Shorewood - "The first thing you need to know about me," says Shorewood School District's new superintendent Martin "Marty" Lexmond with a spreading smile, "is that I'm from Upper Michigan."
Lexmond admits, with the characteristic ambivalence of the locals there, that he's a "yooper," raised in the city of Ishpeming in Michigan's Upper Peninsula - though, he adds, the tell of a native is a pronunciation of "Ishperming."
Coming from the temperate and often cold climate of Holland, Lexmond's parents, Dutch immigrants, found both Baltimore and later Youngstown "way too hot" and in the end found their way to Upper Michigan, where Marty was born.
Lexmond was in the second grade when the Catholic school he attended was shut down, sending him to the local public school where he found out, upon entering third grade, that he was behind.
"I remember that being a profound thing," says Lexmond, "to face that - we're not where we're supposed to be."
To his bemusement, while in the fourth grade Marty began seeing his father walking into the school at the end of the day.
"It didn't register as a little fourth-grader," Lexmond says, laughing, "why my dad was there every day. He just was."
Mrs. Koski, the fourth-grade teacher whom Lexmond calls a central figure of his youth, had been explaining to his father the next week's lessons - and with that information and teamwork, the two of them in concert brought Marty up to speed.
"It's funny how we keep those memories of certain teachers," Lexmond says, "who really stepped in and helped us move along."
He spent the majority of his adolescence at St. Lawrence Seminary High School near Lake Winnebago, where, entrenched in the school's social justice programs, he engaged with a broad range of people and places - including a trip to Saginaw, Texas, where he found himself with the white-knuckle task of transporting Mexican immigrants across town.
After graduation, he enrolled at Marquette University, though he "didn't connect" there and dropped out after his first year.
He stepped out into the world then, on his own, with a mind to "figure it out," taking a job in the butcher's shop at the now-closed Kohl's grocery store at the corner of Holton Street and Concordia Avenue in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood.
"What I didn't realize," says Lexmond, "is that everything behind the glass is just one big refrigerator."
As it turns out, it may have been the long johns he wore to fend off the cold, coupled with the long July walks to work, that sent Lexmond back to college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
History teacher in the making
His purpose at UWM, says Lexmond, was to learn, and so he took coursework in a smattering of fields - one semester computer programming, another criminal justice, and so on.
After five years of such learning, spurred on by a pointed suggestion from his parents, he went to his adviser.
"What am I going to be?" he had asked.
The adviser studied his transcript for a time, alongside catalogs of college majors and minors, before sliding it back across the desk.
"You're going to be a history teacher."
With that course in mind, he landed a teaching position in the Milwaukee Public School system out of college, and connected with the Shorewood School District for the first time when he traveled with MPS students to help build a set for longtime theater director Barbara Gensler.
Over the years he and Gensler worked together on a number of productions, and her district shone in the distance.
"Shorewood has been on my radar for years," Lexmond says. "I've always found it such an interesting community."
After teaching, and later moving on to administrative positions in Milwaukee, and then the Denver area, Lexmond came back to Milwaukee, and was later groomed for the MPS administrative team, where he spent seven years designing and implementing various schools - from high-performing Ronald Reagan prep school to Transition High School, which takes in formerly incarcerated, expelled and chronically truant students.
After a stint as superintendent and high school principal in the Kohler School District, Lexmond went after his last chance to make it into the Shorewood district, securing the superintendent position in June.
His focus, he says, is to explore what it means to be a liberal arts oriented high school in the 21st century, to prepare students to address the problems of 2050 - like an environmental, agricultural or health care crisis - today.
He aims to hold a series of "meet and greets" with the community over the next year to brainstorm that very question, drawing from his own varied education and the knowledge of the residents, to reshape how the district delivers education.
"Young people who are connected to the world and to people who think differently, and have different values and experiences (are key)," says Lexmond. "If we can build that into them with an expanded liberal arts education, forty years from now, they're in the leadership positions to solve those problems."
It's a big task, but Lexmond is ready to take it on, and only one of his telling Upper Peninsula sayings can adequately express his enthusiasm when he thinks of guiding the district through the coming years.
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