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As the Rev. Paul Jarvis puts it, "there must be something in the water" at Guardian Angels Catholic School in Chaska.
Twice in five years the small school of 209 students has earned top honors from a national Catholic group for distinguished teaching.
Amy Gallus, a middle school math teacher, is one of 12 teachers from across the country receiving the 2009 Distinguished Teacher Award from the Department of Elementary Schools of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).
In 2003, the NCEA gave a similar honor to Guardian Angels' principal, Nancy Ronhovde.
"I've known I was going to be a teacher since first grade," said Gallus, 39. "The teacher I had, Sister Nora Eggert, said, 'Amy, you would make a wonderful nun and teacher.' "
Now known around the community as the "tutor extraordinaire," Gallus speculates that it's the time she spends with students outside the classroom that might set her apart.
When she's not helping students with their math problems before and after school, on the weekends and during winter and summer breaks Gallus can be found working with the yearbook staff or service club or on a variety of administrative tasks. She's also the school's assistant principal.
"I think Amy will be a wonderful Catholic school principal someday," said Ronhovde, who received the NCEA Distinguished Principal Award in 2003. "I just hope she doesn't want to go too soon."
Guardian Angels is a private school in Chaska for students in pre-K through grade eight. After graduating from the eighth grade, many students return to Gallus for help with their high school math course work.
"They love the way she explains things," said Ronhovde. "She has a way to reach them."
Gallus says there's nothing fancy about her teaching style. "I'm kind of a plain Jane," she said.
"Really and truly, we just do a whole lot of math."
Gallus lives in Norwood Young America with her husband, Steve, and sons Josh, 12, Zac, 10 and Ben, 4. She has been at Guardian Angels since 2001 and has been teaching middle school since 1994. While teaching full-time, she completed her master's and education specialist's degree at the University of St. Thomas.
Community celebrates award
The new honors for Gallus couldn't have come at a better time for the Guardian Angels community. The school's enrollment had been on the decline for the last decade, said Jarvis, pastor at Guardian Angels Church.
"Of course, this happens when a recession hits," said Jarvis, pointing out that families might be more tempted than ever to cut their private school tuition from their budgets.
But Jarvis is thinking positively. Guardian Angels has persevered through many challenges over the years, and he expects the school will thrive, even in a tough economy. Enrollment this school year has offered a glimmer of hope: The numbers stabilized and even increased slightly.
Guardian Angels has also faced other challenges.
Soon after Ronhovde received the Distinguished Principal Award, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has been cancer-free for more than five years.
Last year, a radiator fell from a classroom ceiling, injuring a 6-year-old boy. He has recovered and still attends the school.
And last month, an SUV struck and killed an 86-year-old member of the church as he was walking along a crosswalk of a busy Chaska highway on his way to daily mass. The church has rallied with a campaign to encourage the state to install a stoplight at the crosswalk.
One way that Guardian Angels plans to ensure that it not only survives but thrives is to raise money to make it possible for more middle- and low-income families to attend the school.
A tuition assistance program has been set up in honor of Gallus' recent national award.
"With every unfortunate thing that happens, we tend to rise to the challenge and become an even better place," Jarvis said.
Aimée Blanchette • 612-673-1715