In anticipation of the Nov. 2 Soles for Catholic Education walk to celebrate Catholic education, your Catholic Herald is running a series of articles on Catholic education in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. Following is the first in the series.
When St. Peter Grade School, East Troy, principal and math teacher Sarah Halbesma was expecting her second child, she approached St. Peter pastor, Fr. Larry Chapman, and told him she didn’t think she could continue her role as principal.
“She had asked me if it was possible if she could share her job with another person; and wanting to be as family oriented as we claim we are, I told her ‘sure,’” laughed Fr. Chapman. “We have been doing this for about four years now and it has been working out surprisingly well.”
The first person hired was from Illinois, who, after serving as the part-time principal for two years, took a position closer to home. The current part-time principal, Ashley Schmidt, was in a similar position as Halbesma, a young mother from Burlington with two small children.
“We have two personalities, and two sets of strengths and styles to share this one position, and it has been a win-win situation for the parish, because neither needed health insurance, and neither receives a pension,” said Fr. Chapman. “In terms of parish impact, we are getting two people, each part time, for the price of 90 percent the cost of a full-time principal. The parish is not suffering, but winning financially and in terms of persons.”
Each principal works approximately two and half days a week, with Halbesma working slightly more. They cross paths on Wednesdays or Thursdays, and attend most school board meetings and in-services together.
“We try to tailor what is done in the school to the personalities of each principal,” said Fr. Chapman. “Initially, there were concerns that Sarah would not be around very much, and no one knew which principal they should go to for problems. But students, parents and staff learned quickly that they can talk to either principal, and the two of them will talk about it together and go from there.”
For Halbesma, the benefits to the non-traditional roles of co-principals are many, as both bring a variety of talents, such as organizational, technology and communication skills, as well as a greater number of educational ideas.
|For information on the Soles for Catholic Education walk on Saturday, Nov. 2 at Mount Mary College, Milwaukee, visit http://catholicschoolswalk.org or call (414) 769-3507.|
“This has had a positive impact on our school and helps us to do more than many smaller schools can do,” she said. “I feel so blessed to be working at St. Peter School and have been here for the past 11 years. Working here with all of the other wonderful staff members makes me truly appreciate all that I have been blessed with. I love knowing that I can be home with my little ones and on work days, I love the idea of being with the staff and students.”
While Halbesma is pleased with the job sharing setup, she admitted one drawback is the inability to turn off being a principal just because it isn’t her day to appear in the office.
“We are still required to get work done, make phone calls, and attend meetings on a day off, or stop by the school to handle situations,” she said. “It is not anything I would change, however, because I like knowing what is happening at school even when I am not there.”
The best aspect is having another principal to share ideas, solve problems and work together for the benefit of St. Peter School. Both admit there are no power struggles, or issues with sharing a single job.
“We are scheduled to work around 15-20 hours a week, but as co-principals we know that it takes more time than we are contracted. We also know that each week is different. In a typical week, I would say I work around 25-35 hours and I know Ashley would do the same,” said Halbesma. “This includes evening meetings, seminars, phone calls, etc.”
However, with two small girls, Isabel, who attends K5 at St. Peter. and 2-year-old Addison, the job is conducive to family life.
“I knew I wanted to spend more time at home, but never wanted to lose my connection to St. Peter School,” said Halbesma. “Fr. Larry has blessed us with this job and I know my youngest is so happy to have her mommy home with her for a few days.”
For Schmidt, the opportunity to work closely with Halbesma, planning and finding solutions to situations is an amazing experience enhanced by their growing friendship.
“We truly have the same values and visions for St. Peter School and its students,” she said. “Even on our days off, we are still in constant contact with the school through emails and phone calls. It is nice knowing that even when you are not there, you are still able to know what is going on.”
The students and teachers adapted easily to the idea of co-principals, especially Schmidt’s first year when Halbesma was still working full time as a principal and teacher.
“There are days when it is necessary for us to work together and both be at school, and there are days when we need to be out of the building at meetings and such,” she explained. “It’s hard to give a definite schedule and number of hours because of night time meetings, such as finance and school committee meetings, parent teacher conferences, school performances and family nights.”
But the schedule allows Schmidt to spend part of her weekdays being at home with 3-year-old Whitney and 18-month-old Wells.
“I could not ask for a better opportunity while having young children,” she said. “It is a wonderful balance for work and home. I decided to look for something part-time after Whitney was born because I felt like I didn’t have enough time to spend with her. My prayers were answered when I was fortunate enough to get the job at St. Peter.”
As a science teacher for grades fifth through eighth, Sandy Rotier has worked at St. Peter for 16 years and with Halbesma for 11 of those years. She explained the educational vision shared by Halbesma and Schmidt brings a positive learning environment for all students at all levels.
“Under their leadership, our school family has continued to grow and thrive,” she said. “When you enter St. Peter School, you feel the love and learning that is taking place. This all starts at the top with our principals, the respect and positive feedback they give to students, teachers and all who enter our building, make St. Peter’s a good place to work and learn.”
As a relative newcomer to the school, Heather Kessler teaches fifth through eighth grade math and sixth and seventh grade reading. She also is the eighth grade homeroom and religion teacher, as well as the Spanish teacher to middle school students.
“I was fresh out of college when I began at St. Peter and both of my principals served as my mentors,” she said. “I could not have asked for a better administration these past two years. Sarah and Ashley are proactive and supportive in all aspects of the school and though they trade every other day, there is no lapse in communication.”
Whether it is ideas to raise standards through new teaching strategies, new technology in the classroom or helping solve behavior and social issues with the students, both principals are constantly proposing ideas to better educate students.
“They support their staff every way possible by bringing in new textbooks or technology, as well as working together with us on committees and projects,” said Schmidt. “I feel blessed to have Sarah and Ashley as principals because they would be incredible alone, but together we have double the resource to make our school better every year.”
For Fr. Chapman, the opportunity to utilize two talented principals with differing strengths will only improve St. Peter each year.
“Each person shines and I think the school benefits,” he said. “They have a really good working atmosphere and it flows down to the faculty and everyone else. There is a good spirit in the school from this arrangement.”