Summer was in full swing before Melissa Ginther finally had time to reflect on the 2020-21 school year—not that she isn’t busy. “People say, ‘What do you do during the summer?’ and I’m not sure how to respond,” she laughs. “Prepare for 400-plus kids to be on our campus again in the fall, I suppose—with fewer restrictions!”
Public and private schools everywhere are dealing with the fallout of pandemic protocols and restrictions impacting enrollment, programming, student learning outcomes and budgets. A first-year principal in a new community, Ginther spent the last several months buried in her work at St. Michael Catholic School (StMCS), with little time to visit friends and family, build new relationships or have fun.
“The temptation is there to look at it as the worst year ever, but ‘We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28),” says Ginther. “He wouldn’t have allowed the difficulties without a good reason.”
So what’s the good?
- The school was open for in-person classes the entire year.
- We reached our enrollment goal of 390 students and expect more than 420 next year.
- More than 40 first-time families joined the StMCS community last fall, and all but three of those families are returning next year.
- Six students joined the Church from these families.
- We surpassed our goals on all three major fundraisers.
“In any year, we would call that good fruit,” Ginther says. “We did not labor in vain.”
Even in the off-season, coronavirus continues to make an impact. St. Michael-Albertville Schools are facing significant financial challenges from the pandemic, which have repercussions for StMCS programming including band and support for exceptional learners. Much of Ginther’s time in recent weeks has been spent addressing these challenges—but not everything from COVID was bad.
“We have our ‘COVID Keepers,’ as well—things we did in response to the virus that turned out to be great,” she says. “For example, I think we’ll do Trunk-or-Treat again this fall—and holding music and other classes outdoors, weather-permitting, was also a win.”
Ginther is looking forward, not just to a sense of normalcy in the coming year, but on resuming many of the traditions that reinforce the school’s Catholic culture and set it apart.
“In many ways this is going to feel like a first year for me,” she says. “I’m looking forward to welcoming families back to the school Mass and to having retreats for our students again. We’re working on bringing back cribbage, sending the 7th- and 8th-graders to Deep Portage this year, having our students at Masses at the Legacy [senior living community], reinstating the buddy system and God-Time [a mixed homeroom for students in grades 5-8], and bringing back Grandparents Day.”
In addition, hiring two new youth ministers means a youth ministry presence at the school on a regular basis. All of this has Ginther anticipating a big year ahead: “I have great hope that the Lord is writing the stories of a lot of saints at our school, if we have the eyes to see it!”
The complete June-July 2021 issue of DISCIPLE is online now. For a hard copy, stop by the parish office or gathering space. If you are a registered parishioner and are not receiving DISCIPLE in the mail, contact Deanna at 763-497-2745 to update your contact information.