Noll has ambitious plans for Fairfield
As a youth, Dr. Laurie Noll had always dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. Excelling in math and science, she’d even picked out the university she planned to attend in Florida. But after a trip to Finland and a life-changing moment with a young deaf girl, she had an epiphany, which initiated her journey of helping people through education.
“I went to Finland as an exchange student representing Iowa,” she said.
Noll had been forewarned that Finish was one of the most difficult languages to learn. Being immersed in her environment, she began learning the language bit by bit like a child. She remembers the puzzled looks she would receive when she would try to speak to others, or how she felt when others tried to communicate with her. She later had a revelation while attempting to communicate with a young deaf girl.
“I recognized her expression,” she said. “I understood how she felt. It was like I had felt when I was in Finland trying to understand the language,” she said. “She couldn’t understand me. It was like she was in her own little world and I understood how frustrating it was. That changed my vision of what I wanted to do with my life.”
Noll received her undergraduate degree in deaf education. She later became the resident interpreter in Burlington.
“Through signing, I had the opportunity to meet presidents,” she said. “I signed for musical concerts and events that came to Burlington.”
She remembered an occasion when one of the band members of the group, Cheap Trick, handed her his guitar while she was signing for the concert.
As an educator, Noll realized that deaf students were rarely only hearing-impaired. Many of them had other types of special needs.
She decided to return to school for a Master of Science degree in special education. She completed the three-year program in half the time.
“I continued to work the whole time I went to school,” she said.
Soon after finishing, her husband, Tim, accepted a position in Fort Madison. She had planned to move, when she received a call about a job opportunity.
“My father called and told me, ‘This job fits you’,” she said. “It’s describing everything you’ve done.”
Noll accepted the position as a special education teacher in Burlington. She excelled rapidly, as she became the department chair, restructuring the entire department. She implemented various training and leadership programs, such as the Franklin Covey Leadership Training for students.
She later went through the process of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher.
Noll said she did it because she was training other teachers, and she wanted to lead by example.
“I did it because I felt that I needed to walk the walk to be able to show others,” she said.
As Noll’s career began to rise, some administrators in her district began encouraging her to go even further.
“They kept telling me to go back and get my administration degree.”
Trusting her judgment, she was asked to be a part of the district’s hiring committee. As candidates interviewed for positions as educational administrators, Noll realized something.
“During the interviews, I would be thinking, ‘I can answer these questions better than they can,’” she said.
She decided to return to school again and became an educational specialist in educational leadership. Again, Noll worked throughout the program, finishing it in half the time.
After which she landed her first administration job in the Burlington Community School District as a principal at an alternative high school with a less than perfect reputation. Noll took on the challenge with results in mind.
“I remember looking at the calendar and going, ‘Wow, I have 180 days to do this,’” she said.
Despite the fact that the school, which serviced 100 students ranging from the gifted and talented to students with special needs, Noll had to contend with the school’s entire computer system crashing, the loss of a key faculty member who quit due to rumors about the dangers of working at the school, the lack of custodial services, and not to mention, a bat, which flew into the school days before the first day.
She got the bat out on her own.
“I just scooped the bat up,” she said. “You gotta do what you’ve gotta do; I had to make sure the kids felt safe.”
But Noll accomplished more than that. During her four-year stint with the school, Noll and her staff were able to improve student attendance, lower disciplinary incidents and graduate more than 20 percent more students before she transferred.
“Those kids were used to pushing people away,” Noll said. “We had to build that trust up.”
Noll decided to return to school again for her superintendent certification.
“Each time I wanted to go back to school, we had a family meeting,” she said.
Noll and Tim have three children. “I would say, ‘Mom wants to go back to school for more education; how do you feel about that?’”
The family would agree to pick up any slack around the house. Her husband cooked many nights.
“Thirty-two years ago I had the honor of marrying that lady,” Tim said. “Her success is my success — her dreams are mine. It’s an honor to help her succeed.”
Noll said she did everything she could to remain active in her children’s lives as her career progressed.
“I would attend swim meets and soccer games,” she said.
She returned to school and completed her doctoral degree in educational leadership. She held the position of director of curriculum and Instruction in Burlington before accepting her role as superintendent in Fairfield.
She said she’s excited about her position and the future.
“It’s an exciting adventure to start out in Fairfield,” she said. “I want the district to be in such a positive light so that we can build this community; it’s all about cooperating together.”