Only a month into the new school year, and already big changes are underway at Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Gallup. Seven principals have moved into new positions, and the Voice of the Southwest was able to sit down for an interview with each principal about their thoughts on Catholic education, career paths for young people, and promoting quality schooling in a mission Diocese. The seven new principals are Sr. Marsha Moon, RSC at St. Anthony School in Zuni, Rosalia Beyhan at Sacred Heart School in Farmington, Tracie Lee at St. Bonaventure in Thoreau, Angela Plummer and Brother Maynard Shurley, OFM at St. Francis School in Gallup, Angela Brunson at St. Teresa School in Grants, and Tom Sorci at St. Michaels School in St. Michaels, AZ.
How long have you been in the Diocese?
Sr. Marsha (Zuni) – I’ve been in the Diocese for one month (before school started)
I had been principal in LA for 20 years and then I was appointed regional of our California-Venezuela region of our sisters. So when I finished my term they gave me some time off and then said “what would you like to do?” and I said “I’d like to work on a Native American reservation”. So I sent out letters to different Dioceses inquiring as to possibilities of openings, and Fr. Pat found me at the end of June, and he pursued me until I said “Ok, I’ll come look at the school”. So here I am.
Rosalia Beyhan (Farmington) – This is my fourth year [at the school]. I’m still teaching Pre-K. That’s why I go back and forth to the office, but I used to teach at Central Consolidated Schools. This is the start of my 31st year in education.
Tracie Lee (St. Bonaventure) – I grew up in the Window Rock area. My mother’s side of the family is originally from the Coyote Canyon, NM area and my father’s side is from Steamboat Canyon, AZ. We spent most of our time living in Steamboat. That’s where I was able to connect more with my traditional teachings, with my father’s side of the family, and also serve in various capacities as teacher for our Sunday School program.
This is my tenth year as principal (but first at St. Bonaventure). I was at St. Michaels for the last 24 years. I served on the accreditation team for St. Bonaventure in February of 2016. I was very impressed by how the teachers, the students, the administration, how well they worked together. I had been contemplating on moving elsewhere for employment. I prayed about it and I assumed, and I know we never should assume anything, but I assumed I was just going to go back into the classroom and continue teaching, which was something I really enjoyed as well.
So I was considering applying to the local schools here in this area, and Trudi contacted me to let me know the position was opening up, and I prayed more about it and I just put it all in God’s hands, and said “ok God, if you need me there, then I’ll go there, but if you need me elsewhere, I’ll go where you need me to be, but I want to be of service and do my very best to serve wherever I need to be.”
And so I’m here today.
Angela Plummer/Br. Maynard (St. Francis in Gallup) –
(Brother Maynard) I’m originally from Ft. Defiance – well, Red Lake, Arizona. I’ve served in St. Francis, Gallup, Tohatchi, St. Michael’s. Those are the only three places I’ve been in the Diocese.
(Angela Plummer) Born and raised here in Gallup. I went to St. Francis when I was little, Kindergarten through 2nd Grade. So it’s kind of funny, I’ve made a full circle.
Angela Brunson (Grants) –
I’m front St. Teresa Parish originally. I was baptized, made my first Holy Communion, confirmed, married, everything in St. Teresa parish.
I originally went to school in Las Cruces. When we got pregnant with our first child I just couldn’t imagine being so far away from my parents, raising my kids so we decided to move back to Grants. Of course I didn’t finish school right away because I had started having kids and a family, so when I did start going back to school, I knew that I wanted to teach here in Grants. I really never thought about teaching at St. Teresa until the opportunity to take that substitute position came up, and once I started that I decided I liked the Catholic school environment a lot better than the public school environment.
About 2 years ago the principal had started talking about wanting to retire so she was really good about anything I wanted to learn about the position. She would teach me and I attended some meetings with her and stuff, just to see if it was something I would be interested in.
Tom Sorci (St. Michaels) – I was here from 2008 – 2011 as the high school principal, which is a little bit different responsibility than I have now, because I’m currently principal of pre-K all the way up to grade 12.
