Ever since she decided on a career in education, Trisha Engel has been climbing the ladder to the top.
She taught at a Lutheran school in the Austin neighborhood in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, until moving to Seymour to teach second grade at Immanuel Lutheran School.
While at Immanuel, she realized she was ready to take the next step in her career: Administration.
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Earlier this summer, she learned St. John’s Lutheran School Sauers Principal Jon Baumgartel was taking a call to Nebraska, so the opportunity arose for her to apply.
She went through interviews, was offered the job July 13 and started at St. John’s the next day.
“I’m thrilled to be able to take that next step and to move into administration,” the 28-year-old said. “There is a whole lot more to a school than just what goes on in the classroom, and I’m very glad to be a driving a force of the school.”
Engel grew up in Arlington Heights, a suburb of Chicago. She attended Lutheran grade schools before switching to a public high school, Wheeling, and graduating in 2011.
She then went to Concordia University Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2014 and a master’s degree in urban education in 2015.
“I had really positive experiences in school when I was a child, and I loved going to school, I loved learning,” she said. “I think that’s why I picked going to school every day for my job because that’s what I loved doing.”
She was a student teacher at St. Paul Lutheran School in Austin in 2014 and after graduation remained there to teach fifth and sixth grade and then first and second grade.
“I really enjoyed seeing the children’s growth when I got into the classroom and being able to connect with these students and provide positive experiences for them in their schooling,” Engel said.
In 2016, she moved to Seymour and began teaching at Immanuel.
“I really liked the team ministry that Immanuel has with a large staff, pastoral staff, teaching staff and really great community and families that were there,” Engel said.
Last year, she enrolled in the master’s program in educational leadership through Indiana University with the goal of becoming a school principal. She hopes to complete her degree in the summer of 2021 and take the test to receive her administrator license.
Meanwhile, she and her husband, Clayton, found about the opening at St. John’s through a couple of people in the church’s congregation.
After she applied, the district office recommended her for the position.
“I am honored to have been the one that the church selected to serve here,” Engel said. “I’m very glad for the opportunity to get to serve here, and I am grateful for this community. There are so many people who are willing to help and willing to lend their professional expertise. … I’ve really been appreciative of that. I’m looking forward to leading the school into the future.”
An interim principal had completed the state paperwork before she started, so she was able to focus on preparing for the 2020-21 school year, which started Aug. 12 during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
She reviewed the reopening plan put together by the school board and a list of tasks left by Baumgartel. She also organized faculty meetings and ensured they received the mandatory trainings, worked through curriculum purchases and processed financial aid applications.
“The faculty and I will have some projects this year with working through curriculum, making sure we’re prepared for eLearning in case of a state or county shutdown, so I’m looking forward to seeing what their expertise is in that area and working through those projects this school year,” Engel said.
All 114 students, from preschool to eighth grade, are doing in-person instruction.
“I’m glad to get to know students,” Engel said. “It’s a different community than what I’ve been a part of before in Chicago and Immanuel, so I’m looking forward to learning about them and learning what their community is like here and serving as a teacher for some of them and being the principal.”
Along with her principal duties, she is teaching religion to third- through sixth-graders.
“If I would have known March 12 was the last day that I was ever going to be in the classroom teaching, that would been a very hard day for me,” she said of when schools closed due to the pandemic. “I’m very glad that I do still get to be in the classroom a little bit.”
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Name: Trisha Engel
Hometown: Arlington Heights, Illinois
Education: Wheeling High School (2011); Concordia University Chicago (bachelor’s degree in elementary education, 2014; master’s degree in urban education, 2015); Indiana University (currently pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership)
Occupation: New principal of St. John’s Lutheran School Sauers
Family: Husband, Clayton Engel