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Instead of retiring, deacon becomes principal of school in Calvert

By Laura Dukes | The Calvert Recorder,

Deacon Christopher Jensen could have made one of two decisions: retire or become principal of Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Solomons.

He chose the latter, and it’s been all uphill since.

With a background in public schools, Jensen, 61, said “being here as principal was the last thing in my head.”

The Lusby resident had been a teacher at Lexington Park and St. Leonard elementary schools and a vice principal and teacher at Dowell and Appeal elementary schools.

While 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. He was assigned to be a deacon at his home church, and he started to perform weekend sacraments.

He was planning to retire from teaching this year, when he was approached by the church’s pastor, the Rev. Michael Wilson, who told him the principal position was open at the school.

The most recent principal, Sister Carolyn Marie Betsch, decided to go back to teaching and is now the school’s fifth-grade teacher.

“I applied, I interviewed and, lo and behold, I got it,” Jensen said of the principal position.

He said that he consulted with his wife, Lynne, who was teaching fourth grade at the school, and that 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.

Our Lady Star of the Sea ended the school year last year with 100 students and had previously been put on consultation with the Archdiocese of Washington.

Jensen explained that this meant the school had to take a hard look into its makeup to see whether it was still viable or 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 133 students, the school was removed from the watch list, he said.

“We’re headed in the right direction, and the archdiocese isn’t worried about the school,” Jensen said. He’s hoping to see 150 students by the end of the school year.

Jensen said he can’t take all the credit because the school had a very active group of parents who led numerous fundraising and word-of-mouth campaigns.

He said Our Lady Star of the Sea also launched its first preschool this year, which he called “a real shot in the arm for the school.”

Other goals, Jensen said, include taking advantage of small class sizes to individualize instruction to those who might be missing benchmarks or students who are exceeding benchmarks and becoming 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.

The school has only one basketball team, which, Jensen said, has “done very, very well over the years.”

Although the school boasts “an extremely creative faculty,” Jensen said, he is hoping to beef up the school’s technology resources with a more advanced computer lab and about four to six additional interactive white boards for the classrooms.

He said the school probably will switch to an online database for grades during the 2013-14 school year.

Because of the small staff, Jensen is able to be in the classroom by substitute teaching for his staff.

He said fourth grade is his favorite.

“They’re still little, but they can understand sarcasm and jokes,” he said.

Jensen, who was born in New York, has a son, James, 39, and a 2-year-old granddaughter, Meghan.

He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and a school administration certification from Towson University.

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