgartner currently lives in Waukon with her husband and two dogs.

Baumgartner said she was drawn to the education field with the goal to empower youth to reach their full potential both inside and outside the classroom.

“During my level one student teaching experience, I witnessed the strong impact that lack of emotion regulation skills can have on students’ abilities to learn and interact with others, and decided to pursue a career in counseling to help students succeed academically, socially and emotionally,” she stated.

Baumgartner has substitute taught at MFL MarMac and said the school climate is what attracted her to the guidance support position.

“I was able to experience the incredible atmosphere the staff and administration have created that is welcoming, encouraging, supportive and focused on supporting the needs of all students,” she said. “There are many things I am looking forward to, but I am most looking forward to getting to know all of the students, staff, and families in the district better.”

Nikki Brevig

Nikki Brevig will fill a counseling role at MFL MarMac this year. She is a Decorah grad and earned a B.A. in corporate communications from Avila University, in Kansas City. Brevig and her husband moved back to the area with their two sons 15 years ago, and, for 12 years, she served as executive director of the Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce. Brevig went to graduate school at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and earned an M.A. in counseling and psychological services. She completed her graduate practicum at Northeast Iowa Behavioral Health and has been with Riverview Center providing therapy services since October of last year. 

Brevig said she found this passion later in life, but always felt a calling to give back to the community.

“I think therapy found me, in that I wanted to work with people more on a one-on-one basis,” she noted. “I’ve had an interest in psychology ever since I was in college the first time around.”

Brevig has previously worked with students at MFL MarMac through Riverview and enjoyed the experience. She said this opportunity allows her to continue working at Riverview, while also meeting the needs of students in the district in a broader capacity.

“I’m really looking forward to working with the students. I hope to provide them with services they need in a safe and supportive space,” Brevig shared. “I think the district is doing some amazing things and putting the mental health of their students at a high priority.”

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