[Between 2011 and now] I was at a couple different Catholic schools. I worked in Anchorage Alaska at a junior-senior high school, grades 11-12. And then I also worked at a catholic elementary school, grades pre-k through 8. Now I have elementary and junior high and high school experience, so I feel that’s really a boon to working here.
I always had a love for St. Michaels school, for Catholic Education and St. Katharine’s vision, and when I saw that there was an opening I applied for it.
What are your goals for the school?
Sr. Marsha (Zuni) – My goals are to help the teachers shape these young people so that we have very upright Christian and Zuni young people leaving our school who are able to go on for higher education and make a difference in our world.
Rosalia Beyhan (Farmington) – My goal is communication with the staff and students and parents. [In recent years] there was no communication whatsoever, or very little, and that was the one thing they were asking for, so that is my biggest goal, is to make sure that we’re all communicating.
Tracie Lee (St. Bonaventure) – Right now, I want our school to be a math magnet, to excel in mathematics and to also get our kids to look beyond high school, to see that they are capable of doing so much more than what we set them up with here at St. Bonaventure. We’re sending our current 8th graders and 7th graders to the local college fairs at the high schools, so they can see that “hey, this is something I can do, and I’m not limited because I can earn these scholarships, I’m pretty talented with this and pretty smart in this.”
Right now I’m doing an entrance inventory with our 8th grade, then the younger grades, to see exactly where their interest lies in the subject of mathematics. From there I want us to start a math club, which will be like a math lab, where a lot of the hands-on activities and different types of careers that tie specifically to math that they can explore. Guest speakers as well are in that plan.
Angela Plummer/Br. Maynard (St. Francis in Gallup) –
(Brother Maynard) To keep the school open. *laughs* And to really provide a really good, quality Catholic education for our students.
(Angela Plummer) Absolutely.
(Brother Maynard) And also to provide a good environment for our teachers and the staff there, and to work together, and to discuss and work things out where maybe we have some disagreements. That’s my goal, is to really make this a good year for everybody else.
Angela Brunson (Grants) –
My biggest thing I want to accomplish is to increase enrollment. I think that there’s so many opportunities in Catholic education and in the Diocese of Gallup as a whole, that the students aren’t exposed to, especially in this area. They’ve never been to a lot of the mission schools like Zuni or St. Joseph or St. Michaels or any of those. They’ve mainly been here and they only know St. Teresa, so that’s my other goal is to get them exposed to the other youth in the Diocese, is my short term goal, and then of course exposed to the Church in a much more broader and worldly sense, is my bigger goal.
We’ve always been very strong in science, we’ve always had students compete in the State level at science fairs. I definitely want to make sure that we keep that up and I’m very glad that the previous principal, Maria, who was also the science teacher, stayed on as the science teacher.
Tom Sorci (St. Michaels) – I’d like to strengthen the science and engineering programs, the STEM programs. To infuse it with new courses and new curriculum. We have instituted a robotics class. Also we’ve joined the MESA program, which is the Arizona science and engineering program run out of the university of Arizona at Tucson. So we’re gonna hopefully send a team down to the science fair, the statewide science fair in the spring.
A recurrent trend in education is the future for our students in terms of jobs, and technology is also in there. It’s very much looking forward to the future and what kind of jobs will be available for our students once they graduate from college.
What does “Catholic Education” mean to you?
Sr. Marsha (Zuni) – I think it’s the fabric of the school here. The Catholicity is part of what makes us who we are, because we’re teaching the values we have as Catholics and as Christians and at the same time we’re trying to parallel with the Zuni values. So to me being Catholic means we have the sacraments and we have the religion, obviously, but more important I think it’s a sense of social justice, in the sense of who we’re meant to be as Catholics in our world today.
Rosalia Beyhan (Farmington) – I’ve got a lot of answers for that, it’s hard to pin it down. *laughs* Catholic Education to me means that the students and staff are fully engaged in being a Christian and being Catholic, in being prepared as a Catholic to move forward, and not just our academics. It’s making the children understand that this is who we are.
