Full circle . . . Schatz retires after a career in Catholic education
Wed, 05/17/2017 - 10:59am admin
Sara Stromseth-Troy TPD Staff
CRESCO - On the occasion of her retirement June 30, 2017 from Notre Dame Catholic School, Principal Wendy Schatz’s career comes full circle.
After graduating from Luther College in Decorah in 1972, Schatz’s teaching career began at St. Joseph’s Grade School in Cresco. She retires from the same institution, now named Notre Dame Catholic School.
Career in education
inspired by a teacher
Schatz said one of her elementary school teachers made a significant impact in her decision to pursue a career in education:
“I was inspired to learn to be a teacher by my own first great teacher, Mrs. Arndt,” Schatz said. “There were 36 of us in first grade, and there was no aide. There was no kindergarten in the school I attended, a small town school, Comfrey, Minn. Preschool hadn’t been heard of; that’s the way it was in the 1950s in the town where I grew up.”
She continued, “I loved Mrs. Arndt, I thought she was the best, and I had many other wonderful teachers in elementary school that I enjoyed, too, but she was the first. I think another person that inspired me to be a teacher was a Sunday school teacher I had in third grade.”
Schatz was so interested in re-creating what she learned in the classroom with her siblings.
“I played school with both of my younger brothers, and I taught them both to read before they entered school,” Schatz said. “They sent books home with us and I taught them to read.”
at Luther College
Schatz graduated high school in 1968, but by the time she began her college career, she had decided to major in another subject of interest to her . . . Music.
“I went to Luther College and started off as a music major, but then decided what I really wanted to do was teach, so I switched my major from music to elementary education. I kept music as an area of concentration,” Schatz said.
One of her happiest memories from her college years is a semester studying music in Vienna, Austria.
“I left in mid-August and stayed for one semester, returning at the end of January,” Schatz recalled. “That was a marvelous experience; we could get standing-room-only tickets for the state opera at a very inexpensive price. You would tie your scarf on a brass railing and that saved your spot for when the opera started.”
Schatz remains thankful she took the opportunity to study internationally:
“You learn so many different things when you are immersed in a culture. It was one of my finest learning experiences. You learn that the world is a much bigger place than what you originally thought, and it expands your horizons.”
Schatz began her teaching career at St. Joseph Elementary School in Cresco in 1972:
“I taught Title I Reading for the upper grades. I taught fourth, fifth and sixth grade classrooms primarily; most of my time was spent as a fifth/sixth grade teacher. I taught K-6 music, which goes along with my area of interest,” she said.
While Schatz’s career evolved, she remained immersed in Catholic education in Cresco:
“I really never left,” she said. “Throughout the years, I’ve taught upper grades and I’ve taught music here. I went to school one year to get a reading endorsement, and then I started a Master’s degree program at Clarke University (Dubuque) in elementary administration.”
Trends in education
Throughout her 43-year career in elementary education, Schatz notes styles in teaching coming, going and sometimes returning:
“As far as teaching goes, you see many trends come and go in education, and you’re always trying to adapt to those trends and do what we consider best practice in education,” she said.
“When I first started teaching, it was essentially whole group instruction with small group pullouts for different specific phonics skills. We used a Basal Reader. There was something called the Wisconsin Design of Reading Skills Development. Then whole language came to be a trend in the teaching of reading, and it was thought that through experiences and whole-group instruction of whole words that this was the best way for students to learn.
“They proposed authentic literature for students to read, not just stories that are contrived to fit into a reading textbook. Right now, we seem to have come full circle. At Notre Dame, we adopted a program that is heavily phonics-based, so we’re back to that, and it’s called Superkids. It is a program that is only K-2 grades. It breaks everything up into letters and sounds.
“This is our first year using it, and I’m amazed at what our students are reading. The purpose of the program is that you can read any word if you know what the sounds are to try. We are also looking at a program for our upper grades in reading, and we haven’t adopted anything out yet.”
“Sometimes it seems that in education and in other areas, something that is old becomes new again. Different teaching strategies sometimes come full circle and if you stay around long enough, you’re back to where you originally started in teaching.”
Schatz notes changes in education, as well, particularly in technology.
