Annemarie Vega wants to create the kind of space for students at Rochester Catholic Schools that she had growing up: The kind of space where they're inspired and challenged. The kind of community where they have heroes and mentors. The kind of place where a whole world of possibilities opens up before them.
Vega, 38, just moved from the Twin Cities to take the role as president of Rochester Catholic Schools. And as someone who has either studied in or worked at Catholic schools most of her life, she's ready for the role.
"We have been very purposeful in our pursuit to find the right person who will lead RCS as we grow our schools and strengthen our mission of providing a premier education focused on whole child excellence," Dr. John Wald, co-chair of the RCS Board of Trustees, said in a statement. "Ms. Vega brings innovative experience, proven leadership, and a deep devotion to Catholic education that will guide our schools and students into the future."
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Most recently, Vega worked for the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence in Minneapolis, where she served as the director of enrollment.
She wasn't looking to move to Rochester, but she dipped her toes into the proverbial water and started meeting different people throughout the community. Before long, she was actively considering the possibility.
"I told my husband after one of my first Zoom calls, 'if you're not open to moving, I need to stop this now because if I get this job, there's no way I'm going to be able to turn it down,'" Vega said.
Her first day on the job coincided with the first day of school. She traveled to each of the five Catholic schools in the system, doing Facebook live videos with teachers, principals and students, pumping as much energy into the start of the school year as possible.
As president, Vega will work on resource development, making sure the schools, teachers and students have what they need to learn and teach. She also will be working with the system's stakeholders, such as alumni and parents. She'll have a hand in the system's financial goals and responsibilities.
She'll also be involved in growing the school system's enrollment. According to a news release, Vega helped stabilize enrollment among nearly 80 schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. In fact, she led a team that increased K-8 enrollment by more than 1,000 students.
Rochester Catholic Schools has an enrollment of 1,315 students spread out to four elementary-middle schools and one high school and enrollment is growing. This year's enrollment is more than 100 students larger than last year's, and 250 students are new to the Catholic system.
Vega would like to capitalize on that growth and run with it. She said Catholic schools are sometimes guilty of "not singing from the rooftop" about all the good things they have to offer. But Vega herself doesn't seem shy about picking up the microphone and hitting some high notes.
Part of the reason for that is because she wants the opportunity to be open to anyone who wants it.
"For families who want a Catholic education, we are committed -- I am committed -- to making that possible," Vega said. "That's the commitment I have to accessibility."
Her own education in Catholic schools is a reflection of that. Vega talks about how her own family went through a financial hardship for a time.
But her family worked with the school to keep her in the classroom. Her mother worried about Vega and her brothers and went to speak to the head of school.
"He looked at her and said: 'we're not going to unenroll your children. This is their home. They are welcome here, and we'll work with your family to make it happen,'" Vega said. "I'm forever indebted and grateful for that."
But Vega doesn't just want to get students in the door. She wants them to thrive once they're inside. And, just as she can look back and point to a time when her school helped her family work through its financial challenges, she also can point to the teachers who prepared her for the world after graduation.
There was her fifth-grade teacher, who was among the first to treat Vega as an adult herself. Another good influence was her high school Spanish teacher who helped Vega see all the possibilities that were open to her.
Those are the kind of experiences and relationships Vega wants every student in Rochester Catholic Schools to have.
"Students, when treated with respect and maturity, can rise to the occasion," Vega said. "I think that's a great piece of Catholic education: pushing and helping kids to make their world bigger."