After 30 years, Mrs. Fenlon steps down from Appleton Board of Education

Nora Ptacek, Senior Editor in Chief

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“Well, you can think of yourself as an architect or as a shepherd,” is what Mrs. Sharon Fenlon’s daughter told her about her 30 years on the School Board, 23 of which she served as president. “When you’re an architect, that’s when you’re creating something, but when you’re a shepherd, you’re supporting, you’re leading, you’re being part of the process but not necessarily… you’re not the architect. So I think for most of my career I’ve been a shepherd, but there was one time when I was an architect,” said Fenlon. In her architectural act, Fenlon wrote a book and got grants to develop a display of the Hmong culture. “The idea was to do it for the school so the people would know who the Hmong are and what their story is, and to feature art drawn by Hmong students and photographs of some of the families from when they lived in Laos. So that’s something I did as an architect that I’m very proud of.” In her 23 years as School Board president, Fenlon sup- ported significant changes with- in the Appleton Area School District. She was responsible for hiring each superintendent within her time on the board and oversaw the growth of the charter schools, incorporating them into the district. Fenlon created committees within the School Board, which are the programs and services, business, and personnel com- mittees. Going even further, Fenlon made it a point to attend each committee meeting while also being on the Education Foundation Board. Appleton Area School District Superin- tendent Mr. Lee Allinger said of Fenlon, “In the decision making processes, she always brought it back to ‘what does this mean for the students and the staff in the school district?’ And so as a superintendent, you couldn’t ask for any more, having that type of person to work with. Always listening, focused on the kids, and always supportive of what’s happening in our schools.” There were difficulties in the role, however. “It’s challenging to try and communicate with the Legislature, the funding that we need and so forth,” said Fenlon, referencing a time when they had to freeze salaries of teachers and superintendent so not to cut funding for pro- grams. “I think we have terrific teachers and terrific administers and they really understood that and appreciated the fact that no one was getting laid off and no department was getting axed, so that’s been wonderful. We had to do that but people understood. The district as a whole I think is remarkable because of the goals and beliefs that everyone shares about the importance of students.”

Road to Appleton Before her years on the School Board, Fenlon was a French and English teacher in a suburb in Minnesota. She then decided she wanted to teach overseas and entered a program that allowed her to teach in Izmir, Turkey. Fenlon lived in Turkey for three years and it was in Turkey that she met her husband John. “I grew up in South Dakota and he grew up in Iowa and we met in Turkey,” she said with a laugh. “He had decided while he was in Turkey to go into radiology and so he had gone to Washing- ton University in St. Louis for his undergraduate in medical school and he had decided that they had, and still have, a great radiology program, so we went to St. Louis.” While she and her husband were in St. Louis, Fenlon got her Masters from Washington University in St. Louis in comparative literature while working as a French teacher and supervising practice teachers for Wash U. “Then we left [St. Louis], then we were in San Francisco for a couple of years, then we came here because my hus- band, growing up in Iowa, had spent all his summers on Fence Lake in Northern Wisconsin,” Fenlon said. “So living in San Francisco, we were too far from Fence Lake, so we’ve been here since the 70s.”

Recognition of service As a recognition of her 30 years on AASD’s School Board, Fenlon was recognized by Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna with a proclamation declar- ing April 10, 2017, as “Sharon Fenlon Day.” She also received a Certificate of Commendation from the Wisconsin Associa- tion of School Boards (WASB) along with a legislative citation for her 30 years of service from local legislators State Senator Roger Roth, Wisconsin State Representative Dave Murphy, Representative Ron Tusler, State Representative Mike Rohrkaste and Representative Amanda Stuck. Allinger also recognizes Fenlon’s service to the community: “to think about being a community servant, to serve a Board of Education and the last twentysome years as president. It’s the 6th largest school district in the state, with 16,000 plus students, so to be the president of that is true volunteerism. Part of my job and part of her job are to be cheerleaders in a way, support- ers. So many things happen at North High School and every other school Sharon has been at. Has there ever been a school event that she hasn’t shown up for at some point? She’s an ex- tremely good role model in my perspective of what it means to serve your community, in this case serve the kids of the com- munity.”

What’s next? As Fenlon enters into retire- ment, she doesn’t plan to stop working. “I’m taking Tichi at the Y, which is very challeng- ing,” added Fenlon. “I read a lot; I’m in a serious book club. We read books and write papers,” she said. Fenlon also plans to continue her atten- dance of various school events. “I go to everything, I go to all the plays and all the concerts, and I’m told that I will get a gold card,” she added with a chuckle, “and I can continue to go to all the events.”

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