New principals, early childhood center directors start 2019-2020 school year

Marty Denzer and Megan Marley

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph welcomes three new principals and three new early childhood directors as the 2019-2020 school year kicks off. They are:

Jodi Briggs

Jodi Briggs—St. Michael the Archangel (Lee’s Summit)

Jodi Briggs served as principal of Our Lady of the Presentation School for 12 years and has loved it. Now, she takes her love of Catholic education to another level, the high school level. She is the new principal at St. Michael the Archangel High School, and the principal of Presentation. How will that work?

Briggs said there are great support staffs at both schools, and that Father Randy Sly, president of St. Michael’s, and Fr. Tom Holder, pastor of Our Lady of the Presentation Parish, are very supportive also. The plan for her first year as St. Michael’s principal is to work at Our Lady of the Presentation three days a week, and St. Michael’s two days weekly, then make the transition to full time at St. Michael’s at the end of the school year.

This is her first experience at the high school level, and she is “looking forward to learning all things SMA. I am very excited!”

One of her first goals is to familiarize herself with is the Community System. The SMA student body is assigned to three smaller communities. Within each community there will be several “houses”: Padre Pio, St. John Paul II and Maximillian Kolbe. Each “house” consists of students from all grade levels, creating opportunities for students to form relationships with people from every grade level. There are faculty deans and student community leaders in each “house.”

Briggs, whose son is a freshman at St. Michael’s, appreciates the Community System. “The system offers spiritual growth and support to the kids,” she said. “It’s a place to belong. Students are in the same house and community their entire time at SMA.”

When asked how her son viewed having his mom as the principal, Briggs laughed and said, “I’ve been principal at Presentation the whole time he was a student there. He just said, ‘I’m used to it!’”

Presentation School is a FIRE school, with paraprofessionals and learning aids to help students with special needs learn alongside their siblings and peers. St. Michael’s has the SMILE (St. Michael Inclusive Learning Enhancement) program, a unique special education program. The flexible curriculum, special classroom and student mentors help students with special needs thrive. Briggs considers the SMILE program vitally important to the students, the school and for the future.

“I am blessed and honored,” Briggs said, “to have been chosen to build St. Michael the Archangel into the diocesan high school south of the river that our kids deserve. I love Lee’s Summit, and I love Catholic education. I’ve got the best of both worlds!”

Mary Kallman

Mary Kallman
Visitation (Kansas City)

The new principal at Visitation Catholic School is no stranger to inner Kansas City. Mary Kallman previously served as the founding principal of Cristo Rey High School for 13 years, and before that worked for 11 years at inner city Catholic schools; she also served as Spanish teacher in high schools and middle schools.

She’s looking forward to the change of pace to K-8.

“What got me excited about elementary kids in the first place was all of my summer camp work, when I worked with Girl Scouts, young ladies from first grade through ninth grade—loved working with the younger ages as well as high school,” she said.

“I’m looking forward to almost everything—getting to know the community, getting to know the students, and working with an excellent faculty. I know the Bishop’s theme is related to One Family—Restored in Christ, and our theme this year at Visitation is we are family, and how do we build up that family, that community—which is something Visitation is known for, a very welcoming community.”

Michael Riley

Michael Riley
St. Elizabeth (Kansas City)

Michael Riley is excited for the school year to kick in at St. Elizabeth’s School. No, he’s not a student, he is the new principal of the grade school. He’s spent the summer vacation in meetings with teachers, staff and the pastor, getting familiar with the layout of the school, meeting families and his enthusiasm has grown.

He and his brother grew up in Baltimore, part of a very Catholic family. He knew in seventh grade that he wanted to be an educator and pursued that dream. He attended the University of Notre Dame in South Bend Indiana studying American Government and World History. He studied in Ireland for a time and, after graduating, attended Benedictine College for his Master of Arts in School Leadership, which he received in 2012.

Riley, his wife and their three children are parishioners of Cure of Ars in Leawood, and their seventh grader, sixth grader and first grader all attend Cure of Ars School.

Riley has taught at St. Ann’s School in Prairie Village, Kan., and Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park, Kan., experiences which taught him the importance of parish and school connections. He is getting to know and work with Father Greg Haskamp, pastor of St. Elizabeth’s, the staff and teachers. He considers that building relationships helps him grow as a professional.

He said that Fr. Haskamp is already “a great pastoral connection.” Riley is excited to work with him and the teachers. “Everyone is invested in the kids and the school,” he said. He is grateful to his predecessor Pat Kollasch for making the transition seamless. “She was gracious and set this year up for success!”

