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Sharing Joy and Responsibility at Saint Columbkille Partnership School

on Tuesday, 22 September 2020.

By: Jen Kowieski (ACE 4, Remick 17) - Head of School, St. Columbkille Partnership School

Jen Kowieski - Head of School St. Columbkille Partnership School

The first day of school. That phrase evokes a host of experiences and emotions. Students lined up well before the first bell, eager to reconnect with classmates they did not see over the summer. Opening new school supplies and coloring with a fresh crayon. And then a little nervousness that comes with wondering how much homework the teacher might give or which friends will be in the same class.

As a school leader, my heart is usually filled with two sensations on the first day: a feeling of incredible joy and a sense of immense responsibility. Education as a profession is a demanding one. Yet, we who say yes to the vocation of teaching or school leadership do so because we find great joy in the relationships we develop with students and their families. Welcoming students back into our school building after a summer away renews that sense of joy. The first day of the new school year also serves as a reminder of the great responsibilities we have as educators. Without fail, the first day of school means that at least a handful of parents will have tears in their eyes as they leave their children in our care. Parents trust us with their children - to keep them safe and to help them learn.

Jen Kowieski - Head of School St. Columbkille Partnership School This year more than any other, my heart was bursting with both joy and a sense of responsibility on the first day of school. Saint Columbkille Partnership School had not had children inside of its building in 173 days. Our staff and faculty had been working for months to develop and implement plans that would allow us to reopen this fall. Weeks were consumed with ordering PPE, deciding on a school uniform mask, overseeing facilities renovations, and writing protocols for different scenarios of COVID-19 exposure and diagnosis. At times, I forgot that I was a school leader because I felt more like a healthcare administrator. But then students arrived, and joy did, too. Children’s smiles showed through their masks. Teachers read books to their classes. Students skipped across the grass at recess. These are the moments for which we worked so hard this summer and why our teachers and staff will continue to do their best throughout the year. Our students deserve the opportunity to learn with their classmates and their teachers in person.

And as students settled into their classrooms on the first day, I took a deep breath as the responsibilities of this year settled into my heart, as well. While parents typically rely on teachers and administrators to keep students safe, that responsibility feels much heavier this year. I feel the weight of a responsibility to keep my students, faculty, and staff healthy every day. I consider the health and safety of our school community with every decision that must be made.I also recognize that the opportunity for our school to be open for in-person instruction is possible only when every member of our school community understands and accepts a shared responsibility for the health and safety of all. 

Our entire school community, including parents, teachers, and staff, signed a community covenant at the start of this school year. The covenant details the responsibilities of each person, including daily symptom checks and restrictions on travel. I am grateful that the families of Saint Columbkille are taking this shared responsibility seriously. And I’m looking forward to tomorrow morning, when I am able to welcome our students into school for another day of learning. 

This school year is unlike any other. In the midst of uncertainty and changing routines, one thing remains constant: joy. I plan to fill my heart with the joy that each school day brings!

Jennifer Kowieski is a graduate of The Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program and Head of School at Saint Columbkille Partnership School, a Catholic lab school located in Brighton, Massachusetts. Saint Columbkille is the only designated lab school of Boston College's Lynch School of Education and Human Development, providing a superior Pre-K through grade 8 education grounded in the Catholic values of love, respect, and high expectations.

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