By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
St. James Catholic School in Gadsden welcomed an old friend as its new principal in 2020. Former St. James Principal John Parker returned to the school to begin his second term as administrator at 700 Albert Rains Boulevard.
Parker’s relationship with St. James dates back several years. Born and raised in Michigan, Parker migrated to St. James in his early twenties after marrying his wife, who is a Gadsden native. Apart from being his home parish, St. James educated all seven of Parker’s children and now teaches his grandchildren.
Parker (pictured at right) began his road to principal by volunteering at St. James when his children attended the school. Because of his engineering degree, Parker was asked to teach a math class, which gradually led to him teaching eighth grade for half a day. He discovered then a passion for education and began teaching at St. James fulltime before he was offered the role of principal in 2005.
“I was surprised when I was asked to be principal,” said Parker. “My first couple of years [as principal] I was taking graduate courses, so I was learning on the job. It was one of the biggest learning experiences and greatest learning curves I’ve had, but I enjoyed every minute of it. [I enjoyed] going from just one classroom you had to work with to getting to know everybody in the school.”
For seven years, Parker served as St. James’ principal before taking a position in Birmingham. After St. James Principal Michele Adams retired in 2020, the opportunity to return to St. James fell into Parker’s hands and he returned to the school he considers home.
“This is my home,” said Parker. “This school is a beautiful school and the curriculum is great [as well as] the teachers. Everything that I want my children to learn is here, [from the] prayers of the Catholic Church to character, which is a hard thing to find nowadays in school.”
Parker believes that building relationships is the most important aspect of his position, so that his students understand that he recognizes their goals and cares about ensuring their aspirations are fulfilled. While teaching children and helping them grow are Parker’s daily incentives, he noted what he hopes they gain from their time at St. James apart from a quality education.
“Prayer is very important here,” said Parker. “I want [the students], if they will, to bring that home with them when they’re having hard times – just like now. Prayer is a very important thing for them. I want them to understand that you can be prayerful, you can be faithful and you can still be somebody that people want to talk to and goof around with. A lot of people think that if you are prayerful or faithful you’re not a fun person. But I want them to understand that they can be their fun person, they can have all the personality in the world and still be a faithful and prayerful person.”
St. James implemented numerous precautionary measures in correlation with the Diocese of Birmingham after a group of principals deliberated the plan for reopening schools. Students at St. James currently wear masks and attend staggered lunch times, with older students eating in their classrooms. Barriers are in each classroom for small group work and touchless sanitizing stations are in the hallways, while middle school students sanitize their desks before changing classes.
See John Parker – 5A
“This is a new way of life for our children,” said Parker. “We don’t know how long it will be, but it’s very surprising how quickly they’ve adapted to the masks. We’re not fighting with anybody about them. They’re willing to do this because I think they got tired of not being in school last year and not being with their friends every day.”
Parker commended the combined efforts of St. James faculty, staff, students and parents in adjusting to the new “social norms” of education. He noted that the coronavirus is a period in time that will be taught in history classes in the future, and encouraged everyone to do their part to ensure the safety of themselves, their families and others.
Despite the alterations St. James implemented to protect its students and staff from COVID-19, Parker is confident that the foundation the school laid is strong enough to remain unshaken. His vision for St. James moving forward is to create a standard that endures, promoting dedication and commitment to the school so dear to his heart.
“I want to continue to improve everything and just keep going,” said Parker. “COVID has slowed us down a little bit, but we still have a good core group of students here and we want to build up in this community something that is lasting. It’s lasted well over 100 years, so we just want to go forward into the community as something that will be looked at as part of this community’s heritage.”
For more information about St. James Catholic School, visit stjamesgadsden.org or call 256-546-0132.