Cal Geiger, a teacher and FFA Director at Mayville High School (MHS) for the last 33 years, is retiring at the end of this school year.
“I have a passion for agriculture,” Geiger said. Geiger, who took a year off during his tenure to complete his graduate degree, entered the program as it was in shambles.
“When I came, I was told you have four years to straighten the department out or we are closing it,” Geiger said.
Since then, the program has taken a turn in the opposite direction and has seen growth and success.
After leaving for one year to pursue his graduate degree, he came back and took a business approach to the program to add to the agriculture background after coming back.
“At the time, I saw a need for change here. There weren’t parents encouraging students to go into agriculture, so we were looking for more of an agribusiness concept,” Geiger said, adding that was the reason for his pursuit of a graduate degree after starting at MHS. “I told them it’s more than cows, plows and sows,” Geiger said. “Once we got on our feet and started looking at agriculture as a business and not just a way of life, we started looking at the science behind it.”
Geiger has used the science of agriculture to further develop the program and develop students, giving them a knowledge base that is demanded after high school, either in college or working world. The agriculture department now includes classes like plant and soil science, animal and food science and conservation of natural resources. He aligns the standards of those classes with standards of the department of instruction for science.
Those classes have been in place for about six years. They can also be taken as science credit. “So, if they know they aren’t going on to college, they can still graduate (high school) and know the science behind it (agriculture). However, I always encourage them to get at least two more science credits in the rest of the science department so if they ever do decide to go on to college, it’s there. Quite honestly, with all the chemistry going on in agriculture, they should have advanced biology, technology and chemistry.”
He said there has been some benefit to the program. “It maintains numbers; there’s no question about that. But, it also opens their eyes to what’s going on in the agriculture industry and realize then there is a lot to offer in the agriculture business,” Geiger said. “Agriculture is still the number one occupation in the United States. One out of 85 people are working in the agriculture industry. It’s not production agriculture, but it’s at least some part of the agriculture industry. “ Some of his students take biology the same time they take his science class, which he has suggested to many of them so they can receive a handson approach to apply what they’ve learned. Geiger said he has tried to create the hands-on approach to his entire program. “They can use it in real life to be successful. It’s more motivating. But, some do like the text work,” he said.
After he started working at MHS, the annual FFA Breakfast started as well. The first breakfast was in 1986. “It was a thing I started after they told me that I was nuts and it was never going to work,” Geiger said. “They had a raffle before that. Well, if you have a raffle and I have a raffle, we just exchange raffle tickets. So, we started the breakfast. It has been very successful.” All of the proceeds of the breakfast go to scholarships for people continuing their education after high school. “That’s one thing I’m pretty proud of. The finances here – they told me, ‘You got to make it on your own.’ I said, ‘OK. Then I need a free hand. If I make the money the money stays in the department,’” Geiger said. The funds were not as high when he started as they are now. There wasless than $750 in the FFA budget when he started. Now, there’s just less than $20,000. He said it’s a usual occurance for the program to go through about $30,000 per year but remain stable.
It allows for further educational opportunities in and out of the classroom. “A lot of that is committed to scholarships and we pay for everything. A student walks in the door right now, they will pay their FFA dues. Then, everything is paid for. So every lab supply in the shop, the food science lab, in the greenhouse and the conservation lab is paid for,” Geiger said. “They do not have to pay for any lab supplies. All trips are paid for. They have to pay for food, but if they go to a state convention or national convention, that’s all paid for by the chapter. In 1990, the greenhouse was built, which was another source of revenue as students run a business out of the facility. “More importantly, it was a way for the kids to learn about plant science with a hands-on approach.
The ag business management class runs that business. They talk about cash flow statements, net flow statements, how much do you have invested in a crop (and) what’s the return on a crop. That’s all calculated based on the business that we’re running out there,” Geiger said. Geiger said the biggest change was discipline and being open to approaches of learning. “I think the biggest thing was we brought discipline back into the department. I found alternative methods of bringing information into the program. So, when you got difficult learners, it makes it more enjoyable and more possible for them to be successful,” Geiger said.
One change was in 1984 when his department was the first one to bring computers into the school through grant money “Again, we were told, ‘You’ll never use that,’” Geiger said. The technology aspect didn’t stop there. There is a shop component in the program of which Geiger thinks highly, which is another aspect of Geiger’s focus of preparing students for after they leave high school. “We probably have one the best shop programs in the area. There are now ag programs bringing in shop and combining tech ed with ag ed because of the demands being placed on people for having those types of technical skills,” Geiger said.
The education foundation that Geiger provides students has led to respect from the community and in the school district as well. “Mr. Geiger has provided our school district and community with strong leadership in agriculture education for many years,” said MHS Principal Bob Clark. “There is a large presence of agriculture business and careers within our community.” Clark said Geiger’s ability to lead change in the department stood out in his years of service. “Mr. Geiger was the right choice for our school district 33 years ago and continued to be the right choice throughout his career,” Clark said. “We have been blessed to have had such a professional educator to lead in our classroom and in our FFA program.” Geiger is now approaching the end of his last year as the FFA director with the school year coming to a close. “Probably the biggest thing I brought here is clear expectations, concise and rigorous hands-on experiences.
I want to meet the standards. Learning targets are important and that wasn’t here before,” Geiger said. Geiger said he has been planning to retire and this seemed to be the right time to do so. He has some ideas on what retirement is going to look at for him. “I need to spend time with my wife and family because when you’re an ag teacher, you’re on duty 24/7 365, working on an extended contract. You work all summer, so my wife especially needs some time. We have a property in another part of the state we’ll be working on. I might throw my hat in again and get my license to be a licensed parliamentarian and taking that out into the private sector,” Geiger said. “I’m going to do a little hunting and fishing; I know that.” “I do have a niece on my wife’s side who just got married that might need a little help once in a while who might want to jump in the cab of a combine or a tractor. You know, do some of those things,” Geiger said.
Geiger has established two consortiums in the area that help purchases for items for classroom business work and for fundraisers. Geiger also brought parliamentary procedure into the program, which led to seven state championships in competition and nine opportunities to compete at the national level. With that, there were five bronze national teams and two silver national teams the FFA program had.