Teachers take part in a brainstorming activity as part of new teacher training July 26 at the Chancery in Omaha. That day’s training focused on restorative practices, a process of building and maintaining relationships and resolving conflict while supporting the dignity of the human person, in line with Catholic teaching. They are, from left: Kate Fox, PE/health teacher at St. Bernard School; Stephanie Combs, seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher at St. Margaret Mary School; Chyanne Efferding, first-grade teacher at Holy Name; and Hannah Ervin, counselor at All Saints School, all in Omaha. MIKE MAY/STAFF

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New teachers, administrators value opportunity to share their Catholic faith

Meg Searl didn’t exactly plan on becoming the new principal at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Omaha.

But she opened her heart to the idea and prayed about it.

“I literally turned it over to God one morning, and not too long after that, I was interviewing for this position,” Searl said.

Her long career with Omaha Public Schools was amazing, she said, but she believes God has led her to “exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

Searl is somewhat typical of the teachers and administrators who are new this year to Catholic schools in the archdiocese. Of the 124 people who attended an archdiocese new teacher orientation on July 28, about 60% had switched from public schools, said Vickie Kauffold, superintendent of Catholic Schools.

John and Marjorie McAndrews also fit that mold.

They left public schools in Oregon for Guardian Angels Central Catholic Schools (GACC) in West Point, where John is now principal for grades seven through 12 and Marjorie teaches sixth grade.

The couple and their three children moved to Nebraska to be closer to family, and the parents’ career moves to Catholic schools were intentional.

“I had spent my entire career in public education, but had been speaking to a priest friend of mine in Oregon about the possibility of serving in a Catholic school,” John said. “Marjorie and I both prayed and decided that if it was God’s will then we would both be open to serving.”

“After praying and speaking to other friends who work in Catholic education, we decided to make the change if an opportunity presented itself,” he said. “Shortly after reaching this conclusion, we were offered positions at GACC.”

“When we visited Guardian Angels Central Catholic, we knew we had found our home,” said the Nebraska native, who met Marjorie when both were students at the University of Oregon.

“The staff, parents and parish community were all welcoming,” John said. “It was also clear that the school had a strong Catholic identity and was committed to serving not just the school, but also the wider community of West Point.”

An environment like that is what Catholic schools strive for – and what potential teachers look for, Kauffold said.

“Our school leaders, I think, do a good job of creating that sense of culture and that sense of school community, school family,” she said. “And I think that’s what’s drawing people to us. That shared mission of faith is always going to be an attraction,” even for non-Catholic educators.

PLAN B

Several schools still had unfilled positions as the new school year was about to begin, Kauffold said.

At those schools, Plan B had to go into effect, she said. A principal might take on teaching duties, for example, and hire an administrative assistant to help with other tasks, she said.

Overall, though, Catholic schools in the archdiocese were able to pursue alternatives to adequately meet the needs of the students and the schools, Kauffold said.

A school culture that allows teachers “to live their faith out loud” can be enticing, she  said.

During the new teacher orientation, the superintendent listened as one table of teachers talked.

One teacher said: “I have been told to stuff down my faith, to keep it under wraps for so long. I have to relearn how to talk about my faith.”

“This really struck me,” Kauffold said.

Later she told all the teachers assembled: “I give you permission to talk about your faith in our classrooms. The kids need to hear this.”

The room erupted in applause.

‘A TRUE GIFT’

Openly talking about God and living the Catholic faith at school can be an adjustment for educators who worked for decades in public schools – even for Searl, whose husband, Chris Searl, is an assistant principal at Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha, and whose four grown sons attended Catholic schools.

“I’ll be really honest,” Meg Searl said, “when you spend a lot of years trying to kind of squelch that part of your life publicly … it takes a minute to learn how to do that in a way that feels super comfortable.”

“But one of the things I really look forward to is talking to kids about their faith, praying with people or being able to offer a prayer,” she  said. “That’s just a true gift.”

“I want to be a strong leader,” Searl said, “not only as a school person, but as a person of faith. That’s an area that I’m really excited to grow in.”

In the days leading up to classes, she was able to pray with staff and school families.

A few weeks ago, she watched in amazement as a group of eighth-grade volunteers formed a circle to pray without being prompted by adults.

“All of it has just been incredible,” she said.

Being able to outwardly share the Catholic faith also was a big draw for Marjorie and John McAndrews.

“It is unique to be able to pray and share your faith openly with students,” John  McAndrews said. “That really appealed to both of us, as it is central in our lives.”

Both said they’re excited to help students grow in faith.