BELOIT -- Among accolades honoring Arlene McMorran for serving 25 years as Our Lady of the Assumption (OLA) School principal is the Outstanding Catholic Educator Award in the Diocese of Madison. The honorary plaque was recently presented to McMorran by Madison Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Michael Lancaster.
Over the past quarter century, McMorran has guided hundreds of students, overseen major changes in school curriculum, and renovations of the school building. She was hired as OLA School principal in January 1985.
OLA pastor, Fr. Gary Krahenbuhl, presented a gift from the parish to McMorran during a recent Mass and program. He cited McMorran’s commitment and compassion to the school and parish.
Ask McMorran what the past 25 years have meant to her and she quickly answers, “I’ve been blessed.”
Smiling warmly, she expressed her fondness for the OLA family. “Our school is a family. We are a close-knit team — OLA Parish and School, school staff, and families. We all have a call to ministry and to instill religious values.”
McMorran affirmed, “For me, serving at OLA has been a remarkably rewarding and fulfilling adventure. It’s a privilege to inspire, lead, guide, and teach the ‘good news’ of the Gospel to students each day.”
A rewarding experience
Besides school and its activities, she serves OLA parish as a proclaimer of the word and extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. She also volunteers with the religious education program.
McMorran proudly stated, “OLA has a record of excellence as a Catholic school since it was founded in 1955. This legacy of high expectations has been strong for more than 52 years, and offers a lifelong dividend. The advantages of our school are many. Our school philosophy guides us to stimulate students to grow spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. Character is taught.”
Speaking in her calm and distinct manner, she spoke the words, “Collaboration and support. That has been the blessing of my years at OLA. I am deeply grateful for all the prayerful support from Father Gary (Krahenbuhl) and all our parish staff.”
She said the success of OLA School is linked to the witness given by the teaching staff. “It’s been great to be a member of such a dedicated team. I’m also grateful for the care and support from the parents who make Catholic education a priority. Besides sacrificing to make the choice for Catholic education, parents spend volunteer hours working for the children through athletics and various school programs.
“A successful Catholic school is a team effort!” she stressed.
Changes in teaching
When asked what has changed at OLA over the past 25 years, McMorran gave a concise answer.
“Blackboards have evolved into white boards, then overhead projectors have become the new smart boards.”
She pointed out, “Twenty-five years ago when I arrived at OLA, there was not a single computer in the school. Now we are fortunate to have a wonderful up-to-date computer lab in our school serving all grades, thanks to the generous support of donors and the parish.”
Reflecting, she added, “It’s a joy to watch the four-year-old kindergarteners display their computer skills.”
Pausing a moment to emphasize, she said with certainty, “As educators, we have to be aware that we are teaching and preparing our students to attain the skill and knowledge required of them for the 21st century. Educational trends are always changing — from testing to standards, from professional development to differentiated instruction and response to intervention. For educators, it is an ongoing learning experience. Fortunately, we can never stop learning!”
For example, she specified, “Students have so many more things to entice and distract them, but they also have many more opportunities to expand their learning through travel, researching on the Internet, participation in multiple extra-curricular activities, and gaming — they are indeed, technologically savvy!
“It’s wonderful to help them discover their own gifts and God-given talents. It’s an awesome as well as challenging responsibility to think that you have the potential to touch the hearts and minds of your students — forever,” explained.
As academic, cultural, and social issues and traditions have changed and evolved, “The role of teacher and school administrator has expanded and become more complex and challenging,” she said.
School and family
McMorran said, “Our OLA educators believe all children can succeed. Most important is the fact that parents are the foremost educators of our children. They are the most important voice children hear.”
Because parents are challenged with limited time to spend with their children, McMorran stresses that the school environment needs to embrace a diverse, complex world. “However, I believe the most essential elements still needs to be the ‘people network’ — the community of students, educators, and parents who all collaborate in the children’s learning process,” she said.
“Our school has many advantages and a wonderful atmosphere. For instance during school time, we can stop our activities and pray for someone. We can bring God and our faith into our lives every day,” she pointed out.
Through the years, McMorran has served on numerous diocesan committees. She said OLA School “needs to continue moving ahead and seeing what works for us. The monthly newsletter offers the school calendar, information, and reports about activities in each classroom.”
Presently the school is piloting a program for the diocese called “Cornerstone,” an online information system that enables communication with parents. “It includes assignments, progress reports, and school information, without using paper. It’s a way we can go ‘green,’” said McMorran.
OLA and Brother Dutton Schools were already cooperating on programs prior to the current ongoing study of Catholic schools in the Madison Diocese. The two schools have shared ideas for programs, assemblies, field trips, Catholic School Week activities, and fundraising, said McMorran. Proudly, she noted, “We’ve been working together for several years, planning our school year to share our resources.”
Call to ministry
Satisfaction for “my call to ministry” extends to visits from former students. “When they return to OLA to visit, I enjoy meeting and interacting with them. They’re excited to share their fond memories from our school; it’s so rewarding,” she said. “Also, humorous comments children make are among so many things that make me smile,” she added.
McMorran has one daughter, Jean-Marie McMorran, who is a teacher in Janesville. Besides joy, she acknowledged that the past years have brought sadness and a resolve strengthened by her faith on the occasions when her husband, Frank, and their son, Sean, died.
McMorran, who grew up in Madison and attended St. John the Baptist School in Waunakee, said it was her dream since second grade to teach and work in a Catholic school. After attending Catholic schools for primary and secondary education, she received her bachelor of science degree in elementary education from Marian College in Fond du Lac. She served as teacher and principal at schools in several states before returning to Wisconsin to earn her master’s degree in education administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Commitment to education
She credits her parents’ commitment to invest their time and resources into her educational future. “Along with their deep faith, they planted the seeds for my vocation: to become a Catholic school educator,” said McMorran. “My father worked three jobs so all of my six siblings and I could have a Catholic school education,” she said.
Though McMorran admits her first desire is to teach and be with children, she eventually wanted to advance, to serve as a principal. “I realized I wanted the opportunity to be involved and help guide a total educational program. It’s appealing to me to be an agent of change as our schools continue to succeed,” she explained.
While sitting in her school office during this interview, brightened by its many windows, McMorran cheerfully concluded, “As parishioners and parents of OLA School students, we can be proud of the long tradition of our academically rigorous, values-based Catholic education.
“I believe that working in a Catholic school is like being an ambassador of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. What a privilege! What a responsibility!”