EAGLE CORNER: Eagle Manufacturing growth building a legacy

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column by Brown County Schools Superintendent Emily Tracy was first presented in her speech at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Eagle Manufacturing on April 12.

Good afternoon. My name is Emily Tracy and I am the proud Superintendent of Brown County Schools. Today will be marked as one of the proudest days I have been fortunate to be a part of here at Brown County Schools. Today, our team will cut the ceremonial ribbon for our expansion of Eagle Manufacturing, our student-based enterprise.

I would like to begin by thanking two amazing individuals who helped us reach our vision to create truly world-class opportunities for our students, John and Sarah Lechleiter and the White Oak Foundation. For all of you to understand how incredible today’s ribbon-cutting ceremony truly is, I need to tell our story.

I met John Lechleiter in August of 2021. I was about three weeks on the job as a new superintendent and John came to me wanting to donate funds to Brown County Schools. He asked me where I believed the funds would hold the greatest impact.

I took it to our team and a few suggested furniture or curriculum or software. I knew we had to think bigger than the norm. I asked my team to sit on the ideas and if anyone wanted to be a part of a “gas money” project — to let me know.

I received a request from our high school principal, Mr. Trent Austin about a crazy idea one of our teachers concocted and asked if I would meet with them — in October, during Fall Break.

I was surprised Mr. Austin was taking time on Fall Break to work and requesting to meet with the superintendent, and B. I entered the classroom and it was filled with the entire Eagle Manufacturing team — our school counselors, and administration — all taking their personal time to dream something big.

Chris Townsend and his team presented a true “gas money” project that day! Chris’ vision was to expand our current enterprise tripling the amount of the students able to receive this opportunity, expand facility space to accommodate those students with state-of-the-art equipment and renovations, and design multiple student pathways around engineering, manufacturing, digital design and construction trades. He laid out a proposal that was going to have an impact far beyond walking across the stage at graduation for our students.

At Brown County Schools, we work relentlessly to Find the Yes for our kids, for our staff, for our community. It was a hands-down no-brainer — I was going to find the yes.

I knew this was what I needed to take to John and Sarah. And although I knew this vision and this proposal was going to far exceed the original amount of donated funds, I knew John and Sarah would believe in this work, believe in these educators, and ultimately believe it would create a legacy of opportunity for our students at Brown County Schools.

And it did. Chris and his team presented the same proposal to John. Then our students led a personal tour of Eagle Manufacturing and not only showed him firsthand what our student-based enterprise consists of but also proved how this opportunity has equipped them with the technical and employability skills in a real workplace environment that could lead to a life-fulfilling career.

John and Sarah found the yes for our kids and our program that day. It is a day I will forever hold close to my heart. It is a day that I was reminded of why we do this work and how important relationships are and how much leadership matters for our kids, families and community.

Our students helped create the design. Our students were a part of financial planning. Our students were on the ground floor literally building a foundation for their legacy.

Chris, Dean, Cody, Cheyenne and Trent — I am proud of your leadership, your relentless pursuit of opportunity for our students, and YOU make this program successful for our students. I truly believe in people over programs. You are the reason our students have this incredible opportunity and you are providing that lifelong impact. Thank you.

John and Sarah — My goodness. This doesn’t happen without your generous support for Brown County Schools and our team. You have helped make dreams come true for our people and I am just so humbled you care about our sweet little rural school community enough to help us create a legacy of opportunity for our students. Your support has solidified my conviction that as long as we continue on that relentless pursuit for our students, we always exhaust ourselves to Find the Yes, and we believe in our people — we can and will accomplish anything.

And students — We do this for you. Take this opportunity and soak every bit of it up! I heard one of your peers tell a group of superintendents how Eagle Manufacturing and your teachers have truly transformed the high school from just figuring out how to get the next A to getting an opportunity to learn and do pretty cool things you will never forget. You are part of a transformation that most kids in public high schools don’t get the opportunity to do. Don’t ever settle for mediocracy, be relentless in your pursuit of what you want to learn, and always remember your voice can help change the world. It is you who are creating a legacy for future generations. Thank you for being my north star.

Emily Tracy is superintendent of Brown County Schools. She can be reached at 812-988-6601 or [email protected].