Nativity principal to be honored with national award for her dedication and service
Kate Wollan strolls a second-floor hallway at Nativity of Our Lord School in St. Paul.
Its principal since 1993, she is about to switch roles and take over the second-grade class of long-time teacher Cathy Peterson.
“Hi, Matthew,” she says to a student roaming the hall. Then, she walks into the classroom and instantly starts chatting with the second-graders as they work on their self-portraits.
“I like your crown, August,” she says to one boy.
“Very nice, Will,” she remarks to another.
“Colin, that is handsome.”
And, on and on it goes. In only a minute’s time, she rattles off names of students in the class like a chef rattles off a list of ingredients — Susie, Mallory, Emily, Brennan and many more.
Though she does not teach regularly in this classroom, she knows the name of every student in it. In fact, she knows the name of every student in the school — all 759 of them in kindergarten through eighth grade.
“Luckily, it’s a bit of a gift for me,” she said. “But, most importantly, I want the kids to know that I’ve made an investment in them as an individual.
“Kids ask me all the time, ‘How do you know our names?’ And, I always answer them, ‘Once I know you, how could I forget you?’ I must say that a hundred times a year.”
Dedicated to mission
In this way, and many others, Wollan has shown the kind of dedication and excellence that helped her earn a Distinguished Principal Award from the National Catholic Educational Association. She is one of 12 Catholic elementary school principals nationwide to receive the award. It will be presented at the NCEA convention in Boston in April.
Glowing comments from teachers like Kathy McRae, who has been a teacher at Nativity for 25 years, made Wollan an easy choice for the award.
“Kate is tireless in keeping us on a path that matches our school’s philosophy: devotion to worship, living the Gospel message, community, peace, justice and academic excellence,” McRae said. “Kate is devoted to the Nativity community. She spends untold hours here preparing and executing whatever needs to be done. She’s often the last to leave [the building] and she’s here on weekends and weeknights. She loves what she does.”
Parents like Katherine Howard marvel at the ways Wollan serves the students and families, including memorizing their names. In Howard’s case, their have been six children to memorize, the two youngest of whom still attend the school.
“And, my mom [Joanne Harris, a Nativity parishioner] loves that about her, too,”?Howard said. “She [Wollan] doesn’t know just the kids’ names, she knows the grandparents’ names, the aunts, the uncles.”
Wollan arrived at Nativity in 1986 as a fourth-grade teacher. She taught through 1992, adding second and fifth grades to her list of teaching assignments at the school. She spent one year at Highland Catholic School in St. Paul before coming back to Nativity as principal. She shared that role with Margo Weiberg until Weiberg retired in 2010.
The school has been home to at least one celebrity — actor Josh Hartnett — and one NFL athlete, Matt Birk, who played for the Minnesota Vikings and now plays for the Baltimore Ravens. Yet, Wollan doesn’t necessarily view having such folks in her school as the greatest highlights.
“For me, it’s not about the flash and who’s who,”?she said. “It’s more about the child — who the child becomes. Every child in this building brings their own unique set of gifts.”
And, it’s that care for the child that keeps parents like Howard sending their children to the school. “As you go through life, one thing that is constant is every time my kids go to school, I know that they are well loved, I know that they are happy, they are safe, they are having fun and they are learning a lot,” she said. “And, that is very comforting.”