BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN Mary Ziebell was unfamiliar with St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Delano when she was asked to serve as interim principal at St. Max Kolbe School.
“I was unfamiliar with the parish but, right away, there was a sense of joy that ‘This is a school just ready to explode,’ and I wanted to be a part of that,” Ziebell said. “The staff, families, and students are extremely supportive. They have been so good to me. There’s just a peace here. I think there’s so much potential. That’s why I’m here. I feel like I can help with the growth and development of the school.”
Ziebell will have a chance to do that, as she has been hired on full-time for the 2017-18 school year after serving in an interim capacity for about two months following the resignation of Shannon Calice in October.
Ziebell said coming to Delano on an interim basis was a fun challenge because “there was no time to slowly step in,” and she thanked those who helped her settle into the position.
“The staff has been jumping in to help with lots of things,” Ziebell said. “ . . . I’ve learned the people I can turn to for help. Father Nathan (LaLiberte) has been awesome. He’s a great supporter of the school.”
She is excited to transition from an interim role to a long-term position.
“Now, we’re planning things for next year and can really set some of those plans rather than say, ‘If I’m here next year, we can do this,’” Ziebell said. “It’s given a sense of stability to the school.”
Stability doesn’t mean that things don’t change.
“With this school, things are always changing,” Ziebell said. “That’s one thing I like. Nothing is ever the same two days in a row . . . The school itself is still in a change because they changed to a classical liberal arts school for this year. That, in itself, is still evolving. That’s kind of fun to be part of the building blocks for that and work with the teachers on that.”
What does it mean to have classical liberal arts education with a modern approach?
“Part of the goal is to give them a foundation so they can learn to think on their own,” Ziebell said. “We work with the Socratic method with our older children. They learn how to learn. They see the beauty in the world and how we can use it . . . I’d love for kids to get out of here as strong, intelligent leaders of tomorrow.”
Art and music factor into the classical education, with two bands and an after-school choir.
St. Max Kolbe School also incorporates faith into classical education.
“Being a Catholic school, the faith and values piece is so important,” Ziebell said. “Now you have kids who are intelligent writers and thinkers who come from the basis of faith and knowledge. It makes a good combination.”
Ziebell is also proud of how science and technology are incorporated into the curriculum at the school with the science lab and Chromebooks for every student.
“We want those classical pieces but, in today’s society, that looks different than it did 20 or 30 years ago,” Ziebell said. “By the time they get to high school, they know how to handle their computers and do research online. Hopefully, we’re giving them a good balance so we end up with well-rounded children.”
Ziebell gets as involved with every aspect of education as possible.
“You never know what’s going to come up,” Ziebell said. “I do after-school care. I teach a period every day. Wherever we need fill in, I’ll fill in, as well. I like to do that because then I really understand what’s going on.”
LaLiberte is pleased with how Ziebell has fit into the school and parish as a whole.
“Mary has been a great blessing to our parish community and has really rallied the teachers, parish staff, and parents together with a consistent vision for our parish school,” LaLiberte said.
Students warmed up to Ziebell quickly, as well.
“One of our students commented to her parents that, ‘Mrs. Zeibell already knew my name on the second day of her being at my school,’” LaLiberte said.
He personally was impressed with Ziebell’s experience, and said it is already paying off for the local school.
“Her skills in accreditation, curriculum, and her experience in Classical Liberal Arts Education and Catholic schools has already helped St. Max to rise up to the standard of great,” LaLiberte said.
Ziebell has worked in education throughout the past 35 years, primarily in Catholic education. She has taught in Richfield, worked in administration at Holy Family in St. Louis Park, was principal at St. John the Baptist in Excelsior for two years, and was working for the Catholic School Center of Excellence when LaLiberte contacted her.
“I really feel my calling is in Catholic education,” Ziebell said. “ . . . I tend to be drawn to smaller Catholic schools. I like the atmosphere. I like the ability to develop a joint working environment with parents. I like the community aspect of it.”
She has become particularly fond of St. Max Kolbe School and all of its potential.
“There are a lot of neat things about this school,” Ziebell said. “It might be small right now, but there are a lot of things we’re doing, and we’re going to grow.”