Angela Plummer/Br. Maynard, St. Francis in Gallup –
(Brother Maynard) For me it means that you get a well-balanced, quality education. Not only with the academics, but again, bringing in the Catholic religion, or the spirituality, component of that, that’s really important. Because kids these days, a lot of them, don’t have that, the spirituality portion of it. So I think that kind of balances out what they’re dealing with at home, before they get there. So for somebody to smile at them or hug them or say that God loves them, I really believe that does make a big difference. The other thing is, since it’s a small school, there’s a lot of personal interaction, which you don’t get at a public school. You’re just part of this big group, but in a Catholic school there’s a lot of interaction between the teacher and the student. There’s a lot more 1-on-1 experience.
(Angela Plummer) Being that we are a smaller school, we are able to create that atmosphere of family. As opposed to public school, we are able to teach them how to be a family, how to love, how to integrate God into their every subject. So not only do we teach religion during the time we have the subject, but religion is implemented throughout our whole day. Throughout math lessons, throughout reading lessons, so no matter what we teach the kids we’re always trying to show them that God has an effect on it.
Angela Brunson (Grants) – Getting the opportunity to evangelize to everybody in the community as a school. Whether you’re Catholic or a different Christian denomination, you get the opportunity to put the word out there about God and bring people closer to God. That’s what I think is the biggest goal of Catholic education, bringing people to God.
Tom Sorci (St. Michaels) – Trying to love according to the Gospel values that are established by the Catholic Church, and also to do service work, to help others, to get out of ourselves to reach out and do the corporal works of mercy in the local community. Like helping, for example, the local food back try to feed the hungry, clothing drives, try to clothe those who need clothing, any other needs in the local community, whether it’s volunteering at nursing home or at the local hospital, helping the sick and those who need our attention.
What excites you about your school?
Sr. Marsha (Zuni) – [The Zuni people] have been incredible welcoming to me but I’ve also learned about their prayer and how it’s different from ours, and I’ve learned that there are taboos, some of which I’ve been taught about and some of which they’re teaching me. They’re going to give me a book on it. And I’m learning that they’re just a wonderful people, very proud of their core values. So I think I’m going to be really happy here.
When the Franciscans founded [the school], they founded it to make sure the Zuni people could get a good education. It’s one of those guarantees, as the pastor says, “whether they can afford it or not, they will be given an education”, and I really like that, because as a sister of charity we have a fourth vow of service to the poor.
Rosalia Beyhan (Farmington) – This is a very rich staff, as in wealth of knowledge. We have mostly retired teachers who have come into our school, and they bring a lot to the school. Whether they are Catholic or not, they are so willing to help in any way they can.
Tracie Lee (St. Bonaventure) – Only that I’m very blessed to be here. I’m very, very blessed to be here.
Angela Plummer/Br. Maynard (St. Francis in Gallup) –
(Brother Maynard) What I like to do every morning is I try to make my rounds to all the classrooms, just to greet the teachers and the students, and that’s very uplifting for me. Last week I went into the pre-K class, and they must have had a discussion on creation or something. This little boy walks up to me, just serious on his face, and says “did you make me?” *laughs* I think little things like that just makes it really worthwhile working there, it’s the little kids’ way of looking at the world and the way they perceive God and I think that’s – at least for me – it really refreshes me. I might have had a bad morning, but when a little kid says that to you, you know, it’s worth it.
(Angela Plummer) Well since I grew up there, it’s always been in my heart. So I always knew I wanted to go back to the school and I wanted to teach and then last year I saw that it needed the extra push. For some reason, over the summer I kind of had the feeling – I knew I had to have some part in pulling it through and in making a change for the better.
Angela Brunson (Grants) – Everybody who sends their kids here sacrifices to do it, and we don’t get very much assistance from really any outside benefactors or anything like that. So we do a lot of our own fundraising and have a lot of the older parishioners that are very generous with our school. Everybody that comes here, they sacrifice to send their kids here, and it’s definitely not easy for any of them – it’s something we work tirelessly to help them on, to keep these kids coming here.
Tom Sorci (St. Michaels) – We have a strong enrollment. We actually have a waiting list at the 6th grade level and we have opened up a preschool and the kindergarten level. We still are accepting new students in some grades. We have 24 seniors who will be graduating. We hope that they get into the college of their choice, including some quite demanding colleges in terms of how selective.