KaTrina working at her standing desk in her office, complete with a stocked bookshelf and the core competencies of MA she created.

Scott Pyle

KaTrina Wentzel Cares About You

February 20, 2019

“This interview makes me feel like a rockstar.” KaTrina Wentzel is a rockstar. She is incredibly dedicated to her multiple jobs, exceptionally enthusiastic, all while being a mother to five. She cares. About you. About me. About everyone. Anyone who chooses a career in education must at least care a little, but KaTrina is different. She has committed her life to helping underprivileged students escape their situations and educating privileged students on how to use their societal power. From public to independent schools, from teacher to administrator, from educator to editor, KaTrina Wentzel is a rockstar.

Ever since she arrived at Marin Academy in the summer of 2015, KaTrina has worked to improve the school in every way she can. She is an administrator — academic dean specifically. Being a constant source of positivity in the community, she is disappointed that her job is, “centered around when there’s an academic miss of some sort,” usually including things like “academic integrity, or students who, despite support from an advisor or grade level dean, are still really struggling.” She is committed to changing this pattern, however, telling me, “I always want it to be also around the positive experiences… that’s an aspiration I have.” She smiles as she tells me this, excited about the future and possibilities of her position.

She is more than just the academic dean to MA students; she is a teacher, and one of the best. When she was looking to move from Twin Cities, Minnesota, she specifically asked for an environment in which she was allowed and encouraged to teach as an administrator. I ask her why she felt so strongly about this, and she tells me, “I think that if I’m going to ask teachers to try things, then I should try things.” It is obvious that she enjoys working with students; her positivity in the classroom is enough to engage even the most sleep-deprived of second-semester seniors. And she wants to stay connected with those students: “I don’t want to get so removed in the ‘admin’ world that I create policies that aren’t really based on what students and teachers are feeling.”

Of course, in every part of KaTrina’s life at MA, she brings her past experiences from other schools and other jobs. With a Bachelor’s in English and a Master’s in Education, she was as prepared as anyone to enter the teaching world. But when she got her first job within the Saint Paul Public School System in Minnesota, there were challenges: “80 percent of the students were on free and reduced lunch. We had a high percentage of students who were immigrants and second language learners.” She leans back in her chair and sighs, “I had students that were homeless. I had students in and out of foster care.” The challenges came with upsides, however: “it was also really wonderful to work with these students for whom I was keenly aware that a good education could literally make the difference for them.” She was inspired by the prospect of changing the course of those students’ lives, and she continues to bring this attitude to MA.

 

KaTrina’s office door, complete with author’s quotes and literary puns.

 

KaTrina was invested in the lives of those underprivileged students, and they could tell. They felt supported by her kindness and encouraged by her positivity. I asked KaTrina if she remembered a story from that public school that would epitomize her experience. I expected discipline issues. I expected violence or hate. But that’s not what she told.

Upon hearing my question, she leaned back in her chair and looked to the ceiling, as if the answer was carved up there. Then she looked back down at me and began to tell a story. When she was pregnant with her youngest daughter, her students from one class decided they were going to surprise her with a baby shower, “or what they thought was a baby shower. And it was the most thoughtful, wonderful thing. And they had wrapped up presents for me with paper from the printer. They were all things they already owned.” From these crudely wrapped presents, one stood out to KaTrina. It was from a boy who was “at the time homeless who had been passed around to all kinds of family members and family friends. It was a really, really bad situation. And he had some really big learning differences, behavioral issues.” This young man had wrapped up a small, ragged, barely-together teddy bear in crumpled up binder paper, sealed with Scotch tape. KaTrina’s eyes glassed over as she told me, “I found out soon after that it was one of his only possessions. And he had given it to me at this shower. We still have that bear.”

After leaving the public school system, she missed more than these baby showers. She told me that upon beginning work at Mounds Academy, a wealthy independent school similar to MA in the Twin Cities area, she felt like she was abandoning those students: “the first year I just felt guilty the whole time that I had left public schools. I should say I’m a product of public schools. And I never attended an independent school. I have very little contact with people who had attended.”

In between public and independent school teaching, KaTrina was an editor for a publishing company. Even in the writing world, she was able to bring her same attitude of selflessness. She was an acquisitions editor, reading through hundreds of manuscripts sent into the company every day; she gave every want-to-be-author a fair shot at getting published: “My job was just to read the ‘slush pile’ and bring anything that looked promising to the editor. But apparently I was really good at that job and the editor thought that the things I brought were spot on.”

KaTrina teaching her class, “Freedom, Choice, and Obligations.”

After succeeding at that, she was promoted: “I would go to conferences to hear people speak and approach them to say, ‘would you consider writing a book for us?’ I would read like crazy and would approach different authors to write for us. I had a magazine subscription from the company of about 70 magazines a month. I would read through and look for trends and say, hey, we’re going to have to do a book on ‘X’ because I see a pattern that this is going to become big.” She was the launchpad for countless authors, exercising the same equal opportunity mindset that she brings to MA every day.

It is obvious that KaTrina cares deeply about other people, about understanding them. I notice this was a theme across her life, and ask her how she thinks one can work to build empathy for others. She tells me, “there is not a day, and I mean that very literally, that I don’t think about a gratitude I have. And when I’m in a sense of gratitude, there’s usually someone or something attached to that. When you feel gratitude towards someone or an institution, it’s much easier to feel empathy.”

In addition to gratitude, she tells me that it is always important to assume the best intentions of others: “I think it’s rare that somebody is trying to be mean. If my assumption was that a person’s rude, it’s very hard to have empathy if you’re in that mind frame. So yeah, I assume positive intent. I think those are two things we can all do to develop empathy. Definitely.”

I was convinced. KaTrina teaches and administrates, cares and critiques, all while practicing gratitude every day. She is the positive force that we need in a time that feels more divisive than ever. KaTrina Wentzel truly is a rockstar.

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