By Heather Williams (Vicksburg Daily News)
VICKSBURG – When Karla McHan was looking for a challenge last year, she had no way of knowing exactly how challenged she would be.
McHan spent 22 years teaching social studies (mostly U.S. history but also world history, government, psychology and sociology) at Warren Central High School when she was offered the lead teacher position in 2012.
“I really enjoyed seeing education from a different perspective and loved the opportunity to work more directly with teachers,” McHan said.
The experience motivated her to go back to school for her master’s degree in educational leadership, something she had put off when her children were young.
“I decided it was time to venture out and knew I could bring my perspective as a longtime teacher to educational decision making,” she said.
A rare history position opened at Vicksburg Catholic School in 2016, and McHan could not pass up the chance of working with a man who had been the principal of her elementary and junior high schools when she was a student: Dr. Buddy Strickland.
“It seemed like everything just fell in place,” she says of making the move to St. Aloysius High School. VCS also offered McHan a unique opportunity to advance her career and more openly share her faith.
“As a practicing Catholic, I was excited about being in a school environment that so beautifully incorporates faith and love of God and neighbor in its daily activities.”
St. Aloysius is much smaller than Warren Central, and McHan said it was a great place to step into the role of principal last year. “The smaller setting helped create a stronger sense of family, and I got to know everyone better,” she said. “That’s important when taking on an administration role.”
As far as finding the challenges she was searching for, McHan got what she wanted in more ways than one in her position as the school’s principal. She experienced the typical new-principal challenges such as gaining the faculty’s trust and learning how to best utilize each staff member’s individual strengths, but then life threw her a curve ball.
”Hands down, the biggest hurdle I have faced has been COVID-19,” she said. “I think all new principals spend their first year in survival mode, but that moves into a whole different level when a pandemic hits three-quarters of the way through.”
McHan said that creating a distance learning program and putting it into action effectively was one of the most difficult tasks she has faced on any level of her education career, but it has been especially trying when coupled with the responsibility of every student and faculty member in her school.
“I considered all of the typical administrator duties when I was deciding to move,” she said, “but helping teachers and students adapt to distance learning while identifying the academic gaps that come with extended time away from the classroom was never on my radar.”
McHan credits her faith, the support of her family and the “fabulous faculty and staff at St. Al” for her success. She also credits the great relationship she has developed with Mary Arledge, principal of St. Francis Xavier Academy. “She is just an incredible mentor and supporter,” McHan said of Arledge.
McHan is clearly not a person to relax when the going gets good. In addition to constantly trying to better the distance learning processes, she plans to continue her education and pursue a specialist’s degree. Her plans also include more time with family and traveling with her husband, David.
“It may sound crazy considering the current state of educational practices, but I definitely foresee being able to relax a little soon,” she said, “and I can confidently say that because I know I have the backing of such a hard-working, supportive staff.”
(Reprinted with permission of the Vicksburg Daily News, www.vicksburgnews.com.)