The end of every school year is brimming with celebration––primarily for a productive year of learning and for anticipation of a glorious summer, of course, but also for new beginnings and poignant endings, the milestones that make up a life. The end of the 2022 school year brings us one of those milestones, this time in the form of a celebration for the long and faithful careers of two of RCLS’s best: Mrs. Suzanne Lagerwaard, Principal, and Mrs. Karen Holtan, 2nd grade teacher.
The impact of these educators is immeasurable. Mrs. Lagerwaard has been in education for 40 years. Mrs. Holtan—29. Hundreds, thousands of children have been shaped by their individual ministries and their shared mission. They have taught, led, partnered with, and prayed for students, families, and colleagues for decades. There must be some definitive number for the minds and hearts Mrs. Lagerwaard and Mrs. Holtan have shaped, but with a collective 70 years between them, that number is too great to begin to calculate here. RCLS is surely blessed to be the beneficiary of a significant portion of their respective tenures.
In retrospect, both of these educators look back on their careers and see the Lord’s hand on bringing them to this milestone in their ministry. Mrs. Karen Holtan grew up in nearby Stewartville, playing “school” with siblings on the dairy farm their parents owned. Pointed in the direction of education by a youth ministry leader, Mrs. Holtan eventually graduated from Concordia-St. Paul and received a teaching license, which she put to use in her first teaching job in inner-city Milwaukee. When she eagerly left the city to return to her rural Minnesota, she taught at King of King Lutheran School in Roseville and then at Grace Lutheran School in Dodge Center before she left teaching for a bit to work at an insurance agency and spend more time raising her kids. It was when she sensed the Lord pulling her back to teaching that she was prompted by a childhood friend, then an RCLS board member, to apply for an open position at our school. For 22 years, Mrs. Holtan has represented the soul of RCLS, where her passion for foundational education for children and their families has played a shaping role in making this beloved school what it is today. Along the way, Mrs. Holtan has persisted in her own pursuit of education, continuing to take classes to expand her teaching license and to complete a Master’s degree in Differentiated Instruction, making her one of RCLS’s experts in one of our key emphases.
Mrs. Suzanne Lagerwaard grew up the youngest in her family in the Chicago suburbs until age 10 and then in Gainesville, Florida in the second half of her childhood. A graduate of the University of Florida, Mrs. L and her husband, Arie, moved to Rochester shortly after her graduation. Excepting a short stint as the head of a primary school in the Netherlands when her family lived abroad for a year, Mrs. L has spent her entire career in Rochester, where she has served as a reading instructor, primary teacher, and school administrator in the Rochester Public Schools, Rochester Catholic Schools, and, for the last 9 years, Rochester Central Lutheran School. Like Mrs. Holtan, Mrs. L persisted in her own educational pursuits even as she continued teaching and raising her own two children. Then, with a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Minnesota, an Administrative degree and license from Winona State, and a lifetime in education already behind her, Mrs. L was ideally equipped to assume leadership at RCLS at a critical time in the school’s history. Now, nearly a decade later, her extraordinary impact on the school is palpable.
Though few could argue the positive impact these cornerstones have had on RCLS and its families, Mrs. L and Mrs. Holtan are quick to talk about their talented colleagues and the culture of grace at RCLS as the “distinctives” that set this school apart, distinctives that encouraged their own contributions to the work of the ministry. When asked what is most rewarding about their work, they agree that it is the combination of shaping hearts and minds that has kept them coming to work every day. It is, in other words, the mission of the school itself that Mrs. Holtan and Mrs. L find rewarding. And as the school has grown, that reward has grown as well.
Mrs. L considers the nature of that growth to be particularly encouraging.
“It has been rewarding to see the student body expand to include students from many different Christian denominations and to include students who are not affiliated with any church.” That “bigger tent” has enriched the student body and community life of the school and has contributed to broader programming and deep relationships across Rochester, she explains. “We have built the ‘brand’ of the school so that RCLS is a better-known entity in our community. That has meant that we are reaching more people with the word of God and with the foundational education that we offer.”
Mrs. Holtan agrees. She simultaneously applauds the big picture and appreciates the individual faces in that picture. She notes the establishment of The Grace Foundation as an important expansion of the school in the past decade––that's a part of the big picture–– and she says she deeply appreciates the reward of watching individual students grow both “spiritually and academically” in her year with them. Indeed, to watch her teach is to know that she considers both needs simultaneously––and to see that she is committed to her craft. Consider, for example, that most teachers, within two years of retirement, might have thrown in the towel when, in March 2020, we had to conceptualize and activate teaching for a virtual context overnight.
But Mrs. Holtan is not one of the “most.” She is decidedly one of the “best.” Quite frankly, I won’t forget her commitment to effectively delivering both education and care in those early days of the pandemic when we were scrambling to adopt new systems and new tools for learning. One of an entire extraordinary faculty that was determined to keep students learning, Mrs. Holtan was a stand-out. As one school parent, seeing her classroom instruction streamed into their home, reported, “It is obvious how much she cares about her students. Her thoughtfulness comes through the screen.”
As Mrs. Holtan and Mrs. L move on to new roles and to the next phase of their lives, the talent, integrity, and energy of these two educators will be missed. What they leave behind as they leave their respective roles is, perhaps, somewhat measurable. Allow me to try to enumerate some of what is "measurable."
Under Mrs. L’s leadership and in partnership with Grace, Holy Cross, and Trinity Lutheran Churches and The Grace Foundation, RCLS has established fiscal stability even as it has...
· expanded its faculty and staff: RCLS has grown from 1 or 2 sections per grade to 2 or 3 sections per grade.
· improved its campus: as of this summer, nearly every inch of campus, inside and out and what is both seen and unseen, will have been updated in the past 9 years so that it is both a beautiful and state-of-the-art school environment.
· updated curriculum materials and increased both rigor and differentiation: standardized testing, regular curriculum and materials review, and professional development are engaged and emphasized at RCLS.
· expanded marketing efforts and development activities: the addition of a marketing/communications/enrollment director to the administrative team and the growth of The Grace Foundation have both been championed by Mrs. L
In Mrs. Holtan’s classroom and through her partnership with the entire 2nd grade teaching team, RCLS 2nd graders score among the highest in the state on standardized test scores. In 2nd grade, students...
· increase their reading fluency as the literature they read becomes more sophisticated (chapter books!).
· expand their mathematical understanding as they begin to do more complicated computation and solve problems.
· establish foundational understanding about society and cultures as they learn to be a citizen in the world.
· polish their “foundational” skills so as to move on to 3rd grade, where students no longer “learn to read” but “read to learn.”
Without question, these educators leave these tangible impacts on RCLS and the generations of students they have served.
But the real impact?
From Mrs. Holtan and Mrs. L, thousands of children have learned: Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so.
That impact is immeasurable, indeed––eternally so.
In their words:
Mrs. Holtan: I am grateful for all the student through these many years and the many memories I have. Parents, parenting is hard work. I have appreciated the support and help I have received rom all of you. Keep up the hard work. Colleagues, you have been my support and family. Thank you.
Mrs. Lagerwaard: It is the greatest honor to have served at RCLS. It’s been a joyful work with a lot of talented and dedicated teachers and staff members and wonderful families and students. I hope my work has been a blessing to the school, but I do know I am blessed to have been a part of this community.
Join Us: A Retirement Open House
Please join Hollis & Karen Holtan and their family and Arie & Suzanne Lagerwaard and their family on Sunday, May 15 from 1-3 for an Open House in honor of Mrs. Holtan and Mrs. Lagerwaard.
A basket will be available for each for cards and well-wishes.