January 27, 2012

2012 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Prince of Peace schools graduates return to form new leaders

Jill Mires, left, principal of Pope John XXIII School in Madison, speaks with sixth-grade students Summer Martin, Leigh Ann Gaminde and Erin Cooper on Jan. 11 about a presentation board created for the CLASS (“Connecting Learning Assures Successful Students”) program. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Jill Mires, left, principal of Pope John XXIII School in Madison, speaks with sixth-grade students Summer Martin, Leigh Ann Gaminde and Erin Cooper on Jan. 11 about a presentation board created for the CLASS (“Connecting Learning Assures Successful Students”) program. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

MADISON—Philip Kahn and Jill Mires were classmates for 12 years at Pope John XXIII School and Father Michael Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School in Madison.

Although they spent much of their childhood and teenage years together, they never imagined when they graduated from Shawe in 1987 that, 21 years later, they would work together to ensure the future of the schools that are a ministry of Prince of Peace Parish in Madison.

Mires is in her fourth year as Pope John’s principal after previously teaching there for 17 years. And Kahn is in his third year as president of the two schools.

“It’s been fun,” Mires says with a laugh about working with her classmate. “We talk about how things have changed so much. Things that we got away with. And now things that we don’t want our kids to be thinking of doing.

“But we both just want these schools to be so successful. That’s the goal, to make them successful and sustainable for our children and grandchildren.”

Kahn and Mires are leaders at Pope John XXIII and Shawe. And they work together with Father Christopher Craig, Prince of Peace’s pastor, in making the schools as good as they can be and in promoting them in the wider community.

Father Craig also graduated from Pope John XXIII and Shawe, earning his high school diploma in 1983.

Just as the three graduates returned to Madison and the schools that they love, many of the teachers who taught them are still on the staff at Pope John XXIII and Shawe.

Father Craig said it’s that tight-knit community that draws people to the schools and keeps them there.

“It’s the sense of community and the family spirit,” he said. “I think it’s the Church, that feeling of being a part of the body of Christ. We’ve had so many common experiences together—joyful experiences and also struggles of people that have lost family members.”

Kahn knows from experience how the schools’ communities can be a support in times of trial.

The youngest of four siblings, his father died when he was a young child.

“The support and the family atmosphere that I got from teachers and friends and families … really helped my family through a tough time,” Kahn said. “I think that helped create that bond at an early age that I have with the schools.”

That bond led him to walk away from a career at Eli Lilly & Company to return to his hometown and work with people like Mires and Father Craig to form the next generation of leaders to come out of Pope John XXIII and Shawe.

A young adult who is working with them in this mission is Chelsea Sims, 24, the first-grade teacher at Pope John XXIII.

She attended Pope John XXIII and graduated from Shawe in 2006. Her first-grade teacher at Pope John XXIII was Mires.

“I knew right then that she was going to make a great educator,” Mires says with pride.

Now Sims is enjoying doing the same thing that her first-grade teacher did—recognizing the gifts in her students and encouraging them to excel.

“I have several little girls in here that I could see being teachers one day,” Sims said. “It’s very rewarding to find that spark in them, and to light it and make it go forward, especially when they’re interested in it and they know that you’re interested in making it happen.”

Not all of the students who go through Pope John XXIII and Shawe become leaders in education. Some, like Jefferson County Sheriff John Wallace, become leaders in the broader community.

Wallace attended Pope John XXIII and graduated from Shawe in 1980. After serving for nearly 25 years on Madison’s police department, including four as its chief of police, he was elected sheriff in 2010.

“Those … school years are your most formative years,” he said. “I wouldn’t be sitting here today if I wasn’t fortunate enough to have had the parents that I had and then had my Catholic education. It’s a major factor in who I am.”

At Pope John XXIII, Mires sees seeds of leadership being planted in her students, both in their academic studies and in learning an array of life skills, such as creativity, generosity and manners through a program called CLASS—an acronym for “Connecting Learning Assures Successful Students.”

Fifth- and sixth-grade students at Pope John XXIII hone leadership skills in the program by teaching their peers and students in lower grades these skills on a monthly basis as ambassadors.

Erin Cooper, a sixth-grader at Pope John XXIII, is an ambassador in the program for the school’s first-grade class.

“I’m so much more comfortable talking in front of people,” Erin said. “I know how to act … and how to be a role model. I’m a lot more confident than I was a few years ago.”

That goal guides Mires and all the faculty and staff at Pope John XXIII and Shawe.

“My hope is that when everybody leaves Pope John [and Shawe], they have a good foundation to make good decisions, to be a lifelong learner and to be a good citizen, along with being strong academically,” Mires said. “If they can do those things when they leave our doors, I think we’ve made our mark.” †

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