Lauren Beckmann did not have a positive experience in school.

She remembers thinking to herself as a first grader, “If little kids have to go to school, there has to be a better way to do this.”

Now, approaching retirement at the end of this school year as the longest-tenured principal in St. Robert School history, she can look back at a lifetime of achievements and see that she found that better way.

For someone who hated being in school, she has never escaped it. Her bright office is punctuated with the sounds of the students around her and she has spent much of her life in schools. She worked in special education for many years before being asked to step into leadership.

Leadership has always been asked of her, not something she sought for herself. In responding to the call from others, she has approached it with a deep humility and reliance on God: “OK, God, use me for what you want. I don’t know how to do this but I know that if you want me to do this, then he’ll make it work.” Looking back on what God has done with her trust in him, she said, “It’s been this wild ride for me of transformation — of the school and also of my own self.”

“We try to teach our students (that) God calls each person to a unique need in the world that only you can fill and education is about discovering and developing your own passions,” Beckmann said.

What Lauren Beckmann teaches her students about their lives has certainly been borne out in her own. She worked for her father’s business before going on to teach special education for many years. These, together with her reliance on God, gave her a unique and powerful approach to school leadership.

Under her leadership, St. Robert School has become an integrated whole and each teacher knows their role in the unified vision of education.

Her unique vision for education comes even more from her background in special education. She volunteered at the then newly opened St. Francis Children Center in Greenfield during high school and was captivated. Drawn both to the children she served and to the different approach to education that she had been seeking, she went on to study special education, primary education and psychology at Cardinal Stritch University, before returning to work for the St. Francis Center.

She continued to work in special education both at the St. Francis Center and at St. Robert School beginning in 1999. When she was asked to step into leadership of the school, she felt sadness and loss at being asked to give up what she thought she was called to — serving the special needs population. But in leadership, she was able to bring the gifts of that different way of education to many more children. Not only did she create and sustain the learning resources center for students with a wide range of learning challenges, she was also able to use her extensive knowledge and experience to build “a better way” of education for her entire school.

By using a workshop model where the teacher delivers the content for the day, which then is processed in smaller groups and even one-on-one settings, the specific and unique needs of each child are seen and engaged. “We brought these things here for our different learners and we found that they would enhance learning for every child.”

Those with special needs are fully integrated into the content studies, but their learning targets are boiled down to the essential core. Integration with the student body benefits everyone, “developing the patience, tolerance, understanding, empathy, support of children who are different from them, who are vulnerable, and need more help than them,” Beckmann said.

This has allowed St. Robert “to achieve what Catholic education was always meant to be, which is accessible. Catholic education was always meant to serve the needs of the community and the needs of those who come knocking on our door. Not just the needs of an elite population or a Catholic population even. And so to be able to open the doors of access wider (in many ways) has been a great challenge and a great privilege,” Beckmann said.

Beckmann leaves the legacy of a thriving school. As she approaches the beautiful campus of St. Robert in the mornings and appreciates the beauty of the sun glistening on the spire, the Tabernacle on the third-floor chapel above the parking lot or the sunrise through the school windows, she prays some version of the prayer, “Lord, use me as an instrument for your work in the world. Whatever it is today, help me bring your love to others.”

It is difficult to leave a role that has taken up so much of her life for so long, but the time has come — both for her to have a less all-consuming job, but also for someone else to build on the work that she has done. “It is good for people and institutions to have change,” Beckmann said. “The next person can build on it (what she has done); the foundation is not fragile.”

“The next principal doesn’t need to fill my shoes, they’re going to bring their own shoes, they’ll be different shoes, but they’ll be the right shoes for the next part of the journey. So I’m taking my shoes with me.”

Beckmann is unsure of what retirement will bring but excited to see what God has in store next. The path he has led her on has been one full of challenges and of beautiful fruit, and whatever he has for her next will be beautiful.

As she teaches her students, “God has a plan and he will reveal it.”

Lauren Beckmann