This is the first in a series of reports on new Catholic School administrators in the Jefferson City diocese.
Eight of the Jefferson City diocese’s 37 Catholic elementary schools and three Catholic high schools have new leadership.
Each brings a wealth of experience and enthusiasm at a time of challenges new and old for Catholic education.
“God sends us the leaders we need to help us accomplish the work He has in mind for us,” said Dr. Erin Vader, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools. “He has been very generous to us.”
“Achieving the unimaginable”
Erin Polson, new principal of St. Peter School in Fulton, said being a Catholic school administrator is more than a job description; it’s a way of life.
“Beyond the office work, I will be teaching, guiding, praying and praising,” she said. “I will be forming relationships with the pastor, parish, families and staff at St. Peter’s and in the community.”
Mrs. Polson holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Northwest Missouri State (now Truman State) University in Kirksville and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Saint Louis University in St. Louis.
This is her 14th year as an educator and her first as principal.
She and her husband have two sons.
She is convinced that a Catholic school’s purpose is to form followers of Christ.
“When Jesus chose His apostles, He recruited people from various positions and places,” she said. “They had different skills and backgrounds, but each opened his heart and mind to learn from the greatest teacher on Earth.
“My purpose is to facilitate that same response in the staff and students, through faith, academics, athletics and character development,” she said.
Mrs. Polson noted that Catholic education takes into account so much more than academics.
“We are forming the whole child — mind, body and soul — and giving them the tools they need to become active citizens and missionaries,” she said.
“They need to know how to wear the armor of God, control their minds and speech and make intelligent decisions,” she stated. These are lofty goals, but children are capable of achieving the unimaginable.”
In her spare time, Mrs. Polson enjoys reading novels, spending time outside and being with friends and family.
Lately, she has been reading: Better than Carrots and Sticks; Forming Intentional Disciples; and Parish School: A History of American Parochial Education from Colonial Times to the Present.
“I have learned a lot of history and restorative skills,” she said. “I also learned that our choices have lasting impacts, far beyond our own lifespans.”
Two of her favorite saintly intercessors are Mother Teresa of Calcutta and St. Anthony of Padua.
“I am reminded to be more selfless, spend my time wisely, and to keep looking for the good,” she said.
Her two favorite Bible verses are: “Wait for the Lord. Be strong, take heart, and wait for the Lord” (Psalms 27:14) and “Do not worry about tomorrow. It has enough worries of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
She anticipates that working around COVID-19 concerns will be her biggest challenge this year.
She asks for prayers for patience and less anxiety for people at school this year, along with prayers of thanksgiving.
“God gives us the time and resources to serve others, if only we will listen and follow through,” she said.
“Be not afraid”
Dr. Daniel “Dan” Everett is the new president and principal of Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School in Columbia.
“Being the new guy is always challenging,” he said, “but coronavirus is bringing unprecedented challenges to educators worldwide.”
He and his wife have lived all over the country, but recently moved to Central Missouri from Southern California. They have five children.
This is his 18th year in Catholic education. He spent the first 10 teaching English, math, theology and philosophy, and the remaining years in administration.
To him, the educational process is a journey.
“As a Catholic school administrator, I see my role as helping to create an environment where students, faculty and staff can grow and thrive as we all walk this journey together,” he said.
He said a Catholic school is a part of the work of the Church to educate children to the fullest potential that God intended for them.
“Not only do Catholic schools strive for academic excellence, they spread the Gospel message of God’s great love for all of us,” he said.
When that happens, students are prepared for whatever difficulties lie ahead.
“Catholic schools do a great job helping students learn to love God and their neighbor, challenging them to think at a higher level and to encounter Christ in others,” he said.
In his spare time, Dr. Everett enjoys skateboarding, snowboarding and all things pertaining to technology.
He has been reading How to Be an Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi, which has been helping him develop a more thorough understanding of racism.
