Coming home

| August 17, 2011 | 0 Comments

Hastings native returns as principal of elementary school that she attended

Jill Moes

Jill Moes, principal of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Hastings, talks to eighth-grade students during class in May. She grew up in Hastings, graduated from the school in 1979 and began her job as principal there last November. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Visitors to the principal’s office at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Hastings will inevitably come across artwork on display with this line from Psalm 118: “This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Just about anywhere a person might look is a plaque with this verse on it.

“I have three of them in my office right here and two at home,” said principal Jill Moes, 46, now beginning her first full year as principal of the school she attended as a child.

Today’s school is a merger of the two Catholic schools she attended in the 1970s — Guardian Angels (first through fourth grade) and St. Boniface (fifth through eighth grade).

Path to Hastings

Her career started in the public school system, where she worked as school psychologist and assistant principal. Almost two decades later, she found her way back into the Catholic realm, taking a job as business administrator at St. Francis of Assisi in Lake St. Croix Beach.

Finally, in the fall of 2010, she got her chance to come back to her community and be a Catholic school principal after Rita Humbert left her post as principal of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

“My passion was really for this school — to come here to SEAS because this is my home parish,” she said. “I was born and raised here, my grandma was a third-grade teacher here — Alice O’Connor. She is in heaven right now. Then, both of my parents graduated from here and my siblings graduated from here.

“It’s really easy to be passionate about something you feel so strongly about. And, I’ve just always admired the school and what it did for me growing up, and giving a real solid faith formation. It’s just so nice to be back.”

At the start of last school year, a parishioner took the job on an interim basis while a search committee looked for a replacement.

When Moes heard about the opening, she quickly submitted an application, though she was principal of Immaculate Conception School in Columbia Heights at the time. The committee unanimously recommended her to Father James Perkl, pastor of the parish and the decision maker for hiring a new principal.

“It was just a thrill to know that she would be available for us,” Father Perkl said. “I was really pleased that it was a unanimous decision [by the search committee to recommend her]. That’s a really good feeling.”

Mark Dittman, parish administrator and search committee member, said both he and Father Perkl received calls from parishioners asking them to hire Moes. Actually, the committee needed very little convincing.

“It was not difficult; it was actually very easy for the committee to come to that consensus,” Dittman said. “That speaks to her merits as a candidate, but it also speaks to the fact that they knew she was from Hastings.”

And, if Moes’ impressive qualifications — 11 years in education, several advanced degrees, including a doctorate in educational administration, plus licensure as a school superintendent, secondary principal, elementary principal and school psychologist — weren’t enough, her intense desire for the job surely would have sealed the deal.

Good listener

Moes and her deep roots fit in with a school featuring a number of teachers with long tenure. Especially after losing a beloved principal like Humbert, who was there for 11 years, having someone who grew up in the community is comforting to the staff. But, say some teachers, it didn’t take long for Moes and her warm, enthusiastic personality to win them over.

“She’s very personable,” said first-grade teacher Anita Endres, who grew up in Hastings and has taught at the school for 12 years. “She listens and she listens to our staff. . . . She wants everybody to have a voice. And, I think that’s great.”

Moes started her job part way into the school year last November. She came during the middle of the grueling accreditation process, which involved visits and interviews with state accreditation officials, not to mention mounds of paperwork. But, she managed to not only push her way through the arduous steps, but develop rapport with her teachers in the process.

“She’s easy to talk to, she’s inviting, she’s supportive,” said 20-year teacher Clara Schultz (third grade). “If I have a concern about a student or I want another opinion, she helps me out.”

It’s not just the teachers who have warmed to her presence. Parents, too, have responded positively, especially those like Mike Judge, who was in her grade school class. He is one of two of her classmates now sending a child to the school (the other is Paul Wagner). Mike and his wife, Sheri, have a daughter, Nicole, who will be a second-grader at SEAS starting Sept. 6

“It was neat to see Jill come back,” Mike Judge said. “I’m happy for her.”

In addition to “coming home,” as she puts it, Moes also is glad to be in a place where she can freely express her faith. No longer does she have to put a muzzle on her spiritual beliefs in the halls of a school building.

“I pretty much always wear a little cross around my neck and it was very nice that, in my job interview [at SEAS], I didn’t have to take it off,” she said. “It was the first time I went into a job interview that I didn’t have to turn my cross around [to hide it from view].

“In the Catholic schools, you can say, ‘God bless you’ and it doesn’t need to be preceded by a sneeze. That’s my favorite saying of all. And so, it just builds the whole dynamics of your school and your culture. And, when you come together and you pray together every week at Mass, and you’re praying for people’s grandparents or siblings or friends, it’s going to make you be more tenderhearted and nurturing to everybody around you, and then that builds the culture of your school.”

As Moes gets ready to begin her first full year as principal, she knows she has inherited a healthy school, one that is nearly filled to capacity (holding steady at 300 students in kindergarten through eighth grade) and growing with the addition of a 3-year-old program to its already successful preschool program.

In the coming years, Moes hopes to be there when the parish eventually builds a new school next to the church that will bring both campuses together in one location. This is phase three of a building project that began with the construction of the new church in 1994.

If she is fortunate to be part of the next phase of the school, it will be an exciting chapter of a life spent mostly in the community where she grew up. She lives just a short distance from Hastings on land that has been in her family for six generations, with two of her three children.

“I bought land from my dad [Hubert “Buster” Schneider], a farmer, 23 years ago,” she said. “From my parents’ home to where I’ve lived for the last 24 years, I got a mile. So, I always laugh — I got a mile in life and now I feel like I just got down the hall.”

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Category: Back to School