- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
School no longer on ‘watch list’
By LAURA DUKES
Deacon Christopher Jensen could have made one of two decisions: retire, or become the new principal of Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Solomons.
He chose the latter, and it’s all been uphill from there.
With a background in public schools, Jensen, 61, said “being here as principal was the last thing in my head.”
The Lusby resident had worked as a teacher at Lexington Park and St. Leonard elementary schools and as a vice principal and teacher at Dowell and Appeal elementary schools.
While he was teaching at Appeal in 2008, Jensen decided he wanted to be more active in his church, Our Lady Star of the Sea, and was ordained as a deacon.
“I always thought I could do something more,” said Jensen, who explained he was assigned to be a deacon at his home church and started performing religious sacraments there on weekends.
He was planning to retire from teaching in 2012 when he was approached by the OLSS pastor, the Rev. Michael Wilson, who told him the school had the principal position open.
The school’s most recent principal, Sister Carolyn Marie Betsch, decided to go back to teaching and now is the school’s fifth grade teacher.
“I applied, I interviewed and, low and behold, I got it,” Jensen said of the principal position.
He said he consulted with his wife, Lynne, who was already teaching fourth grade at OLSS, and they decided “that we could give a little more to the church.”
After what he referred to as “one day of retirement” in June, Jensen hit the ground running and immediately had the goal to increase enrollment at OLSS.
OLSS ended the school year last year with 100 students and had previously been put on consultation with the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
Jensen explained that this meant the school had to take a hard look into its makeup to see if it was still viable and could be in danger of closing.
After the past school year, Jensen said the school was removed from consultation and put on an Archdiocese of Washington “watch list.”
Two weeks ago, with an increased enrollment of up to 133 students, he said the school was removed from the watch list.
“We’re headed in the right direction, and the Archdiocese isn’t worried about the school,” Jensen beamed, continuing that he’s hoping to see OLSS hit 150 students by the end of the school year.
“I’m confident we can get there by the end of the year. ... We [are] doing good,” he said.
Jensen said he could not take all of the credit and said the school had a very active group of parents who led numerous marketing, word of mouth campaigns and fundraisers.
He said OLSS also launched its first preschool this year, which he called “a real shot in the arm for the school.”
Other goals for OLSS, Jensen said, include taking advantage of small class sizes and individualizing instruction to kids ranging from those who might be missing benchmarks, to those who are exceeding benchmarks and are therefore bored in class.
Jensen said he also hoped to see the school expand its after-school clubs and eventually, if enrollment continues to increase, expand its sports program.
OLSS currently only has one basketball team, which Jensen said has “done very, very well over the years.”
While he said the school boasts “an extremely creative faculty,” Jensen said he also was hoping to “beef up” the school technology with a more advanced computer lab and about four to six additional interactive white boards for the classrooms.
He said the school would likely be switching to an online database for grades during the 2013-2014 school year.
Because of the small staff of OLSS, Jensen is still able to be in the classroom by substitute teaching for his staff.
He said fourth grade is his personal favorite.
“They’re still little, but they can understand sarcasm and jokes,” he said.
Jensen, who was born in New York City, has one son, James, 39, and a 2-year-old granddaughter named Meghan.
He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and a school administration certification from Towson University.