His favorite phrase from a saint is “Be Not Afraid” — “which is something that Pope St. John Paul II reminded us of every chance he got.”
Dr. Everett has also begun praying for the intercession of the school’s namesake, Venerable Father Augustus Tolton.
His favorite advice from a colleague: “Be half-full, not half-empty. In other words, choose optimism.”
He asks for prayers for the grace to persevere, the wisdom to make the right decisions, and the ability to show Christ’s love to everyone he meets.
Anne Luebbert is the new principal of Immaculate Conception School in Loose Creek.
“I view my role as developing leadership in others and managing people, data and school processes,” she said. “As a principal in a Catholic school, I will accomplish all tasks through Christian values and with positive beliefs and high expectations of others.”
She grew up in Loose Creek and attended Immaculate Conception School as a child.
After spending most of her career as an educator at Sedalia Middle School in Sedalia, she returned to her hometown last year to teach fourth grade at Immaculate Conception.
As principal, she sees her role as a leader responsible for creating and maintaining a positive school culture in which students, staff and community work together to support the mission of our school.
She intends to work on making a long-term plan for student success and encourage professional development for teachers.
“Obviously, COVID-19 will bring a challenge to all schools this year,” she stated.
She believes a Catholic school’s purpose is to develop followers of Christ in faith, knowledge, and service.
When that goes well, the students become “evangelists of the Catholic faith in all of their future relationships,” she said.
In her spare time, Ms. Luebbert enjoys traveling, seeking new adventures for outdoor activities and hiking, and finding time every day to exercise.
Her favorite prayer is the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, which begins, “Make me a channel of Your peace.”
In times of difficulty, she turns to St. Michael the Archangel for intercession and inspiration.
“How much love”
Mindy Schneider is the new principal at Immaculate Conception School in Macon.
She will also continue as kindergarten teacher, a position she has held for eight years.
She said it will be especially important this year for people to keep an open mind and understand that “sometimes there are no right answers and we are all doing the best we can.”
“We are better together, and through prayer we will get through this hurdle,” she said.
She believes her role as a principal in a small Catholic school is as a team leader and team builder.
“The team leader has to work with all staff members to ensure a positive work and school environment,” she said. “The team builder has to build a complete support structure that includes parents, the parish and the community.”
She believes a Catholic school’s purpose is to provide children a Christ-centered education that not only focuses on educational standards but develops them spiritually as well.
“It allows students to explore and learn more about their faith while receiving a premium education,” she said. “It’s truly the best of both worlds.”
She believes Immaculate Conception students are young role models for both their faith community and the larger community.
“As much as I love seeing the academic successes of our alumni, I love seeing them help in the community more,” she said.
She and her husband Jeremy have been married for 16 years. They have three daughters who attend Immaculate Conception School — one of whom had Mrs. Schneider for class in kindergarten.
She enjoys spending her spare time with her family. One of their favorite things to do is “hop on our John Deere Gator and take a ride to the river and explore.”
She also volunteers at the local food bank and helps organize the Lunch in the Park program for Immaculate Conception School.
“I feel that both of these programs not only raise awareness of our school, but keep me grounded with the blessings I have received,” she said.
The memory of St. Teresa of Calcutta inspires her, along with the observation, “it’s not about how much you do, but how much love you put into what you do that counts.”
“I firmly believe in leading by example not only as a principal but in my everyday life as a mother, wife and teacher,” said Mrs. Schneider.
She makes a habit of asking people to pray for peace.
“Even after taking on this new role as principal at Immaculate Conception School, I have felt peace,” she said. “I know this is the Holy Spirit taking over and guiding me on this journey.”
She believes responding to COVID-19 will be her school’s greatest challenge this year.
“The fear of the unknown is valid for all of us,” she said. “It will be important for everyone to keep students, faculty and staff in their prayers throughout this school year.”
Her favorite Bible verse is “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
“Our God is a great one,” she stated. “He always knows what’s best for us and He will give us the strength to make it through this school year.”