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Community says fond goodbye to Monroe

Nicolet School District Superintendent Rick Monroe receives a custom Knights’ popcorn bowl, created at the Art Trooper green studio in Fox Point, and decorated with fingerprint “popcorn” icons by the Cognitively Disabled students. The bowl was one of many farewell gifts at the ice cream and cake social farewell Sunday the high school’s library.

Nicolet School District Superintendent Rick Monroe receives a custom Knights’ popcorn bowl, created at the Art Trooper green studio in Fox Point, and decorated with fingerprint “popcorn” icons by the Cognitively Disabled students. The bowl was one of many farewell gifts at the ice cream and cake social farewell Sunday the high school’s library. Photo By John O’Hara

June 5, 2013

Glendale — "The game's not over yet, but for me the shot clock's turned off."

That was the metaphor outgoing Superintendent Rick Monroe, choking up slightly, used to describe the remainder of his time with the district at an ice cream social in his honor on Sunday.

During a two hour span, about 150 to 200 community members showed up to reminisce with Monroe, thank him for his six years of service, and wish him a fond farewell.

The feeling was mutual.

"It was my chance to thank the community," Monroe says. "It was a really special event, and very overwhelming to me."

Monroe says he's proud to celebrate his legacy, characterized by a student-centered approach and hands-off style of leadership.

Maybe the best recognized facet of his student-centered philosophy is the annual treatment students receive on the first day of school, at which teachers, staff, administrators and a string quartet usher students down a red carpet and into the new year.

Monroe began the tradition in 2007, his first year with the district, and has since worked with three alumni who provided a red carpet pro bono.

"The parents were amazed that we did the red carpet," he says. "We could see from day one that the community could see the symbolism."

His leadership, he says, was guided by the mantra of hiring good people and letting them do their jobs.

"Most people understand that, but don't do it," Monroe says. "I think that's one thing I really did practice."

Punctuating the celebration were heartfelt gifts from the community. One Nicolet student made him a pair of Nicolet Knight cufflinks. The community gave him a rocking chair complete with a plaque bearing the wisdom of President Harry Truman: "Not all readers are leaders. But all leaders are readers." The School Board gave him a camera to document and share his adventures.

Maybe the most poignant was a popcorn bowl made in a Fox Point art studio, decorated with the fingerprints of Nicolet cognitively disabled students, stylized to look like popcorn kernels. The bowl hits on two well known aspects of Monroe's personality: that he has had to give up his beloved snack of popcorn while the district has partnered with the Jewish Community Center in a recent health initiative, and that he began his career in special education.

"I've always had a special place in my heart for our cognitively disabled kids," says Monroe.

And now he has come full circle.

Upon his retirement on June 30 he will take up the mantle of director of youth services at the Milwaukee Center for Independence, an organization that helps people of all ages with special needs live as independently as possible.

"One thing I wanted to do in retirement was work with people with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities," he says, "to dedicate the next part of my life to serving those people."

— Michael Meidenbauer

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