“Things have changed and the first word that comes to mind is technology. Technology has changed the world. Our students are becoming very tech-savvy. Technology is a marvelous tool when in use with other strategies puts together an excellent education package.”
Becoming school principal
Schatz also faced changes in her career: In the fall of 1999, she became principal at Notre Dame Elementary.
“I never had envisioned myself being a principal, and when I started it, I thought, ‘I’d give it three years’. If it seemed to work out, that would be great, but if not, I could go back to teaching. It went pretty well, and I enjoyed not just being a teacher of fifth graders, but as principal, I was a teacher of teachers. That was an area where you could really affect change in your school. You could look forward to your future.”
As her first year as principal commenced, Schatz and the faculty gathered together to discuss their vision for the future of Notre Dame:
“The first fall I was here, we had a brainstorm session with the faculty and we said, ‘If money were no object, what would you like to see here at Notre Dame School?’ We broke into small groups and came back together and put our ideas out there, deciding many things that we wanted to do and would do.
“Some ideas, like being all at one site and all under one roof, I think all of us in our heart of hearts thought, ‘Well, that’s kind of stretching it.’ Ten years later, we were in one building (K-6), and we also have preschool here. The present building was constructed in 2009, and in January 2010, we moved all classes into the new addition.”
Schatz said it took her some time to adjust to the reality that Notre Dame Elementary was finally on one site:
“I didn’t expect it; I’d certainly hoped for it. I was pleasantly surprised that it came to fruition,” she said.
One aspect of education that continues to inspire Schatz is the students:
“Have kids changed over the decades? They have, to a degree, and yet kids are still kids,” she said. “Basically, I think they want to learn. They are curious about things, want to learn how to solve problems and look for new ideas. Do they have many different things to use? Of course they do. I have found kids to continue to want to please their teachers. They want to do a good job, basically; that is still at the core.”
She continued, "Parents are stretched ever farther, but as much as parents and students can interact and then build that partnership with the school, that is going to mean success for those students. They are our future. We want them to grow up to be the kinds of leaders that are going to be the best for all of us.
“It’s such an opportunity to start with them as kindergarten or first grade; we can start with how we treat each other and how we look for good in other people; those are things that can apply to any student at any time. I think our job is to help students learn, but also have them realize that they are special; that they are loved, and I think all children and adults need that."
Schatz and her husband, Alan, are the parents of three:
“Our oldest daughter Mali lives in Cedar Rapids. She and her husband, Eric, have four children, their oldest is 14 and youngest is 6. She is the teacher-librarian at St. Pius the X Catholic School in Cedar Rapids. Eric is owner of a commercial sheet metal business.
“Katie lives here in Cresco and she is the marketing director for CUSB Bank. Her husband, Nick, is a teacher at Crestwood Junior High and High School in industrial technology. They have two daughters, ages 13 and 11.
Andrea and her husband Dustin are now living on the farm where my husband and I lived for well over 30 years. When they were ready to do that, we moved to a home in Cresco and they moved to the farm. They are very busy with the farming operation and with their family. They have four children ages two weeks old, 1, 2 and 6. Andrea works for CIA Insurance.
My husband, Alan, is a lifelong farmer. He raises pigs using the standards of the Niman Ranch Company, and he has beef cattle. He goes out to the farms and works every day. We have enjoyed living on the farm very much, but we truly enjoy living in Cresco as well.”
Following her retirement this summer, Schatz plans to continue to be a familiar sight around Cresco:
“I’m going to be back to Notre Dame in the fall as a mentor one day a week, mentoring our new principal (Renee Cuvelier) as she adjusts to the job,” Schatz said.
“As far as what I’m going to do in my retirement, I’m going to continue to volunteer in different areas at school; I want to help with our grandchildren.
“I want to spend time with our daughters and their families. I know I’ll have that chance.”
“People say they are busier in retirement than when they were working. I’m not worried about not having enough to do; I’m certain there are things that will come up. I’m looking forward to having more time and not to be saddled with heavy decisions. I love to read and play the piano,” she said.
As she concludes her 43-year career in Catholic education, Schatz said she is grateful:
“I’ve really enjoyed being at Notre Dame. I have had wonderful people to work with, and whether it’s the staff, parents, school board, pastor, the children who are here. I consider myself very fortunate to have had that. I’ve loved being at Notre Dame.”