“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Mt 5:9)
Unlike many of the people I have spoken with, Tina Lee’s path to her current position was uniquely straightforward. She is in her 3rd year as Director of Student Services at our parochial school and has always wanted to be an educator. Tina knew this from a young age and established a pretend school in the screened-in back porch of her parents’ house. Aptly named “Tina’s School” what started as a pretend school was soon conducting actual classes. She ran Tina’s School for two or three years and at its height was running two daily sessions with twelve or thirteen kids in each. Tina also remembers that her parents “strongly recommended” her young brother attend these sessions which, of course, resulted in him becoming the resident troublemaker.
From there she attended Capital University and obtained a degree in elementary education, later earning certifications as a reading specialist and intervention specialist. After teaching at a secular school, it was the latter of these two that drew her to Our Lady of Perpetual Help school. At the time there was a single part-time interventionist, and with the support of Julie Freeman she has since expanded the program to five full-time dedicated specialists. They serve students with academic, behavioral, physical, and social challenges.
Additionally, she serves on the Intervention Assistance Team (IAT) coordinated by Denise Johns. This incorporates her intervention specialists while also coordinating with administration, Denise, and teachers. The students helped by the IAT do not require full-time involvement with intervention specialists but benefit from that additional support in order to make them more successful in a traditional classroom setting.
As Tina describes it, her job is to “coordinate services” at the school to help any student needing some extra support. Under this model the entire OLPH school faculty and staff work together for these students. Tina also actively engages parents to “reach out and don’t wait” for that extra help with their children. She further explains, “I always want them to know they are not the only ones with kiddos that need some extra help and it’s never a reflection of them as parents.”
In fact, Tina finds herself drawn to these unique kids and feel they are equally drawn to her. Although masked during our interview I can tell she is smiling when she adds, “The more unique they are, the more I’m drawn to them.” This reminds me of lyrics from the Baz Luhrmann song Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen, “The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”
One of Tina’s greatest joys is watching these unique kids adapt and overcome their personal challenges during their time at the school. “Sometimes it takes two or three years, but you see a lot of growth. And then there’s a breakthrough and it’s so fun to watch. It’s like they’re a member of my own family” As we were speaking one of her kids stopped by Tina’s office and without pause, she instantly was able to tell him what his morning looked like and offer him some guidance.
Being part of a parochial school is important to Tina and she is extremely impressed by the commitment and dedication of both our parents and students. In those students Tina also finds they exhibit respect and reverence in both their academic and sacramental lives. For anyone who wants to know the character of OLPH schoolkids, she encourages them to attend an all-school weekday mass. She is also deeply moved as they progress through the Sacraments of Initiation; Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation.
Tina reflects on that same student that stopped by her office when we were speaking. Her own youngest daughter is in the 8th grade and recently went through Confirmation, as did that student. “It brought tears to my eyes.” She pauses and then adds, “You find Jesus here [in the school].”
The rapid development of the intervention staff and adding new services has been exciting for Tina, but also “scary for sure.” She is now the one that everyone else goes to for answers, but also has great support from administration and is able to coordinate and network with other diocesan elementary schools on best practices. Tina very much wants Our Lady’s school to provide services for every unique student facing their unique challenges.
One of her greatest fears is for a family to withdraw their child because the school cannot meet their needs and to that end uses every resource at her disposal. Examples of this are Our Lady school capitalizing on the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship and partnering with Columbus Therapy for speech and occupational therapy services. Tina further explains, “We are still evolving and learning and sometimes OLPH isn’t the best fit for all students. This truly keeps me up at night, but I know we have to take it slow and try to get it right.”
Perhaps Tina’s greatest challenge is balancing her time. She is a teacher, test coordinator, administrator, and all these roles overlap throughout every day. Tina does her best to balances these roles, but they can conflict, and she wants everyone to know they are individually important to her despite the shuffling. Sometimes she also needs to prioritize her time and rearrange issues to the next day and this is particularly difficult for her. The intervention program has grown so quickly and generated so much interest among parents and students that she is still adapting. Servicing some of the unique moderate to intensive needs is an area they are still currently working to address.
Outside of the school Tina enjoys good food, good coffee, and athletics, having a background in swimming and teaching swimming lessons. She also loves volleyball, having played and coached the sport. However, her two daughters are avid equestrians, the oldest having placed competitively at our local Quarter Horse Congress. While Tina and her husband are very supportive of this endeavor, she is personally somewhat scared of riding horses and her husband is content to relegate himself to the role of “sponsor.” (After a harrowing incident of riding polo ponies on the beach without saddles during our honeymoon in the Caribbean my own wife heartily agrees with Tina’s fear of the unruly beasts.)
Her greatest wish is every family and student who wants a Catholic education can obtain one and then adds, “I want that every kid to be a success.” Tina also expresses that her door is always open to parent, student, or parishioner. “Any way I can help, I want to be there for them, I want to pay it forward.”
After considerable prayer, contemplation, and discussion Tina has made the exceedingly difficult decision to not return following this academic year, allowing her to spend more time and attention on her family. While this is certainly a loss for our school, I am happy and excited for Tina as she progresses into this next stage of her life.
By Eric Brooks