The smell of freshly sharpened pencils wafts through school hallways across the diocese as administrators, teachers and staff prepare to welcome students. Soon they’ll be met with eager faces anticipating all things new — friends, knowledge, opportunities, even new teachers and administrators.
“We are always excited to start a new school year,” said Linda Kaiser, diocesan director of Catholic Education Ministries. “There is so much enthusiasm. It is sad when people retire or leave but we are always blessed by the new people who arrive. It’s going to be another exciting year.”
Among the new leaders in area Catholic schools are three principals and one assistant principal.
Kelly Vangsness, principal
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Cloud
Kelly Vangsness has fond memories from her childhood of helping her beloved aunt and godmother, a kindergarten teacher, prepare her classroom for the new school year.
“I just always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” said Vangsness, principal of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School, located on the south side of St. Cloud.
This will be her 16th year in education — her first year as an administrator and her first in the private school sector.
“There is so much potential here at SEAS,” she said. “They’ve had so much [leadership] change over the last couple years. I really want to meet the teachers where we are at and grow together. Coaching and collaboration are my passions, so I’m really excited to be working to build the school together.”
Among her goals for SEAS, which is part of the newly formed Catholic Community Schools system, are reaching out to populations that are underrepresented in the area and becoming a welcoming presence in the local community.
“As a whole, CCS needs to do a better job of reaching out to those families who might think they can’t afford Catholic education, who don’t think they have access to or don’t know about Catholic education. I think that’s key,” she said.
Each year, SEAS has an annual theme. This year, Vangsness chose, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.”
“I really want to incorporate peace into everything we do. Peace also means understanding. There can be unrest when we don’t know people who are different from us. We are a community and we have to be welcoming,” she said.
Mostly, she said she gets her inspiration from the students.
“We always need to keep the best interests of our students in mind,” she said. “Whether it’s learning needs, language needs or mental health issues, we have to do what’s best for kids and I don’t think there’s a better place for that than Catholic schools, where we can do all of this and share our faith.”
In her spare time, she and her husband, Jerry Rademacher, and their four children love to golf and spend time at Big Stone Lake in western Minnesota.
Pamela McCarthy, principal
St. John’s Preparatory School, Collegeville
People who meet Pamela McCarthy, St. John’s Preparatory School’s new principal, notice her enthusiasm and passion for what she does. Although a self-proclaimed high-energy person, especially in the morning, you won’t find coffee or soda in her hand.
Her career in education began as an athletic trainer at the Fieldston School in New York City. Later she moved to Chicago to work at the Latin School of Chicago, where she spent the past 11 years, working her way up from a one-year maternity-leave physical education hire to the department chair to the dean of students and, finally, assistant division director.
She credits her parents for her interest in education. They spent their careers at the Fall River Boys and Girls Club in Massachusetts, where her father is still the executive director.
“Because of my parents, I understood the importance of education from a young age and have always loved learning and being in school. It feels so natural to be an educator,” she said.
What impresses McCarthy about SJP is the passion and dedication of the community.
“I love that, even though Prep has been around for 160 years, it is progressive and interested in understanding current educational trends,” McCarthy said. “My most immediate goal is to better understand the school and culture. I have begun to have individual meetings with the faculty members to gain a better understanding of what they love about Prep and about their hopes for the future.”
McCarthy, who moved to Minnesota with her husband, Adam Smith, plans to meet with students in small groups, host coffees and walks for parents, and visit classes and events.
Kristie Harren, principal
Sacred Heart School, Freeport
Harren, who has been teaching second grade at the school for eight years, has a long history in education. As a student at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, she was encouraged to consider education.
“I always enjoyed school and thought highly of my teachers,” she said. “Once I was in the classroom, I was hooked.”
After graduating from St. Ben’s in 1999, she taught grades K-3 at St. Mary’s School in Melrose for eight years, then fourth grade at St. Joseph Lab School in St. Joseph before coming to Sacred Heart.
Harren is most excited about being able to serve her community in her new role as principal.
“Our community takes great pride in our school, students and staff. We work as a team. I feel so blessed to have parents who support our teachers, students who know what hard work is and a staff who genuinely cares about their students,” she said.
Her main goal is to carry on the mission of Sacred Heart — “to create caring and respectful lifelong learners who always remember to keep God at the center of their lives.”
Todd Van Erp, assistant principal
Cathedral High School, St. Cloud
With over 20 years in education, Todd Van Erp brings with him a wealth of experience including 12 years as a middle and high school science teacher. For the last eight years, he served as a school administrator, most recently as the principal at Otsego Elementary School in the Elk River Area School District.
This year will be his first experience in a Catholic school setting as the assistant principal at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud.
“I’ve always enjoyed teaching and learning,” he said. “There is nothing more rewarding than helping students learn about the world around them.”
Van Erp is most excited about being part of a tight-knit, faith-based community of teachers, students and families. He’s also developed an interest in using data to drive instruction and has added it to his list of goals for the coming year.
“This goal came about as part of our accreditation last school year, and I’m excited to be a part of this improvement process,” he said.
Van Erp lives in Sartell with his wife, Nancy, who also works in education at St. Mary’s University of Winona. The couple has four children: Maya, 15, Faith, 13, Luke, 11, and Kate, 9. Maya and Faith attend Cathedral, and Luke and Kate attend St. Francis Xavier School in Sartell.