BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – “This is the greatest show.”
The affable HTC Elementary Principal Michael Sheerin compares Holy Trinity Catholic’s transition to split leadership at the HTC High School and brand-new elementary to Hugh Jackman’s P.T. Barnum turning over the reigns of the circus.
Sheerin, who was curriculum director and principal of the HTC system, is now overseeing operations at the newly constructed, $6 million elementary school in West Point, while former Central Lee vocal director and instructional coach, Jason Woodley, took over the duties at HTC’s junior/senior high on July 1.
“This really will be like being retired for me. A lot of people worry about when someone’s in charge giving up the reins?… I’d give him the reins, the horses, the coach,” Sheerin said with a laugh. “There’s no problem there and he can pick me up at any point in time along the way for additional help.”
Sheerin, known for his antics and humorous approach to education, said Woodley will be his bald Zac Efron, a statement reflecting the close rapport the two have already developed in just three weeks.
“That’s probably the only time I’ll be referenced to Zac Efron,” Woodley chuckled.
Woodley grew up in Donnellson and graduated from Central Lee High School. He has a bachelor’s degree in Music Education and a master’s in educational leadership.
He was an instructor at Central Lee for 13 years and taught for 10 years prior to that in the Grundy Center, West Liberty, and Wapello school districts.
“Certainly, I’m excited to be here at Holy Trinity and growing up in this area, I’ve always known that HTC takes great pride in the academics and not only that, but arts and athletics as well,” he said.
Woodley said he’s had interaction with the staff and students at HTC and found them all to be top of the line.
“When this came open, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to get into administration, but to still stay in the area and work with these students, great staff, and community,” he said.
He said to start off, he wants to get to know the staff and student body and see what he can do to support the needs of the staff.
“We want our staff to be successful because, ultimately, when they’re successful, our students are successful,” Woodley said.
Sheerin said Woodley brings another dimension to the system’s dedication to personalized education and individual instruction.
“I’m Hugh Jackman where I’ve convinced him to come in for $9 and buy into this circus we call Holy Trinity, which at times, can appear to be a 3-ring circus,” Sheerin said continuing the “The Greatest Showman” analogy.
“But the entertainment value for people going out is hopefully second to none.”
Sheerin said the district takes tremendous pride in the students who graduate and hopes Woodley will be able to personalize that track even more.
“That means through teacher certification and continuing education, and finding the niches that our individual students have and helping them propogate that into the best futures for them,” Sheerin said.
He said Woodley will be his own individual and will run things for the most part.
“We’ll be a little like Abbott and Costello, or Laurel and Hardy. And you probably have readers who hear they didn’t get along behind the scenes, but we’re working on that face value entertainment.”
Woodley said the physical improvements HTC has taken on at both the elementary and junior/senior high in the past two years was a factor in his decision.
“It’s fantastic. It truly is. Even in this building I see our custodians doing things, updating and keeping things fresh and clean. Whether in West Point or here in Fort Madison, the building represents a lot to the community and the students as well.”
The high school is currently undergoing IT upgrades, has renovated the chapel in the school, and is currently getting a new roof. He said the volunteer crew that maintains the grounds do an outstanding job.
The system currently has roughly 315 students, and Woodley and Sheerin said the focus is on sustainability and growth where possible.
“Being consistent in enrollment is more important to me than spikes in numbers because we want people to choose us for the right reason. We don’t want to be the flavor of the day,” Sheerin said.
Woodley said the new buildings, upgrades, and maintained look help keep enrollment going.
“We need to – granted I’m only 18 days into the job – but we need to continue to promote our academics here. When students graduate and go on to college or the military or whatever, they’ve gone on to do great things from here,” he said.
“Our activities, as well, makes this a positively unique situation within the community.”
Sheerin said the system has several openings including Science, English, Social Studies, and IT.
“For catholic education, sometimes it’s cyclical. They are brand new and start off here and within three to five years we lose them,” he said.
“The upside is that they cut their teeth here and learn their craft here and they go on to take the stories of HTC into their new positions which we basically, as a school community, helped them to be able to do. Isn’t our overriding goal to get our students on to college and better positions? Why wouldn’t we want the same for our staff?”