St. Thomas Aquinas’ principal will end the year, her career in a darkened, quiet school

The poster behind Mary Sweet in an empty hall at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in Wichita is about fractions. Students couldn’t have known that a significant fraction of their school year would not be spent in their classrooms. Mary Sweet also couldn’t have predicted she would end the year in quiet solitude. (Advance photo)

The shelter at home order is particularly difficult for Principal Mary Sweet. At the end of the school year – whenever that is – she will step down from her position of 22 years after dealing with a situation she never envisioned.

Sweet, principal of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in Wichita, said last week she was working from home but is usually in the school during the afternoon.

“It just hurts my heart to see it so empty,” she said. “It’s an awkward feeling. I don’t have a sense of closure. For me, personally, since this is to be my last year as principal, it’s heart-wrenching.”

The hugs from the many students under her care will have to wait, but their education can’t.

Sweet said there has been a steep learning curve adapting from in-school to electronic instruction. “But the teachers have been amazing. They have learned the technology in a week or two that would normally take months to learn.”

There has been a lot of trial and error, she said, but every teacher has set up a Google Classroom. In addition, they are conducting Zoom meetings and are communicating with parents, as well.

One a scale of 1 to 10, she said she would give her teachers an 11. “And that’s not bad for the way everyone has been thrown into this.”

Sweet said she knows her principal colleagues have been working as diligently as she has. She also praised the work of Superintendent Janet Eaton, Associate Superintendent Jamie Finkeldei, and Assistant Superintendent Matthew McKee.
Her teachers have indicated that parents have been overwhelmingly grateful for what the teachers are doing and the time they have put into electronic schooling.

“The parents are also on a learning curve with all this technology, but it’s been well-accepted,” she said. “Everybody is learning, so I guess there are many silver linings and blessings.”

Sweet added that she has enjoyed being a part of the Zoom meetings and watching some of the videos the teachers have produced.

“I am just amazed at how well the kids are navigating through this,” she said.
Sweet has been a teacher or principal in the Diocese of Wichita for 40 years. She was also at St. Mary, Derby, for three years and at Kapaun Mt. Carmel for 15 years.