From Student to Teacher to Principal: Tim Garner Brings Passion and Experience as ND’s New Leader
by Lindsey Grojean
One week before the start of the 2019-2020 school year, Assistant Principal Tim Garner was tossed to the helm of Notre Dame Regional high School following the surprise reappointment of its long-time principal, Brother David Anthony Migliorino, OSF, to head one of his religious order’s schools in New York. That school year has nearly passed, and Garner will end it not as interim, but as Notre Dame’s new permanent leader.
From Student to Teacher
During his time as a student at Notre Dame, Garner considered himself fortunate to receive such an education. His mother was an alumna, and so were many extended family members, but he was still excited to venture into the school’s history for himself.
“Whether it was being in the classroom, going on TEC [Teens Encounter Christ] retreats, or being involved in the musicals or athletics, [I was] involved in this history that so many people had been a part of before,” said Garner. “These are hallowed halls and great alumni have walked through. Even coming in as a freshman, I was so happy to be a part of it.”
Garner graduated in 1993, and four years later received his Bachelor of Science in Biology degree from Rockhurst University in Kansas City. He returned to Notre Dame in 2001 as a teacher in biology, senior physics, algebra, and anything else thrown his way. Coming back, Garner said he had two conflicting emotions.
“One: it was intimidating. Some of the teachers I had… I didn’t feel like I was worthy to be that. We’re talking about teachers that I had that are still here or recently retired – Mr. Kuper, Ms. King, Mr. Wittenborn, Mrs. Ha, Mr. Koehler, Mrs. Schaefer, Mr. Glastetter – people I had so much respect for,” said Garner. “On the other hand, it was really exciting to be back!”
Garner has also coached several sports over the past 20 years at Notre Dame, including basketball, baseball, softball, and soccer.
In 2011, Garner received his Masters degree in Education Administration through William Woods University, which was put to work upon his appointment as assistant principal in 2016.
Stepping In, For Good
“It came to a point where I decided to step in, more so out of desperation than anything else,” said Garner of his abrupt beginning as interim principal. “We found out [Brother was leaving] on a Friday, he left on Tuesday, freshman orientation concluded on Wednesday and the first full day of classes was that Thursday.”
The school needed a leader as well as stability. But, he’d like to be frank: “There were lots of long days.” Thankfully, with so many experienced faculty and staff already knowing what their duties were, the transition went much more smoothly than he had anticipated.
During several months of settling into his temporary new role, Garner had accumulated a great deal of leadership advice from Bishop Rice, Diocesan Superintendent Dr. Gene Aug, Assistant Superintendent Carol Strattman, and former principal Brother David. Eventually, those conversations led Garner to coming to terms with the potential of filling the role long-term.
“I prayed about it a lot and had numerous discussions with my wife Meg [NDHS Class of 1993],” said Garner. “But it all came down to: I’m doing the work, I know the school, and I feel passionate about what I’m doing.”
That’s when he decided to throw his hat into the ring of candidates, and he didn’t take it lightly.
“I’ve always wanted my faith to be what’s guided me. Notre Dame has always been led by a religious brother or sister. So being a strong faith-filled leader must remain a priority. For years, being involved in my parish, being involved in youth events, and being involved in our school’s religious retreats have always been paramount to me and will continue to be so. It’s important that our students see that the Catholic men and women who are leading their school are heavily involved in their faith.”
In addition to leading school retreats, Garner and his wife are also involved in their parish, Immaculate Conception in Jackson.
As for engaging with students, Garner said while he “absolutely” misses working with them as a teacher, he’ll make it a priority to interact with them on a daily basis as principal.
“In the mornings, I’m out in the commons area welcoming people as they come in, walking around the gym or cafeteria during lunch hours, going through the media center, and being in the halls,” said Garner. “There’s obviously time when I have to be back in the office working on things, but I take every opportunity to get out and interact with students.”
Regarding the future of Notre Dame, Garner said through whatever changes he decides to make, he’ll still keep hold of the school’s foundation.
“[Notre Dame] has been such a presence for almost a hundred years,” said Garner. “You want to hold on to so much of that tradition.”
One development Garner would like to pursue as principal is to incorporate more efficient ways of teaching through technology. The importance in exploring what learning may look like in the next 20 years has become even more apparent over the past few weeks.
“Education is changing. Students today have had a device in their hands since they were children, so they learn differently,” said Garner. “But with the traditional classroom, there are components that are vitally important. So I think it’s best to get a combination of technology and in-person teaching that will best prep them for the future.”
Garner confirmed that he and Brother David, indeed, have differing personalities, and with Brother being a prominent figure, community involvement was a natural talent for the monk. Garner intends to maintain that interaction, and plans to use the school as a conduit for connecting the region.
“Just being a part of Notre Dame, you’re already a vital part of the community.” he said. “It’s important that we communicate with our local pastors and focus on the local Catholic community. We’ll make sure people are welcome here.”
Baptism by Fire
The way Garner looks at it– being thrown into the role as quickly as he was with Brother’s departure and bringing the school through the current pandemic– this introduction to his term is “kind of baptism by fire.”
“It’s humbled me and given me perspective,” said Garner. “We’re going through an awful lot right now. There are always going to be things that come up and challenge you, but there’s a lot of things in the future that will definitely be less challenging [than this.] And it gives me the ability to prioritize what’s truly important.”