Some gifts just keep on giving. Nearly a decade ago (nine years to be exact), my husband presented me a package wrapped in paper emblazoned with bright yellow sunflowers. Tucked under my pillow for me to discover on the eve of my fiftieth birthday, I was rather underwhelmed to find a paperback book extolling all the rules and tools I would ever need as a manager and leader. I had just accepted a job as the principal of St. Augustine Catholic High School after having spent the better part of the last decade as a teacher then principal of Immaculate Heart elementary in our Diocese of Tucson. I was excited and nervous about my pending transition from kindergarten hugs to freshmen bravado, from junior high anxieties over pre-Algebra to seniors counting credits and writing college essays. Still, did I really need a treatise on leadership skills for such a career progression let alone a milestone birthday?
Today, I glance up from paperwork on the desk in my office and there it is…that book, tipped ever so slightly as it braces two other books on that shelf – the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the New American Bible. Slightly worn by time rather than use, those three books are probably the most important in my office if only as reminders of the profound opportunities I have every single day as a parochial school administrator and even more importantly, a forever student of life. The Word of God will always nourish my soul, the Catechism goes beyond the school handbook when I need the foundation of our church’s policies, and the other book…let’s just say school principals always need resources.
My husband redeemed himself when he also surprised us with a family trip to Italy to celebrate my half-century birthday, but I have to admit that the book on leadership skills has become one of my most treasured gifts. I can’t recall the number of real-life scenarios I have tackled over the past several years that have required objective yet empathetic, sound yet thoughtful, and difficult and often heart-wrenching decisions that often remind me my job is not defined by Monday to Friday and hardly constrained to hours between 9 to 5. I can build all the consensus in the world, but I stand alone with a final decision.
Dinner time conversations have been lively, sometimes filled with laughter, other times tears and frustration. My husband bears it all as he listens to my emotional cadence. “Just remember your rules and tools,” he reminds me with a smug smile. “By the way, where is that book?”
“Would you like to borrow it?” I reply.
There is absolute joy in what I do. I am sincere in saying that I always look forward to going to school. I work with an amazing faculty and staff all dedicated to doing what is best for our students. I tell friends that I am enjoying high school more now than when I was a teenager. I love the noise, the basketball games, the bake sakes, student council meetings, dances, brainstorming, faculty meetings, daily chapel, morning announcements, theater productions, fundraisers, and free dress days.
I first wrote about my husband’s prophetic gift in (Extra) Ordinary Time, Ponderings of a Catholic School Principal, which I self-published in 2013. That short book of essays within essays was a compilation of experiences I gathered as an elementary principal. Before I ever became an educator, I was a journalist. Compelled to document the stories richly born in the classrooms and hallways, I began then what I continue to do now – write, not for publication in a newspaper, but for our weekly school newsletter aimed at offering students and parents a glimpse into the everyday happenings in school. When I was “promoted” to high school, I knew I had to continue this practice, so I created my own newsletter, the Wolf Prints, where my audience has now expanded to nearly 500 readers ranging from freshmen to school benefactors and personal friends who allow me the privilege of sharing my high school Principal’s Ponderings with them each week.
In 2015, I proudly handed out diplomas to the first group of students who entered St. Augustine when I did. While I still have not graduated, I am planning for the next chapter in my own life. Will that be retirement or a slight turn into a new area of my career? What I am sure of is that it is time for me to gather my stories of this decade and create the next edition. I have always loved the rhythm of our church calendar – a journey that takes us from the ordinary to the extraordinary each and every year.
So here goes… Still (Extra) Ordinary, Ponderings of a Catholic High School Principal. I share these experiences not because they belong to me, but because I have discovered that most educators tell the same stories from different vantage points. My desert landscape is someone else’s city street, my school Mass might take place in a gym and another’s in a chapel, my electronic textbook is another’s torn paperback. Just as our God gives us the same sun which rises just after the alarm clock buzzes each morning, our collective words gather to become the gift of stories that we most certainly must unwrap and share with one another.
A Note to Anyone Reading This:
My first and still only book,(Extra) Ordinary, “Ponderings of a Catholic School Principal,began in Ordinary Time” – in August when the academic year begins. Since I am doing things a little differently this time by “drafting” my next book through a blog, my goal is to post an update each week with a short essay and a Principal’s Pondering. If I don’t start now (during Lent), I am afraid I will never begin! Eventually, it will be August again, and then I can rearrange everything into a true draft of a “real book” once I catch up next year.