Bay Port alum honored as state’s top superintendent
By Josh Staloch
SUAMICO – Dr. Mary Pfeiffer, a Bay Port graduate and current superintendent of the Neenah Joint School District, represented the state of Wisconsin at the National Conference on Education in Memphis last month as the Wisconsin State Superintendent of the Year.
Pfeiffer was awarded the acknowledgement last fall by the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA).
“We are very pleased to recognize Dr. Mary Pfeiffer with the Superintendent of the Year award,” Executive Director Jon Bales said. “Through her strong leadership, grit and willingness to take on big challenges, Pfeiffer is a wonderful example of a great educational leader.”
Pfeiffer began her higher-education path at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where she obtained her undergraduate degree in criminal justice and sociology.
From there, she went on to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to earn her bachelor’s degree in education.
Pfeiffer received her masters degree in education and a doctorate in education administration and policy analysis from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Prior to being named superintendent in Neenah, Pfeiffer was the associate principal at Neenah High School from 1998 to 2003.
She also served as principal at Stevens Point Area Senior High for two years and executive director for instruction in the Green Bay Area Public School District before returning to Neenah in 2009.
WASDA Superintendent of the Year recipients are measured on criteria that include successfully meeting the needs of students, personal and organizational communication, professionalism, participation in local community activities and an understanding of regional, national and international issues.
Pfeiffer has had her fair share of the entire lot.
During her 13-year tenure as superintendent, she said Neenah provided salary increases for its employees every year, and is one of only a handful of districts with a fully-funded retirement package for every employee.
When she took over in 2009, Pfeiffer said the district was looking at a nearly $200 million projected shortfall for post-retirement responsibilities.
Within 10 years, after making some changes, she said the shortfall was remedied.
The district will soon get a new high school as a result of a 2020 campaign led by Pfeiffer to pass a $114.9 million referendum.
“Those types of things, those big ideas, don’t happen without a lot of support,” she said. “They don’t happen without community influence, without board support and people helping you, in this case me, to be able to make those big, collective decisions.”
Budgets and salaries aside, Pfeiffer said she goes above and beyond to make sure the district’s students are successful, too.
Beginning with the freshman class of 2018, she said students at Neenah High are now required to take college courses before graduating, ensuring each student leaving the district has college credits before ever attending class on a university campus.
“When you create an expectation that every child has an opportunity, and must fulfill that to graduate, then more people start talking about it, more parents know about it,” Pfeiffer said. “Academically, I think it’s been a really great opportunity for our students. One of our students recently graduated with 50 credits and entered the college world as a junior. Every child leaves the Neenah Joint School District with college credit.”
Not the work of just one person
Pfeiffer is quick to point out her achievements as an administrator wouldn’t have been possible without the work of many in the district.
“An honor like this is really provided by the opportunity to work in a wonderful place with very talented people. (It) really reflects all of the work that takes place throughout the district,” she said. “It’s very humbling, but at the same time, it provides me a great opportunity to celebrate our district.”
Pfeiffer credits her time in the Howard-Suamico School District with giving her the tools and inspiration to become an effective educator and administrator.
“Those people have been so important in my life,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here without the great education I received from the Howard-Suamico School District, and having so many opportunities to engage and participate. Howard-Suamico has served my family – I have four brothers and sisters – very well. And in part for that, my mother (Marilyn Johnson) remains a strong supporter of public education and, more specifically, the Howard-Suamico School District.”