New principals take the helm at four grade schools

Phillip Landers, Angie Stweard and Theresa Munsterman

By Megan Marley and Marty Denzer

St. Mary School (Montrose)
At St. Mary’s School in Montrose they have not one, but three ‘principals’ working together as an administrative team—a first for a Catholic school in this diocese.

Together, Phillip Landers, Angie Steward and Theresa Munsterman will be taking care of the day-to-day operations of the rural school, from teacher evaluations and staff meetings to curriculum and paperwork.

“We’re not new to each other, we’ve all known each other and worked together—we all kind of have the same temperament and personalities, and we get along very well,” Landers said.

“We communicate a lot anyway because we’re such a small faculty that it’s not really that different,” explained Steward.

Phillip Landers
With 26-some years of teaching full- and part-time in the local public school and two years as assistant principal and part-time theology teacher at St. Mary’s, Phillip ‘Phil’ Landers will take the lead on teacher observations, evaluations and running staff meetings.

“I’ve kinda got a feel for the school and how this runs versus the public school,” he said.

With a degree from the University of Missouri, for several years Landers taught agriculture (a year-round contract) and ran a farm, then switched to teaching history when his three children grew up for more time farming. He will continue teaching history part-time in the local public high school while at St. Mary’s.

He noted extra support from the Catholic schools office and fellow Catholic school principals for the new administrative team venture.

“We see that support that’s there to help us—I think everyone knows kind of what we’re going through here as part of this team,” said Landers.

His family has been parishioners of Immaculate Conception for years, so the parish school is dear to his heart.
“Continue to keep the school open for the kids spiritually and intellectually—I think that’s the most important thing.”

Angie Steward
Angie Steward’s tenth year of teaching at St. Mary’s is going to be a growing experience.

In addition to teaching Pre-K and Kindergarten, she’ll be the one on the administrative team focusing on curriculum and communications with parents.

“I really feel like we are developing and cultivating the whole child here. We have some strengths in that our children know that they are cared for and accepted. I want to make sure we maintain a high level of academics and that as teachers we’re working to better ourselves,” Steward said.

She already has her degree from Missouri State University in Early Childhood Education, but will also be pursuing a Masters to help her further take on the role of school principal in the future while juggling work at St. Mary’s and being a mother of two.

“I want to be the best that I can for our school, and if that means going back to school to become a principal I’m going to do it,” she said.

Though she went to Our Lady of Peace School and Archbishop O’Hara High growing up, Steward still has a lot of family connections to St. Mary’s.

“My parents are from Montrose, my grandma lives across the street, my aunts and uncles live here and they all attended here, my cousins did,” said Steward.

It’s a similar spirit found in the parish community.

“If we did not have that support from the parish and our families—because they went here, their parents went here, they want their kids to go here—we would not exist,” she said. “It’s not cheap to run a school, yet they do it year after year—they make a sacrifice to keep us going.”

Theresa Munsterman
For Theresa Munsterman, helping run the school grew out of her 19-year role as parish secretary.

“I started out just a secretary here, and then I helped out with the school—before that, I volunteered at the school because we have four grown sons and they all went to school here, and my husband and I both went to school here,” she said. “I just got more involved in the school because there was a need.”

Her duties will be mostly administrative procedures, money, paperwork and meetings, balanced with her continued role running the lunch program and as parish secretary.

Now a third generation of her family will be going to St. Mary’s: two of her grandkids.

“I love what I do—I’m getting the age where I can retire, but I would miss it,” she said of the school students.

“That’s what I find so rewarding here—they’ll graduate from here, they’ll go on to high school, and several years down the road when they see me they’ll come and give me a hug.”

Angie Meyer and Randy Smith

St. Peter’s School (Kansas City)
Angie Meyer has plenty of experience as a teacher, an assistant principal and now as a principal. In fact, she has 27 years of experience in education, all at St. Peter’s School.

She grew up in a small Kansas town. She said St. Peter’s feels like a second home to her, although it isn’t exactly small. Enrollment this year is at 517 students from early childhood through grade 8.

When the former principal, Mary Omecene, decided to retire, Meyer was there to take charge. She attended a servant leadership conference over the summer and came back with a notebook chock full of observations, ideas and suggestions for effective leadership.

“The first is Listening,” she said. “Empathy, Persuasiveness and being Committed to the Growth of the people — here at St. Peter’s, growth of both students and teachers — all involve listening.” She believes that all of these contribute to relationship building, which she is focused on.

