“We choose Christ!”
This message introduces the letter from principal Laura Anderson, posted on the St. Charles Parish School website, about the Hartland school’s vision for Catholic education.
In the past six years, the school has seen explosive growth in enrollment — from 161 students in 2009 to 270 students enrolled for the 2015-2016 school year.
Offering pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, the school was a recipient of the Exemplary Status Award in the area of Information, Technology, and Media Skills from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Fr. Ken Omernick, pastor at St. Charles Parish for the past six years, attributed enrollment growth to school leaders.
“It’s a testament to the leadership at the school: Mr. Mike Halstead, who was the principal before Laura (Anderson), and Laura coming in and continuing that strong leadership. That’s why the school thrives,” he told the Catholic Herald.
Anderson was quick to return the credit.
“I think it’s because of the strong leadership we have in the parish. We complement each other well and work together as a team,” she said. “I think that’s one of the most important things about St. Charles is that unity and working together for the same purpose.”
Robin Thousand, co-president of the home and school committee, and her husband, Adam, have three children, Leah, 3,Charlie, 6, and Natalie, 8, all of whom attend St. Charles.
“From the leadership of the principal, Mrs. Anderson, the teachers and staff of St. Charles truly care about our children and encourage a love for learning and God,” said Thousand. “We appreciate that our children are receiving a faith-based education and are developing and strengthening their relationship with God in addition to getting an excellent academic education that will prepare them for the future.”
Fr. Omernick emphasized the significance of the parish’s support of the school in the success it has achieved.
“Something that’s unique about St. Charles is that St. Charles School really is the parish project,” Fr. Omernick said. “We understand that one of the main parts of our parish mission is a Catholic grade school.”
“We think the people of St. Charles help to set the school and parish apart from others. The people create a very caring environment and we immediately felt a sense of belonging to both the parish and school,” said Thousand.
“The parish really treasures the school,” Anderson added. “It is our mission for students to meet Christ, and the way we do that is to be one community, working together for Catholic education.”
Catholic education is also a personal mission for Anderson. After graduating from Cardinal Stritch University, she taught in public schools for 10 years before accepting a teaching position at Holy Apostles Catholic School, New Berlin.
During her time as a teacher there, she completed a program through the Institute for Catholic Leadership at Marquette University, training for a role as an educational administrator, leading to her position as principal at St. Charles.
“Our mission is all about Catholic education and spreading that message of Jesus, and that’s the first thing that we have to do and that’s our most important role,” she said. “Really, our job is to make these kids little saints. Our theme is ‘We choose Christ!’ so we’re intentional about making sure that we act as role models of choosing Christ.”
Students attend Mass twice a week alongside parishioners, participate in retreats, and do service projects. Fr. Omernick said the school’s emphasis on faith and discipleship encompasses every aspect of the students’ education.
“There isn’t just religion when religion class is being taught. We try to create an atmosphere and an environment and a culture that really is very Catholic,” he said.
“We love that our children are getting a well-rounded education both spiritually and intellectually,” said Thousand. “On top of an excellent education, it is important to us that our kids are instilled with an awareness of moral and social responsibility. There are a lot of opportunities throughout the year to be involved in the giving back to the community. “
Academically, St. Charles focuses on areas of literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). The school’s instructional media center includes a mobile technology lab with computers and Smart Boards in all classrooms.
Teachers are encouraged to pursue professional development and participate in educational goal-setting with the school’s leaders.
“We have three strong professional learning teams, and through those learning teams and our leadership team we build on some school goals every year. We look at those goals, activities to support those goals, and strong instructional practices,” Anderson said. “Just making sure that there is growth in our students: academic growth, faith growth, social growth, that everything we do is working on that growth.”
Fr. Omernick sees leadership in Catholic education as a learning process.
“The longer you’re with Catholic education it really does season you. You understand better what really we should tackle and go after, and what really is important,” he said. “When I started out, I think I wanted everything to be perfect. After a while you understand that you need to be patient with some things, demanding about others things.”
In addition to the commitment of staff and leadership, Anderson pointed to the commitment of families to helping the school excel.
“A big piece of our success truly is our families,” she said. “They are our biggest cheerleaders, our biggest supporters, and they are ambassadors for our Catholic education. Not only do they tell the Good News, they show it.”
Anderson noted that, last year, families of students offered more than 7,000 hours of volunteer time to St. Charles.
“They’re great role models for giving back and for making Catholic education a priority,” she said.