January 26, 2007

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Coming home: Unusual retirement leads educator back to Catholic school

A month after he retired in 2006, Ken Saxon returned to work as the principal of St. Michael School in Brookville, the school where he has re-learned how different and special a Catholic education is. (Submitted photo)

A month after he retired in 2006, Ken Saxon returned to work as the principal of St. Michael School in Brookville, the school where he has re-learned how different and special a Catholic education is. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: As Ken Saxon planned to retire in June of 2006 from the Franklin County Community School Corporation, he never thought his retirement plans would lead him back to a Catholic school where he would become the principal. He shares his story of his unusual return to Catholic education and the difference that his “retirement” has made in his life.)

By Ken Saxon (Special to The Criterion)

I retired at just the right time.

After 35 years of being a teacher, coach, athletic director, Student Council sponsor, assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent for business and transportation, retirement at the end of June 2006 seemed to be the best thing to do.

Worrying about budget forms and approval from the Department of Local Government Finance would be replaced by walks in the woods and teaching grandsons. Getting up at 3:30 in the morning to check road conditions for bus travel would be replaced with drinking another cup of coffee and watching birds at the feeder. The allure of retirement was calling.

Oh, in the back of my mind was a desire to help out at St. Michael School in Brookville. Our children went to school there, and we have been longtime parishioners. Volunteering for an hour or two a week might be a good thing, but you know how our plans sometimes take drastic twists and turns.

On a Sunday morning in the middle of this past May, I was just about to leave the priests’ sacristy when Father Bill Ehalt said something like, “Oh, there’s going to be a principal opening at St. Michael next year.”

“What an opportunity,” I thought, “but you’re retiring. You were going to volunteer there anyway, but it’s a full-time job with night-time responsibilities.”

I remembered the enjoyment of the teaching days at St. Mary School in Rushville and the role the principal had in leading those students and staff members. But I also remembered that there are a million other things to be done.

So went the thought process, the discernment process.

It was a long week between Father Bill’s comment and a time when we could sit together to discuss the principal position. After talking with him, I submitted my resume. I am honored to be the principal of St. Michael School in Brookville. My retirement started on June 30, 2006, and ended on Aug. 1, 2006.

I hope that in my years with the Franklin County Community School Corporation I was part of the solution in helping to prepare students for the adult world. I have many good memories about the public school part of my educational career. Those experiences have certainly molded my perspective on my return to Catholic school education.

I continue to find that Catholic school education offers some things that are impossible in public schools.

First and foremost is the religious aspect of what we are about. I have been seated at school board meetings where patrons have discussed prayers at commencement, Bible studies and similar activities in public schools. I have witnessed the nondenominational prayer service called “Meet Me at the Poles” at public school flagpoles.

Here at St. Michael, we not only have occasional religious activities, we have prayer every day and several times every day. We have Mass every week. Prayer and religious activities are big parts of our school life.

In my previous roles as assistant principal and principal [at public schools], I worked with many students concerning discipline issues. Even though I privately prayed for guidance in some cases, I never uttered a prayer out loud. Not so at St. Michael School. In one discipline conference this year, I asked God for help. It wasn’t just within myself that I offered the prayer. It was out loud so the student could hear it, too. What a difference!

Another significant difference is the degree of adult support. St. Michael School is somewhat unique in that it is not financed through tuition charges for parish children. Financial support continues to be seen as a responsibility of the entire parish.

Non-financial support also comes in the form of volunteer activities. On a daily basis, between eight and 10 parents and grandparents offer their time and talent to assist at St. Michael School as classroom helpers, office workers, physical education instructors, lunch room assistants and playground supervisors.

The presence of the adults other than staff members at school fills more than just a pragmatic need. Not only do these adults represent themselves, they represent the other parents and the wishes and desires they all have for their children.

The degree of parish and parental support is awesome.

In an environment enhanced by a caring faculty and staff, the students of St. Michael School continue to grow spiritually, academically, psychologically, emotionally and socially.

I am grateful for the opportunity to return to Catholic education and for my role in the education of our students at St. Michael School. You see, I retired at just the right time. †

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