Dr. Joe Libby is the new principal of both Fair Oaks and Phillips middle schools.
Coming from a family of teachers, Libby received his undergraduate degree in elementary education from Iowa State University. He first taught in inner-city Houston, Texas.
After three years, he decided to move to St. Cloud, Minn., where he got his master's degree in education administration. He finished his doctorate in leadership a few years later at St. Mary's in Winona, Minn.
-Messenger photo by Brandon L. Summers
Dr. Joe Libby, right, and Judy Waddell, Fair Oaks Middle School secretary, go over a list of late students on the second day of school Thursday.
Libby has been an administrator for 13 years now, since 1998. He's been a high school athletic director and assistant principal in Albert Lea, Minn., and while there ran an alternative learning center in Farmington for a year. In 2005, he moved to Denver, Colo., and taught at a large inner-city high school with 2,400 students.
"I was assistant principal in charge of attendance, discipline and athletics," he said. "It was about 90 hours a week doing that job."
In 2006, he became principal of Overland Trail Middle School in Brighton, Colo., and in 2010, he took over at the district level, running operations for its health and wellness program.
The same year, he married, and both he and his wife agreed they wanted to find work closer to Minnesota, where they both have family.
"Colorado is wonderful, the weather's great. However, we wanted to get closer to home," he said. "That's how we ended up in Fort Dodge."
Libby was hired to be principal of Fair Oaks and Phillips in January, and went on the clock July 1. As with many of his students, Wednesday was his first day of school. In addition to being principal of both middle schools, he is helping oversee construction of the new middle school building.
There's more to his job than that, though. On the first day, he also did bus and lunch room duty, monitored the halls, and answered phones.
"I believe it's my job to be chief cook and bottle washer," he said. "You can get anybody to push papers. I'm here to work with kids. It's our job to make sure our fifth- through eighth-graders get the best education they can. If that means me doing something other than what a normal job description would entail, I'm going to go do it."
Education is different at the middle school level, according to Libby.
"We like to think a majority of what we're teaching academically occurs in classes, but this is middle school," he said. "We teach everything. Socialization skills, respect, manners, caring, community. Everything."
Libby said he couldn't isolate one thing he liked about being an educator.
"What I enjoy is teaching kids, and helping them grow and figure out who they are," he said. "What I enjoy most is seeing a student understand something they've been taught, and you can see the light flicking on in their eyes, whether it's an algebraic problem or the reason behind holding a door."
He added, "Most of the teaching we do is everyday life."
While it's normal for school districts to consolidate schools, Libby appreciates the uniqueness of his position.
"We have two older schools that need a little work and it's more cost-effective, more efficient, to run a five through eight program in this district than it would be to continue running and trying to maintain two separate facilities," he said. "I just see it as a new challenge."
Contact Brandon L. Summers at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org