Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spokane Valley school blessed with strong ties to parish community

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Dec. 15, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Lauri Nauditt (second from left) is serving her second year as principal of St. Mary School, Spokane Valley. (IR photo)

Back in 1958, when St. Mary School was established by the pastor of St. Mary Parish, the late Father Joseph Brunner (d. 1988), the city now named Spokane Valley still bore signs of its rural past, with orchards, farms, and livestock still in evidence.

Following more than two years of planning and fund-raising, Father Brunner invited the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon to serve as administration and faculty of the new Catholic elementary school, and a convent, with its own chapel, was built simultaneously with the first classrooms, to house the women Religious. Three Sisters – soon to become four – and 114 students, in grades 1 through 4, opened the school and its first few classrooms on Sept. 2, 1958.

In 1962, classrooms for grades 5 through 8 were completed, plus an addition to the convent which brought rooms for the Sisters up to 16.

According to school records, the last Sister of St. Mary to serve as principal left in 1977, and the last teaching Sister left in 1989. Since then, a dedicated lay staff has guided the school through the last decades of the 20th century and into the 21st.

St. Mary School opened a half-day kindergarten program in 1988. This program expanded to both morning and afternoon kindergarten sessions 10 years later, and the kindergarten became a full-time, five-days-a-week program with the start of the 2004-2005 school year.

St. Mary School’s extended care (educare) program began, with before-school care only, in 1991, and after-school care was added soon thereafter. In 1997, the school launched a pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds.

Today, St. Mary School serves both St. Mary Parish, where the school is located, and St. Joseph Parish, in the Spokane Valley area known as Otis Orchards. This year, the school’s facilities serving 224 Catholic students and 9 non-Catholic students in pre-k through 8th grade, with a classroom for each grade, a Media Center for the library and computer lab, a music room, and another space for band rehearsals. A gymnasium is used by both the parish and the school.

This is Lauri Nauditt’s second year as St. Mary’s principal. Prior to that she taught third grade at Spokane’s Cataldo School for 19 years, and during the last three of those years she served as assistant principal.

Of St. Mary’s 11 teachers and four part-time teachers, and a part-time assistant principal, some have been at the school for many years, and some are relatively new. “It’s a good thing to have both veteran and new teachers,” says Nauditt, “because then you have people who know the traditions, and you have new teachers so you get some fresh ideas.”

What makes St. Mary School special? Nauditt immediately identifies “without a doubt, the community here. What immediately struck me was the level of commitment on the part of the parents and the wonderful openness of the kids. Even beyond the parents and the kids, the ties to the parish community are very strong. In fact, we changed our mission statement last year to include the fact that we are a ministry, a mission, of St. Mary Parish.”

Since the school has been in existence for almost 50 years, there is a significant number of alumni available to support and participate in the life of the school. “I don’t think we have fully tapped our alumni base,” Nauditt said. “People are very committed to the school. We have parents of children here now who attended the school when they were younger. So we’re seeing more generations come back. People move away, but Spokane Valley tends to be rather stable. People have good memories of this school from their own childhood, and they want those same kinds of things for their own children.”

Lauri Nauditt is especially happy about the involvement in the school of the pastor of St. Mary Parish, Msgr. John Steiner. “He is so active,” she said. “There has not been a school event, since I’ve been here, that he has not attended. Even if it’s a spaghetti feed, or sports events, just anything that the kids are doing, he is always there. The other night we had a Missoula Children’s Theater play, and there he was, cheering the kids on.”

Nauditt explains that St. Mary School places a high priority on giving youngsters “opportunities for kids to grow in all the areas and talents that they might have.” For instance, the school has a music program for all grades and, as an elective, band for students in grades 5 through 8.

As a Catholic school, of course, St. Mary places a strong emphasis on catechetics and spiritual formation. But the ideal for the school is to not only have an excellent religion program, but to integrate religion into all aspects of school life.

“I think you would find it difficult to walk into any class,” Nauditt said, “even if it was science, or social studies, or math, and not see religion integrated into what we’re doing. It isn’t seen as an isolated subject that you do for an hour a day and forget.”

St. Mary School also has what Lauri Nauditt calls “an amazing community service program where our kids go out into the community. Our fifth and sixth graders go once a month and serve Meals on Wheels for people who are confined to their homes. Our seventh and eighth grade students go to a specific agency, such as a pre-school, or an agency that serves the elderly. They commit to those places for once a month, over the year. If they work with the elderly as seventh graders, then they are scheduled to work at a pre-school as eighth graders. Or vice-versa.”

During Advent, each classroom sponsors a needy family, collecting things the family needs or wants.

One of the constants for Catholic schools, of course, is funding. The administrators, faculty, families and friends of St. Mary School are no shirkers when it comes to this sort of thing.

St. Mary School has a “Stewardship Tuition Program.” Parents who are active members of St. Mary or St. Joseph parishes qualify for stewardship tuition. They are told what it costs to educate one student for a year, then the parents are asked to make a prayerful decision about how much they can pay. The balance must come from school fund-raising events, plus there are the many other expenses that must be met in order to keep the school in existence and up-to-date.

The most recent school auction, in April 2005, raised $20,000 to replace the school’s light fixtures, so the school now has better lighting that costs less to use. During the summer of 2005, several rooms were re-painted, and some of the bathrooms were updated. Modifications were also made to the school kitchen to make it possible to have a hot lunch program. Projects St. Mary School hopes to undertake in the near future include replacing the classroom windows and installation of a pitched roof to replace the original flat roof design.

The school recently completed its annual fun-run fund-raiser. “Our goal was $25,000, and we raised $30,000,” said Nauditt. “That’s a great community event, because all the kids run, and parents come in and help.”

Next on the fund-raising calendar is the annual appeal for St. Mary School. “We ask people to give us money,” Nauditt said. “That’s probably the most up-front fund-raiser we have. We send a mailing to parishioners, alumni if we know their addresses, and school families. That usually nets pretty close to $20,000. We have the [Spokane Valley] sewer [system] coming in this year, so we’ll have some big expenses with that.”

St. Mary School also relies on a foundation that was created 25 years ago. “I’m thinking that it was one of the first foundations in the diocese,” Nauditt says. “Income is generated for the foundation by sending out an appeal each year with our annual report.”

The biggest fund-raiser each year is the school’s auction. “This will be the 35th year for our auction,” Lauri Nauditt says proudly. “We have a big night just for parents, a dress-up affair. The auction probably involves 98 percent of our parents. Then we have a family fun night, about three weeks after the auction, and that’s more like a carnival.”

With all of her years in teaching and administration in Catholic schools, obviously Lauri Nauditt is a big supporter of Catholic education. As the principal of St. Mary School, it’s part of her job to cheer for her school. But that is a part of her job that she thoroughly enjoys.

“This is an absolutely wonderful school. I think that anyone who sets foot in one of our classrooms would be touched by the spirit of the children, and the teachers, and the excitement that is here. It’s a place where we do good things for children, because that’s what we’re called to do.”

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