He has felt welcomed by the staff and families he met over the summer.
Professionally and personally, there’s something special at St. Elizabeth’s, he said. The educational focus is on the whole child, mind, body and soul, growing in knowledge and faith. It’s challenging to teach the whole child, he added, it’s an intentional investment. The joy the teachers demonstrate to others, the Christ skills they exhibit are all part of that investment, he said. When strong academics are fused into Catholicity, professional educators are a light to others, joy-filled, the best version of themselves, in other words, it’s a vocation.

Along with strong academics and Catholicity, Riley is pleased that St. Elizabeth’s is connected to the FIRE Foundation and it’s benefits for students with special needs and all their schoolmates. “Everything we do, and will continue to do, is what is best for our kids!” he said.

As the first day of school neared, Riley began his daily leadership practices, walking around the school, being where the kids will be, actively supervising in the cafeteria, on the playground and in the classrooms.

Lilly Winklejohn

Lilly Winklejohn
St. Patrick (Kansas City)

The new director of St. Patrick Child Care Center in north Kansas City has roots in the Kansas City area—her daughter recently graduated St. Pius X High School, and she volunteers providing food and clothing to area homeless with Free Hot Soup.

Lilly Winklejohn has spent many years in the field of early childhood education, working in both small and large National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredited centers.

“Prior to coming back to the Catholic school system, I was a teacher-director in the Northland at a small program called Creative Arts Academy,” she said.

She looks forward to working with families and staff in shaping young minds this year, with a particular focus on her passion for nature.

“I would like to weave an outdoor classroom program into their existing program, exploring how God surrounds us in our environment and being appreciative of the elements that sustain us,” she explained.

Julie Frias

Julie Frias
Sacred Heart (Warrensburg)

Over the years, the Sacred Heart preschool in Warrensburg has watched many children ages 3 – 6 ask questions, learn and grow. The new director/teacher, Julie Frias, loves all of it. “I love when they come in, not knowing much, and watch them learn, their eyes light up when they understand. They ask questions that are sometimes hard to answer and learn more. It’s so great!”

Frias is and experienced teacher, having served as a kindergarten teacher for 12 years in a Catholic school in St. Louis, five years at a public school teaching third grade and a year at a charter school teaching kindergarten. She taught vacation bible school in the summers. She also has a son who recently graduated from law school, passed the bar exam and was hired by a Kansas City firm.

When she applied for the director position at Sacred Heart while living in Overland Park, Kan., it was stipulated that she would have to move to Warrensburg. She liked that. “It’s a small town, and I grew up in a small town. There’s a family atmosphere in Warrensburg. It’s close to my parents and my son, right in between. And I have a Master’s in Education, and this was an opportunity to go into administration. I’ll also be teaching 4 and 5 year-olds three days a week.” Wide smile. “I love teaching little ones!”

When asked what her favorite classes to teach are, Frias didn’t hesitate. “I love to teach religion, especially Easter and Christmas. Now sometimes the little ones know who Santa Claus is, but don’t understand that Santa Claus and St. Nicholas are the same person. I also love to teach reading, new words and ideas. I want them to love reading. Watching them grow, asking questions … they’re little sponges soaking up everything they can to learn and know!”

The job of a preschool director and teacher is filled with laughter and tears, she said. “Tears a child cries when a parent dies or tears simply due frustration while trying to figure something out. There are also happy tears. I remember I cried when a kindergartner gave me a box at Christmas and said, ‘This is your best Christmas present ever!’ Inside were two seashells she had found on vacation and had painted for me. Those were happy tears! I still have the seashells.”

She looks forward to more laughter, a few tears and a lot of love and learning. “My job is to love them,” she said, “keep them safe and help them learn. Not just school learning, life learning.”

Jocelyn Winter

Jocelyn Winter
Cathedral of St. Joseph

Jocelyn Winter, the new director of the Early Childhood Center at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, is looking forward to the year of change ahead. A recent graduate of Northwest Missouri State University, she worked all four years of college in early childhood development at The Leet Center on campus.

“That’s where my love for preschool came about, and then when I graduated—I just graduated in December—this kind of just fell into my lap,” she said.

She started at the middle of the previous school year, and looks forward to meeting all the new families and youngsters starting this year. She’s also looking forward to a new building for the early childhood center.

“The hospital here in town has given us a building, and we’re totally renovating it—I’ve been a part of all of the blueprints, and we’re getting ready to decide on a contractor,” she said. They currently have close to 90 children at the center, but she estimated they could serve about 120 in the new building.

Her ‘fun fact’ about herself might be helpful in roll call/playground time with that many children!

“My dad owns an auction business, so I’m actually an auctioneer as well—I do benefit auctions on the side,” she shared.

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Monday
October 21, 2019
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph