When Jack Nelson accepted the job as President of St. Michael High School in July of 2019, he had no idea the unusual obstacles he would face as the year 2020 approached. Having worked in Catholic schools for 26 years and as an administrator for 21, Nelson is well adept with management skills and knowledge of how the system works. However, with over 600 students and faculty returning to school during a worldwide pandemic, Nelson had to learn how to navigate a new position, at a new school, all while incorporating unprecedented safety protocol for an entire institution.
“For myself in particular, all of it has been new…then add the extra burden of COVID, preparing for the beginning of school in a whole different way. We were not able to do as many things in person as we would have liked,” explains Nelson. “But we did what we had to do; preparing the school and all the facilities to get ready for the year and so far we have done an excellent job.” While developing new policies and protocols for teachers and students, as well as keeping on top of all cleaning and cleaning supplies plus social distancing, Nelson says it has also been a challenge to keep the feeling of camaraderie alive. “The biggest challenge was trying to feel like you are able to build that community and keep that community feeling when current circumstances will not allow for it.”
Nelson is familiar with the importance of community to the Catholic schools in Baton Rouge. As the former principal of St. George School for 12 years, he increased enrollment and improved campus life for teachers and students. He is also a pillar for the formation of students in Catholic education, believing that the addition of Catholicism to curriculum not only helps develop the whole student, but also builds the Kingdom of God within our society. “I believe that without the faith formation and everything our faith can bring to the educational enterprise, it would be bland. Anyone who works at a Catholic school can tell you that it is also about building the Kingdom of God, and that our work is for the greater Glory of God,” he emphasizes.
Nelson’s journey within the Catholic school system began in Washington, where he was born and raised. Later in life, he attended college at Eastern Washington University with the intent of becoming a teacher. However, after his dislike for a teaching internship with a high school, he changed course and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Communications. Nelson then spent a few years in the business field but eventually made the choice to return to his original calling. “Much of it became a family choice,” he explains. “I was gone a lot and my oldest daughter was very young at the time, and I did not get to see her much. I missed that time with family.” Nelson returned to school to obtain his degree in education and where he has remained ever since, eventually making his way out of the classroom and into administration for the next 20 years.
Now, in his 21st year as an administrator, albeit first year as a President, Nelson remains more optimistic than ever about St. Michael’s future endeavors, even in the face of a pandemic. “The future at this school is bright; the foundation is phenomenal. We need to share the good news about what is going on with St. Michael with the broader Baton Rouge community. We are the only co-ed Catholic High School in the city, and it gives us a unique position to meet the needs of families in Baton Rouge.”
Nelson has been married for 35 years and has three children, Katie, Connor, and Emily. When he is not busy spending time with his family, you can find him traveling to different ski resorts or refereeing high school football games.