A Message from Laura Fuller: Fall/Winter 2019-20

Nearly 36 years ago, I started out as a science teacher in my home state of Wisconsin. Since then, I believe my career has been approximately one part strategy and three parts random luck! I spent 10 years literally living with my students and colleagues at a New England boarding school. Then, I became an administrator and had the chance to head the upper school of one of Florida’s largest independent day schools. After that, I served as a head of school at an all-girls traditional Episcopal school in Virginia. And now, after nearly nine years, I am ready to conclude my career her at University School of Milwaukee—and I am so incredibly grateful to finish my journey here, having come home again.

My time at USM has allowed me to draw upon all that I had learned in my previous roles, and we have come together as a community to grow this remarkable school into a nationally recognized and respected leader amongst independent schools. My husband, Tom, will also be retiring, and we are forever grateful for the opportunity to live and work on this impressive campus, in what represented a true 21st-century, modern-day family situation.

When I arrived at USM in 2011 as the school’s first female head, I dare say there seemed to be a mixture of excitement, interest, and perhaps even some trepidation about what this newcomer might do. My first real support came from my team—the administrators, faculty, and trustees. They inspired and supported me, and also held me accountable for understanding just how special this school really is. This was of course reinforced by the school parents, alumni, and even the students.

I take great pride in having worked together with all of these individuals to make our school an even more remarkable place to raise and educate children. One of the things I am most proud of is the hiring of nearly half of our current esteemed faculty, as well as the hiring or promotion of more than three-quarters of our administrative team. I have watched how these individuals have integrated with our already accomplished, long-tenured faculty and staff to build the most effective group of professionals I have ever had the privilege to lead. We have achieved record-low faculty attrition by striving to create a supportive and predictable educational environment. Collectively, these are the people who make this school what it is for our students and their families, and it has been an incredible honor to lead them.

An important part of my job is to provide resources so that our faculty and staff can create the best-possible learning environment for our students. In addition to the pride I feel in having helped to create an innovative, education-centered strategic plan that will also culminate at the end of this school year—the objectives of which have developed as exciting strategic initiatives that continue to differentiate USM from all other local and regional schools—I am proud to report that, since my arrival, our generous donor community has contributed more than $42 million in philanthropic support for our school, including more than $10 million in support of the USM Fund, our school’s top giving priority. We have also grown our endowment by $10.3 million, and have many new and renovated spaces around campus to enhance student learning and our community. Thank you to all who have made this a reality!

I also feel great satisfaction with how we have strategically grown the school. USM has strong enrollment and also record-low student attrition, and we continue our work to admit and enroll mission-appropriate students. We have grown not just in numbers but also in creating an interesting and heterogeneous student body, truly diverse in terms of the students’ backgrounds, ideas, skill sets, and abilities. We have attracted academicians, artists, and athletes, all well-rounded, motivated, and interesting. Our current students are at various levels of being prepared to join our already impressive alumni body and become living embodiments of our Portrait of a USM Graduate.

Of course, there have been times when I’ve had to make difficult decisions to uphold standards for behavior, ethics, and performance that made some uncomfortable. Acutely aware of crises at schools throughout the entire country, I also had to make hard but important decisions about campus security and student safety. Throughout these trying times, the school’s trustees stood solid and unwavering in providing their support and wisdom as we worked to impress upon our students and families how important the concept of living by the Common Trust is, and why we believe students need to be held accountable when they inevitably venture off track from time-to-time. Although it can be some of the most heartbreaking work of a school, holding students to ethical standards and
expectations—while also working to ensure their physical and psychological safety and well-being—can be the most significant lessons we teach.

The dedication of this community to raising strong, educated, and ethical young adults, and to ensuring that the school is nothing less than all it can be, is exactly what has supported us in achieving the successes of recent years. I am confident that the next chapter for USM will be filled with inspiration and success. USM is poised and prepared for what will undoubtedly be another progressive and exciting time in education as we continue to integrate technology with educational pedagogy.

Tom and I now have the comfort of watching our six children reaching a point in their lives where we
can see their independence forming. I will not deny that the Wisconsin winters have factored into our personal decisions to retire, and we now have two grandbabies waiting for us to spend these cold months with them in sunny Florida. The rest of the year will find us happily ensconced in Wisconsin, where we currently have five of our children engaged in various stages of their own academic and professional journeys. We are excited to have purchased a small property north of Cedarburg where we hope to build a perfect little retirement home with just enough room for us and space for our children and grandchildren to visit!

Overall, this has been good and satisfying work, and I am very grateful to have spent my career contributing as a teacher, administrator, and school head. Not once over the course of the past 30-plus years have I wondered what it would be like to do something different. I have remained interested, inspired, and dedicated to raising tomorrow’s learners, leaders, and citizens. I have been so thankful to come to work every day surrounded by smart people who are passionate, inspirational, energized, and dedicated to our students’ success and growth as good, ethical people. For this, I sincerely thank the entire USM community.

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