Ready to be back

Monday, August 8, 2022
(Sentinel Photo by Kim Fickett) Gehlen Catholic High School Principal Pete Haefs and Elementary Principal Andrea Loutsch stand in the heart of the school. The heart of the school recently underwent a $1.8 million renovation and expansion and will be ready on the first day of school on Wednesday, Aug. 24.

LE MARS — Summer days are closing in and that can only mean one thing, back to school is just around the corner.

At Gehlen Catholic, administration, teachers and staff are in full gear ramping up for the first day of school on Wednesday, Aug. 24.

“We joke a lot of times that we work throughout our whole summers but it’s just so exciting because the work that we’re doing and what’s happening here at Gehlen. I just feel like we’re on a bridge of some really exciting things that are going to be happening and our kids are going to be really blessed at the work our teachers and our staff are doing. I think it’s an exciting time to be a Jay,” said Andrea Loutsch, K-6 principal.

One of those exciting things is the $1.8 million kitchen and cafeteria renovation and expansion project.

“Everything looks like it will be ready day one,” said Loutsch. “We have a new cafeteria and we are so incredibly excited that it will be up and running. It’s such a beautiful space for our kids and it’s going to hold so many more kids. It’s a great place for fun, food and fellowship.”

While the project is on schedule, Loutsch and 7-12 Principal Pete Haefs did admit there are been some obstacles to overcome.

“We’ve had a lot of fun hiccups with it but everything is panning out in the end,” Haefs said.

“Yes, a couple of pieces may not be exactly like what the end project will be but we’ll have lunch there and all will be good,” Loutsch added.

While the Gehlen community will get a glimpse of the newness at Open House on Aug. 22, Haefs and Loutsch said plans are also in the works for a formal Open House for the entire community.

A Welcoming Sign

In addition to the renovation project, another notable change will welcome students, parents and visitors to the school.

“Thanks to the generosity of people at our Ball last spring, we’re going to be replacing our front entry doors and putting vinyl here to increase the school spirit and give a nice vibe when people are coming into the school,” Haefs said.

Loutsch said the doors will be adorned in the Jays mascot.

“It will be hard when we say there’s our main entrance to miss us,” she added with a smile. “Plus the added security as well is just incredibly important to our families and our students so that will be a wonderful asset to our kiddos.”

The Back to School PK-12 Open House will welcome families back from 4-6 p.m., Monday, Aug. 22.

“We will be coordinating that with a tailgate celebration too where people can get a light meal, socialize and build enthusiasm for the start of the school year. We’re trying to bring our families in and have a celebration with them before school starts,” Haefs said.

Curriculum Growth

In addition to the physical changes families will see at Gehlen, there too will be new additions to the curriculum and staff.

“We’ve been exceptionally blessed by a donor who has donated for us to get a brand new reading series that follows the Science of Reading which our teachers started training on this summer,” Loutsch said. “It’s been quite a long time since we’ve had a new reading series so up-to-date and it’s really going to help our kids in TK-6 get to where they need to be.”

As a whole school, Haefs said they are launching professional learning communities.

“This is a formal collaborative model where teachers get together and talk to each other and look at real data to determine what our students need,” Haefs said. “At the secondary level, we’re doing that process to get us started so we can adopt new curriculum to meet the needs of our current students. The big thrust for us rather than getting specific curriculum is actually having a nice database conversation about what does our curriculum currently provides, and what are the holes we need to fill for our students. That’s our focus this year to be able to identify that.”

Welcome to the Family

Gehlen is excited to welcome eight new staff members to the family for the 2022-2023 school year.

At the elementary level, three teachers and one paraprofessional are coming on board. Bridget Singer will join as a first grade teacher, Andrea Altman and Ashley Koopman will join at the third grade level, and Marcia Garcilazo will take on the paraprofessional role.

At the secondary level, Gehlen welcomes Jeff Kramer as the school’s new athletic director, Beth McDermott-Ebert as the Spanish teacher, Josh Schreiner as the high school math teacher, and Jon De Jager as the middle school science teacher.

Meeting the Students Needs

In regards to the school calendar, Loutsch noted the addition of some full professional development days.

“These are to ensure our teachers are getting fed what they need to keep up with the direction that they’re headed professionally,” she stated.

At the high school level, collaboration is taking place with schools across the Sioux City Diocese to develop a common schedule.

“We’ve been collaborating with several other high schools in the diocese trying to build a common schedule for our first five periods. We, like every public and non-public school, are continuing to have some challenges when it comes to staffing so as high school administrators we said there might be a time when we can’t find at teacher so wouldn’t it make sense to have a shared schedule so if Gehlen has a Spanish teacher but St. Mary’s doesn’t, that we’re running the same schedule so their students can attend live online with our instructor,” Haefs explained of the process.

“It’s just realizing that’s probably going to be a need. We haven’t changed anything yet but we’re having some real in-depth conversations about what that might look like because we expect it at some point in the next few years that someone is taking advantage of it.”

Loutsch also noted at the elementary, they’ve added an intervention block.

“That’s something our teachers have wanted for quite some time. It’s just being able to revamp a little bit of what our schedules look like. So every day for 30 minutes our students are getting a part of what they need. It could be they are attending an ESL pull out program, getting some additional help in the areas of reading or math, or some enrichment help,” Loutsch said of the change.

Athletically, a new face will be seen leading the Lady Jays on the volleyball court this season.

Dan Goebel is assuming the head coaching role following the retirement of longtime head coach Mike Meyer.

“He has quite a bit of experience working with the girls when they were younger like at the AAU level. We’re really stoked to have him come in as head coach because we think the program is going to be in really good hands,” Haefs said.

Bring on the New Year

For Haefs and Loutsch they are ready to once again feel the energy in the building with the sound of little footsteps, laughter and fellowship amongst friends.

“It’s the time where a really positive energy is starting to build and you can sense it here in the school. We built some great momentum in the spring just unifying and uniting our purpose and becoming one school, one family,” Haefs shared. “I think this year is going to give us the time to be able to actualize that and do that together where we’re all pulling in the same direction and having great conversations with one another to make sure the kids get what they need so they can follow exactly what God has in mind for them.”

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