“MY philosophy is family first,” she said. That is part of the makeup of a faith-emergent school, the family. I have made it a goal of mine to see all our school families at Mass or in church — not all our kids are Catholic — every weekend. If school families have a relationship with God, it will help teachers build better relationships with their students and parents, and with each other.

Another focus is the empowerment of the teachers. Meyer said she wants to be a principal who is “a guide on the side.” Teams of confident, committed teachers who have each other’s backs will feel empowered to work with their students to meet diocesan benchmarks and even raise the bar. When a best practice is reached, it should be shared.

“I want people to look at St. Peter’s and say, “’Yes! That’s the school we want our kids to attend!’” Meyer said. She added, “When you know others have your back, it builds trust. And God has everybody’s back! Wanting the best for everybody builds excellence on all sides and helps us all become more Christ-like.”

She said she’s really excited about the upcoming year. “Everything feels right! We are planning cross-grade and cross-teacher activities, to get everyone, teachers and students, on board for a great school year.”

St. Thomas More (Kansas City)
Randy Smith
Named the principal of St. Thomas More School back in January, Principal Randy Smith is a seasoned educator of 34 years, 21 of those as a public elementary school principal. His last position was as principal of Clearwater Creek Elementary in Olathe.

“I had the chance to open that building 14 years ago as the principal there,” he said. “It was exciting—very few principals get the opportunity to do that.”

Being principal of a Catholic school is a positive new experience for him.

“Obviously in a public school setting, it’s a little more difficult to bring the faith filled component into the classroom. But coming to a Catholic school setting, we all have the same vision, the same goal, and ultimately the same destination of us all reaching Heaven,” Smith said.

“There is an extremely strong parent support of our building, that not only wants to see the kids succeed here at St. Thomas More, but also in their future and that’s probably been the most rewarding part that I’ve seen so far.”

Smith has been married to his high school sweetheart for 33 years, and they have three grown children. Their first grandson “was actually born the day that I had my first opportunity to spend a whole day over here at St. Thomas More—so that’s a memory that I’ll have forever.”

Gerre Martin

St. James School, (St. Joseph)
Gerre Martin
She retired in June after 34 years in education, but re-upped almost immediately. Gerre Martin had spent most of her career in education working in Kansas public schools, and now, for the first time, she is at the helm of a Catholic school — St. James in south St. Joseph. And loves it!

St. James School opened in 1913, taught by Benedictine Sisters from nearby Atchison. The school building of today was completed and dedicated in 1954. Several additions over the years have added more classrooms. A new gym holds pride of place in the parish center.

Martin grew up on the family farm near Denton, Kan., where her 89-year-old mother still lives. Her first job teaching was in Elkhart, a town in southwest Kansas on the Oklahoma border and only 8.5 miles from the Colorado state line. From Elkhart she moved to Kansas City, Mo., teaching for a time, before heading to Highland, Kan., in the northeast corner of the state.

While teaching, she earned a degree in counseling and served as a guidance counselor for a number of years. She also earned certification in building leadership and served as principal of the alternative school in Atchison.

She brings three decades of experience to St. James School, and part of that experience focuses on building relationships with the faculty and staff. “I’ve already seen that we have a great staff here,” she said. “They’re amazing to work with. I felt greeted with open arms!”

Martin hopes to build “a great culture with the teachers,” a culture of caring relationships between the teachers and their students. Good relationships result in cohesion, “we have each other’s backs,” and importantly, the school becomes a family. Those are “building blocks to doing the best job for our students,” she added.

She is already working on those relationships. “In staff meetings, I strive to listen, validate and give everybody a voice. That way we work better together. And if we work well together, the kids respond, the parents respond, and that makes us a better place!”

She also will work on increasing enrollment and attracting both new and experienced teachers to St. James.

Technology is part of education today and Martin says the school has the technology to equip each student. St. James has about 120 students ages 3 through eighth grade enrolled.

“Consistency in teaching, in caring and in faith is what we want,” she said. “We are faith-based, our teachers are committed to excellence in teaching and loving their students. There is a generational comfort we can feel. Grandparents attended St. James, parents went to school here and now the grandchildren are our students.”

School started Aug. 16. “It won’t take long before we’re going 100 miles an hour. It’ll be Christmas before we know it!”

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Thursday
November 15, 2018
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph