New St. Mary's principal comes home
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
ELLIS -- Matt Berens looked right at home Friday morning, directing elementary school children around a walking course on a grassy area outside their school.
That's because Berens is back home, in more ways than one.
After a three-year absence from the education profession, he said he was "ready to get back into education" -- and to get closer to home.
Berens, who grew up in Victoria, found both at St. Mary's Grade School. Berens will be the new principal at the Catholic school for preschool through sixth grades next year, taking over for Jim Moeder, who resigned after eight years to open his own floral shop in Ellis.
"I'm excited to get back home," said Berens, whose mom, Norma, lives in Hays. His two brothers and numerous other relatives also live in the Hays area.
Berens, a 1989 graduate of Victoria High School, graduated from Fort Hays State University and taught and coached at Hutchinson Middle School for nine years before taking over as principal at Stanton County Middle School in Johnson in far southwest Kansas in 2006.
He went into private business three years ago but said he missed everything he had enjoyed about the education field.
He and his wife, Cheryl, are the parents of four children, and their oldest daughter is a senior at Stanton County. So Berens said he was waiting until she graduated before seriously looking for another job in education.
With Jenna's graduation approaching, Berens was looking at the kansasteachingjobs.com website one day earlier this semester and ran across the St. Mary's position.
"I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, Ellis -- and a Catholic school,' " said Berens, who grew up in and still is a member of the Catholic faith. "I was waiting for the perfect job to come open, and this is it. Everything just fell into place."
Berens, who was hired last month, came to town Friday to participate in St. Mary's annual Race for Education event, and he liked what he saw. It was the second trip to a St. Mary's event for Berens, who also attended the St. Mary's parish annual fundraising auction not long after he was hired.
"I love this," Berens said as he stood back and watched the children scamper around the designated areas, recording their laps. "I just missed the kids. Glad to be back."
Parents and children alike seem to have similar feelings for the man who will be replacing their popular principal. Students gathered around Berens at the field designated for preschool through second-grade students much like they did Moeder on the field for third- through sixth-graders.
"I think one of my strengths has always been great rapport with kids," Berens said. "I'm excited."
So, too, are parents.
"I got to help interview (Berens)," said Alice James, president of the St. Mary's Home and School Association. "We're going to miss Mr. Moeder, but I think it will be a good transition with (Berens)."