It’s hard to think of a more challenging time to take over the leadership of a school system, but Ryan Rieber ’01, ’06 is approaching his new role as superintendent of the West Salem School District with determination and positivity.
“The pandemic has meant changes in how everybody does things, but every situation is going to be what you make of it,” Rieber said. “At some point, we’re going to come out better on the back side of this. In the end, I think this is going to put more tools in our toolbox and make us all more effective educators.”
When the pandemic started, Rieber was completing his fourth year as principal of West Salem Elementary, after working four years as Viroqua Elementary principal and teaching for 11 years in the La Crosse School District.
When Wisconsin schools closed March 17, Rieber told his staff to take the rest of the week to be with their families and try to absorb the situation before diving into figuring out how to keep teaching students when they couldn’t be in the same room.
That’s indicative of the way Rieber approaches his work and his life, making people a top priority. Academics is important, but his first concern is the welfare of his students and their families. After all, students won’t be able to learn as well if their home lives are unsettled.
As a school administrator, it’s challenging to carve out family time for himself, but Rieber credits his wife, Kim, with helping him stay focused and striving for excellence.
“If not for her pushing me and challenging me to always be at my best and the sacrifices she made for me, I wouldn’t be here,” Rieber said. “She’s been there by my side the whole time, and she’s been great at reminding me to keep my priorities in line.”
When Rieber met his wife, she was Kim Trulson, an education major a year behind him at Viterbo University. She’s now a Title I reading teacher in the Onalaska School District, and together the Riebers have three sons.
Rieber was the first one in his family to graduate from college, and he gives a lot of credit to his father’s encouragement and work ethic for his education and career taking the path it has.
“There was never an option for me to not go to college,” he said, adding that the education program was behind his choice of Viterbo.
A longtime coach of youth sports all the way up to high school baseball and basketball at La Crosse Logan High School, Rieber started working with kids in high school in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse youth development programs. These days, he serves on the Boys & Girls Clubs board of directors.
When it comes to creating a good team in a school district, Rieber’s approach will be informed by lessons learned at Viterbo.
“Viterbo just really built a solid foundation in my educational philosophy,” Rieber said. “Part of that philosophy is you can never err with somebody who cares about others. That’s been the cornerstone I’ve hung my hat on. You look for those unteachable skills. You look for how they deal with people.”