St. John XXIII SchoolSt. John XXIII School in Edmonton's Windermere region will seek to embody the values taught and lived out by the pope who launched the Second Vatican Council in 1962.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

St. John XXIII School in Edmonton's Windermere region will seek to embody the values taught and lived out by the pope who launched the Second Vatican Council in 1962.

September 12, 2016
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Glen Argan Western Catholic Reporter

Although Mike Kovacs' father had been the director of the food program at Edmonton's St. Joseph's High School, young Mike didn't feel drawn to follow in dad's footsteps.

He earned a science degree in university, but was unsure of his next step. "I went into education. Once I taught my first lesson, I loved it. I said, 'OK! I've found my calling.'"

Now after 28 years of teaching – including nine years as a principal – in a wide variety of settings in Edmonton Catholic Schools, Kovacs has landed what many would see as a dream job. He is the principal of a brand new K-9 school – St. John XXIII in the further reaches of the southwest part of the city.

"The opportunity to start from scratch was something that I couldn't pass up," he said in an Aug. 24 interview after escorting reporters and photographers on a tour of the combined English and French immersion school.

Boxes remained unpacked, and equipment for science, technology and food labs and the school chapel still hadn't arrived. But Kovacs was undeterred. "Teachers can start teaching tomorrow," he said, noting that the classrooms were ready to roll.

A sense of anticipation was palpable among the teachers and other staff as opening day was only a week away.

Music teacher Julie Scott unpacks an entire set of brand new band instruments in the music room at St. John XXIII School.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Music teacher Julie Scott unpacks an entire set of brand new band instruments in the music room at St. John XXIII School.

Every staff member at the school – teachers, support staff and custodians – had to apply for a position at John XXIII. They want to be there.

"It's been a wonderful, wonderful experience," exuded music teacher Julie Scott before classes had even begun.

The focus on Pope John XXIII – pope from 1958 to 1963 who launched the Second Vatican Council and wrote the encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) – begins the first week of classes. Students will begin reflecting on what it means to follow in John XXIII's footsteps as a global ambassador for peace.

Hallway banners will highlight the encyclical's theme of peace on earth, photographs of the recently-canonized saint will be in every classroom and the student handbook has a biography of John XXIII on its first page.

FUNDAMENTAL VALUES

"We want students right away to know what the name of the school means because these are fundamental values that we want to instill in our children," Kovacs said.

Along with the value of world peace, the principal said just as John XXIII started the modernization of the Church, the school itself is constructed to be flexible. "Facilities in some schools limit what you can offer. We can offer everything for everybody."

What makes that possible are the large breakout rooms and common areas in the school which can accommodate several classes working together, instead of, as Kovacs said, "each grade level stuck in its own area."

Mike Kovacs, principal of St. John XXIII School, describes some of the many multi-use facilities in the new school which will enable more collaboration among teachers.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Mike Kovacs, principal of St. John XXIII School, describes some of the many multi-use facilities in the new school which will enable more collaboration among teachers.

All the library shelves have wheels so they can be moved out of the way for large gatherings. As well, the library and chapel are adjacent to large common areas and have movable walls to allow for gatherings of several classes for joint study or worship.

A typical school, he said, has only fixed classrooms, a gym and a library. "The ability to collaborate is limited by the facility."

CROSS-GRADE TEACHING

John XXIII can accommodate considerable cross-grade and multi-subject planning and teaching in subjects such as cooking, woodworking, computer design and construction.

"That's what teachers are excited about here. They want to work with other teachers in their grades and in multiple subjects."

Kovacs boasts that John XXIII is "the most complete school" for kindergarten to Grade 9 in the Edmonton Catholic District. "We've never built a K-9 school like this with two gyms and two science labs and two music rooms."

The school, built on a budget of $18 million, has a capacity of 750 students, but this year it is expected to host 600 students from kindergarten through Grade 8. Grade 9 will be added next year. The official opening of the school at 365 Windermere Rd. is set for Oct. 3.