By Correne L. Morgan
The new principal at Fennimore Elementary School is already well acquainted with the people and what’s happening in the hallways. She taught at the institution for 20 years before serving as an administrator in another southwest Wisconsin district. When Fennimore Elementary’s principalship opened up this fall, she jumped at the offer to return.
Carmen Burkum has lived in Fennimore for her entire life. She was a Fennimore graduate who has served most of her career here. She married Mark Burkum and raised a family of three boys in the community as well. She is happy to be back and in a leadership role.
“Fennimore was a great place to teach. I loved the people I worked with then, and I still love them now,” Burkum said. “I felt like we were always looking out for the best interest of the students. That’s how it is today. People don’t just work here. This isn’t their job. They are like a family. Coming back through the doors felt like I was coming home.”
Burkum is a 1983 UW-Platteville graduate, with her Bachelor of Science in elementary education. Her teaching background started in Cassville, where she taught from 1983 to 1989, prior to landing a position in the Fennimore school district. In 1994, Burkum achieved her master’s degree in education. She taught various grades in Fennimore until 2009, the same year she obtained her administrative degree through UW-P and accepted the job as the elementary/middle school principal at Southwestern in Hazel Green.
For two years at Southwestern, Burkum seized the opportunity for self-growth and relationship building.
“I built some good relationships. I will miss the people down there. There were some great teachers and support staff and great kids. I’ll miss their hugs in the morning,” she said. “While I was there, I was also starting to get some of the focus on student learning, what we want the kids to learn. I’m proud of my time at Southwestern.”
Of course, upon the resignation of six-year principal Michael Berg (Aug. 19), and the selection of Burkum as his successor, she was thrilled.
“I was ecstatic to get to come back here,” she stated, noting that she is welcoming of the chance to follow Berg, who she felt was an exceptional leader. “I had a lot of fun working with Mike when I was a teacher. At Southwestern, he became a colleague. He was one of those sounding people for me on my speed dial. He continues to fill that role for me. With him starting at a new school, I can also help to fill that role for him.”
One thing Burkum said she missed most about living, but not working, in Fennimore was being recognized by the children while out in the community.
“When Mark and I would go for walks, I would hear so many kids yelling, ‘Hi, Mrs. Burkum.’ I missed that. Already since I’ve been back, we’ve taken a few walks and I’ve started hearing that again,” she said.
She said another part of her eagerness to return to Fennimore was the opportunity to work with District Administrator Jamie Nutter, who had been in the district just one year before Burkum left for Southwestern.
“He’s part of the excitement in coming here. He involves everybody in decisions that are made,” she said.
The 2011-2012 school year is only a few weeks old, and the quick transition and start of the year has been plenty for Burkum to handle. Her early goals are to simply become reacquainted, with the parents and kids especially, and to be “brought up to speed with what’s been going on.” She’s anxious to dive into the “great things” taking place in Fennimore.
“I want to continue to bring into the school what’s best for the kids,” she said. She added that she’s pleased with the large amount of Smart Boards in the Fennimore district and that the teachers and students are using them frequently. She is happy that FES’ TV station will continue to run, although the oversight of the station has switched from the principal to the sixth grade staff.
“The sixth grade staff will be working with the kids themselves to develop the scripts for the shows, which are produced on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays,” she explained, “and (teachers) Lynn Knutson and Kim Droessler will be working in the studio on the production of the show. But I’ve been hearing the kids already know what they’re doing.”
Another aspect of her return that has her enthusiastic is the upcoming annual sixth grade trip to Wyalusing.
“I’m really excited to go back to Wyalusing with the sixth graders. It’s a great experience for the kids as well as the adults who go,” she said.
Looking into the future, Burkum isn’t sure where her new path will take her. As a professional who was guided by principals Lyle Lang, Beth Stahlman and Michael Berg, she learned a lot from each of them that she can instill into her work as the new elementary principal in Fennimore.
Her number one goal is being dedicated to whatever is best for the kids. In addition, she’s glad to be surrounded by many of the same “great bunch of people” she was a few years ago, as a lot of the staff is the same in Fennimore.
“I feel like I never left,” she said. “I’m just really glad to be back as part of the community of Fennimore.”