New Principal Guides St. Emily School Amid Covid-19 Pandemic
Before Illinois schools were temporarily closed in March, 2020, Karen Booth, principal of Guerin Prep in River Grove, was preparing for that school to close permanently. Booth had applied for the opening of principal of St. Emily School in Mount Prospect.
On April 3, Fr. James Presta, St. Emily Pastor, announced in a letter to school parents that St. Emily's search for a new principal had found Booth:
"I am happy to inform you that I have hired a new principal for St. Emily School, Ms. Karen Booth. Ms. Booth has been principal of Guerin College Prep in River Grove for the past eight years. Effective July 1, 2020, Ms. Booth will assume her duties and responsibilities as Principal of St. Emily School."
Booth noted, "I feel very blessed and grateful to have this opportunity to serve the St. Emily community. I look forward to meeting the families that have made this community, such a special place."
However, Booth missed any early opportunity to meet St. Emily faculty, staff or students, because on April 17, school buildings were ordered closed for the rest of the academic year when Gov. J.B. Pritzker extended the mandatory stay-at-home order through May 30.
"I was very excited and nervous to start a new job amid COVID. I had hoped to spend time at the school in the spring, getting to know the community and the operation of the school," Booth said. "I was fortunate to meet virtually with the co-interim principals who helped me tremendously with the transition. And even though it was not how I imagined starting at a new school, from day one, everyone I have met has made me feel so welcome. Fr. Presta has been especially gracious and has played a significant role in making me feel part of this wonderful community."
In early July, the Archdiocese of Chicago sent a comprehensive plan for reopening its schools in August, along with a checklist of necessary steps in order to certify preparedness. With the guidance, support and thorough planning framework provided by the Archdiocese, St. Emily was able to open its doors for the 2020-2021 academic year on Aug. 19.
Booth observed, "Being principal at a school during a pandemic certainly has made me focus on health and safety issues. Ensuring that our community is safe is an enormous responsibility and requires a team effort. Faculty, staff, students and parents acting responsibly have kept us in school. The teachers have done an outstanding job with the students, balancing safety procedures with lesson planning. They have demonstrated both a professionalism and a genuine care for the students on a daily basis, and are certainly worthy of the title 'heroes.'"
The sanitized start of the new school year during a most unusual time brings hope for the future. "I eagerly look forward to a time when we can have extracurricular activities. I do miss attending sporting events, concerts and theater activities," Booth said. "I like to witness what interests the students and it is a great way to get to know them. However, my message at the beginning of the school year was that we needed to focus on what we can do and not what we can't do."
Oct. 23 marks the end of the first quarter of school. The St. Emily faculty, staff and new principal are pleased with effective in-person learning.
According to Ms. Booth, "All the hard work we have done has been so worthwhile; seeing how happy the students are to be in school each day, eager to learn, and having the opportunity to be with their friends, has been so rewarding. Parents have shared with me that they are happy that their children are back in school. One parent mentioned that her children are sleeping better; another said that there is a new energy in the house due to the return to school. When I hear statements like this, I am happy that we have this wonderful opportunity. Every day is a blessing!"