SCOTTSBLUFF — Julie Brown was speaking with her father one day about her career at St. Agnes Catholic School. He told her, “Maybe one day, you’re going to run that school.” Brown wasn’t so sure. Her father was.
Brown comes from a family of teachers. Her father taught for 35 years in Ogallala. She has three siblings — two are teachers — and many other family members who work in the field.
Though many in her family followed the education path, Brown’s parents always encouraged their children to do whatever they wanted to do.
“We were highly encouraged to go to college, but we could choose whatever career we wanted,” she said.
Brown’s father was an inspiration. She watched as he worked with youth “on the edge,” the ones who needed a little extra guidance. She has heard many times from his former students about the influence her father had on their lives.
“He impacted a lot of people,” she said.
After Brown and her husband, Pat, graduated from Kearney State, they moved to Omaha while he attended medical school.
Her first teaching position in Blair was a one-year contract. She was covering for another teacher who was coming back.
She found work at a Catholic school in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She loved the idea of working in a Catholic school, but Pat was in medical school. The pay was low and she needed insurance.
“I thought, ‘Some day, I’m going to do that,’” she said.
Fortunately, another position opened in Blair, where she taught for seven years. She also coached volleyball and track.
“I still keep in touch with many of my first teaching colleagues,” she said. “They played a big role in helping to develop my teaching skills and I had an amazing mentor teacher there.”
In 1993, Brown moved to Scottsbluff. Her first year here, she stayed at home. Brown wanted to do something more, but she couldn’t work with a 3 year old and a 3 month old. She had multiple projects going on at home and Pat encouraged her find a job. One day, while watching the Bluffs Middle School marching band practice on the streets, a mother of a kindergartner asked Brown if she was going to apply for the fourth grade teacher position at St. Agnes Catholic School. She said no, because she couldn’t afford the day care. Brown asked the mother, who also had a teaching degree if she was going to apply.
“She said, ‘No, but I’ll watch your kids,’” Brown said. “That was a bit of a God moment.”
She began teaching at St. Agness during the 1993-94 school year as a fourth grade teacher.
Brown had enjoyed her time teaching in public schools, but said there is something different about being able to educate children with a faith value behind it.
“I was a public school kid and my dad was a public school educator,” she said. “It just always seemed like St. Agnes was the fit for me.”
After 14 years in the classroom, she scaled back her teaching duties and worked part time for three years as a physical education teacher. Her two older daughters were in high school and she enjoyed the limited teaching schedule so she could follow them in their activities.
Brown is an avid lover of sports, something she had in common with her father. Brown said her father coached everything.
“We went to every sporting event there was,” she said. “It was something I thought was fun and fulfilling.”
Her daughters played softball and tennis. She enjoys high school sports and regularly attends games.
“I watch my former students and find great joy in that,” she said.
The administrator at the time was leaving and looking for someone who would fit the job. Brown’s friend, Mary Skiles, said she knew of someone, but she probably wouldn’t say yes.
When Brown was called to the office, she didn’t know what to expect.
“I thought, ‘Why are you calling me in to the office?’” she said. “It wasn’t me. I only teach P.E.”
She was asked how she felt about taking over and running the school. She needed to think about it. It had been a while since she worked full time. She went to speak with her youngest daughter, who was entering high school. Brown didn’t want to miss her activities. Her daughter said she knew Brown would still come to all her activities.
“She said, ‘Mom, you say you work part time, but you are already there all the time,’” Brown said.
Brown is now in her eighth year as an administrator. It wasn’t a position she had aspired to, but it was an opportunity to help more families.
Her father had passed away five years previously and she wished she could have gone to him and asked what he thought. In her heart, she knew what his answer would have been. It was the right time for her to say, “yes.”
The school was struggling. There were only 65 students in the entire school.
“I thought, ‘It’s now or never,’” she said. “We have to try to move this school forward and increase enrollment.”
She agreed to take the position as administrator, but only for a little while.
“It was the right place at the right time and somebody thought I was the right person,” she said. “This place was near and dear to my heart. My kids went here and I wanted it to succeed.’”
She worked on getting the school going in the right direction. Eight years later, the school has 120 students.
Brown credits her staff, from janitor to herself, for making the school the welcoming place it has become. She knows they can cross the street to Bluffs Middle School and make a lot more money.
“People here are people called to the ministry,” she said. “I am so privileged to work side-by-side because they are so dedicated.”
At the recent parent-teacher conference, a parent told her, “the staff you have here is amazing.” It’s the culture at the school that brings people to St. Agnes and it’s what makes them stay.
“Money will bring you to a job, but it sure as heck won’t keep you there,” Brown said. “It’s the people you work with, it’s the families. It’s the multitude of benefactors.”
It takes a village to raise children and everyone at St. Agnes is doing their part together. The school is not swarming in money and the people within its walls are not going to achieve fame and fortune, but they are determined to help each student in their care.
“You make a commitment not only to do the work of a teacher, but to mold children into their character,” Brown said.
Many people think teaching is the same each day, but there is always something new. For Brown, it’s the gift of being a part of building the lives of future generations. She follows her students even after they have left St. Agnes.
“It’s great to see them doing great things,” she said. “It’s nice to know I had a part in their life.”
Brown has worked with many different people and kept in touch with them as they move on to their next adventure in life. St. Agnes still feels like home to her. Her dearest friends have worked, and retired, there.
She works out every day with Skiles, whom she originally met when the two were out walking by themselves one day.
“She just asked, ‘Hey, you want to walk together?’” Brown said. “Here we are all these years later.”
Her children are adults now, so what little free time Brown has is spent traveling to see them and their families. One lives in Kansas City. Her middle daughter lives in Des Moines, Iowa, and is a fifth grade teacher. Her youngest is graduating from the University of Nebraska-Kearney in May and will soon move to Omaha.
“We just make one big circle trip when we try to visit them all at once,” she said.
When she thinks back on the many intangible gifts she has been given at St. Agnes, she is always quick to give credit to someone else and point out how everyone relies on each other. She will always remember the opportunity she had to step into the administrator’s role and how it changed her and everyone’s lives around her.
“It had to get done,” she said. “So why not you?”
Brown has no regrets. Education has been good to her. Despite how the field has changed over the last 30 years, she still looks forward to coming to work each day. She sees students coming to school today with more issues that must be dealt with before teaching can begin. She sees technology taking a larger role in education. She finds a way to incorporate what were once disparate fields into education to make the lives of the students entrusted to her care, better.
As she thinks back on her career, a parent comes in. The family is having issues with the local bus company picking up her children. It’s a struggle Brown has faced before. Nebraska law says the children must be picked up. She takes a few notes and assures the parent the situation will be resolved in a couple of days. No one doubts her.
Brown’s father would be proud to know she is now “running the place,” and that she is someone that has influenced the lives of children. She exemplifies his spirit every day.
Brown has never thought of leaving St. Agnes. This is where she was supposed to be, she said.
“Life brings you what it does at different times,” she said. “I will be here until I quit waking up feeling happy to go there and feeling like I am effective and making an impact.”