SHERIDAN — “I’ve always loved the rich, warm sound of the viola.”
There are a select few people who would make this statement, and Leslie Fox is one of them. Fox is the new elementary orchestra teacher for Sheridan County School District 2. Along with the viola, she also teaches the violin and cello.
Fox is one of six new educators in the school district. She has previously taught at community music programs in Laramie, Cheyenne and Denver, but this is her first year in public schools.
She grew up in Mt. Pleasant, a town in central Michigan, where she joined the public school orchestra program in fifth grade. Fox played several instruments growing up, including the piano, but viola was her primary interest.
Fox majored in viola performance at Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, before moving to the Denver area. There, Fox taught private lessons at the Colorado School of Music for about a year-and-a-half, and realized she loved teaching music.
This led Fox to the University of Wyoming, where she received her master’s of music in viola and a second bachelor’s degree in music education in May. While in school, Fox taught four years of orchestra in Laramie to a wide age group of students, from third grade through ninth grade.
Fox teaches orchestra for first through fifth grade, and also will teach the district’s after-school orchestra program.
Jesse Swanke, the Sheridan Junior High School assistant principal and athletic director, is also new to SCSD2, though he brings plenty of prior experience.
Swanke taught at Lockwood Middle School in Billings, Montana, for seven years, mostly teaching math. He was also the athletic director for his final five years at Lockwood. Born and raised in Billings, Montana, Swanke studied mathematics at Montana State University — Billings.
Then, after a few years at Lockwood, Swanke earned his master’s degree in education leadership from Montana State, while also teaching full time.
Swanke said he always heard good things about SCSD2 from other teachers, so he applied for the job. He also likes the small-town feel of Sheridan, and said it is a good place for he and his wife to raise their 2-year old daughter.
Swanke is the first in his family to have a career in education.
“My dad actually dropped out of school in the eighth grade,” he said. “My mom never went to college. My two oldest siblings never went to college.”
At Lockwood, Swanke coached nearly every sport: cross-country, basketball, volleyball, track and softball. He said his father, who coached him in little league baseball, was his coaching inspiration.
While he is not currently coaching, Swanke said he probably will in the future.
Like many other new educators, Swanke said a big change in education is making sure each individual student has more opportunity to learn.
“When I was a student, if you were one of the smarter ones, you did really well,” he said. “If you struggled a little bit, you just always struggled because you hardly had those teachers that would take the time to go back and do the re-teaching.”
Swanke said his first week at the school was hectic. Challenges range from figuring out the new policies to learning everyone’s name, Swanke said.
Overall, though, Swanke said the transition has gone well.
“The staff’s been extremely helpful,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better place to be.”