Students at St. Jude Grade School know that they have a special principal in Joe Shelburn, so they probably won’t be surprised if he wins the National Catholic Educational Association’s Principal of the Year Award, which will be presented in April.
“It’s pretty awesome to be nominated by the Office of Catholic Schools; it’s truly an honor,” said Shelburn, who is representing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
He has served as St. Jude’s principal for eight years and previously taught at Perry Township’s Alternative School and taught and coached at Brown County and Mooresville high schools.
While Shelburn said all schools offer fine learning opportunities, he prefers a Catholic education because it’s connected to a parish that offers a school. “It offers a strong sense of community; we have families that have been in our parish 50 or 60 years. We have a shared vision of growing our faith and what we want out of ourselves. Having like-minded priorities is powerful. Catholic schools have a strong tradition.”
Each day at St. Jude begins with special programs incorporated into the morning announcements. “On Mondays there is the “Math Minute Quiz,” and on Tuesdays sock puppets bring up interesting ideas for students to discuss throughout the day,” said Shelburn, adding that “Where in the World? by the Curious Canadian” (a fitting title since the school’s social studies teacher, Linda Buckley, was born in Canada) is the Wednesday geography segment.
Known for popping in classrooms and sharing science and math facts, Shelburn said he enjoys it when struggling students turn the corner and start to achieve in the classroom.
“I truly enjoy the people I encounter on a daily basis, and by people I mean students, teachers and parents.”
Time management is key to Shelburn because there are many priorities on his long list of daily duties. “There’s a limited number of hours in each day, and I have lot of things I must do. I’ve got 500 kids here.”
Coaching football is one of the things he finds time for. “We haven’t won any titles while I’ve been here, but we have fielded some pretty good teams.
Shelburn, who praises his parents, Mike and Connie, for the examples they set for him and his siblings while growing up, likens being a principal to a head coach.
“Education is a challenging field because it is always changing. There is always more to learn and the opportunity to get better. You never arrive at the finish line.
When away from school, Shelburn sees himself as a home improvement type of guy. “I like building furniture and decorative items,” he said. “I’m starting to work with metals and learning how to weld. I’m lucky that my wife (Sarah) is equally creative. We have a lot of shared interests.”
Shelburn attended St. Jude and Roncalli, where he was a lineman on the 1993 state championship football team (14-0). He recalls that Mike Bohn rushed for 3,165 yards that season to lead the country.
Shelburn earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Indianapolis and played and helped coach football as a graduate assistant.
He and his wife have three children, Sophie, a sophomore at Roncalli; and Max and Maggie, eighth- and fifth-graders at St. Jude, respectively.
His older brother, Ray, was a running back for the Rebels and a three-time Golden Gloves champ.
“The reason he was so good was because he always practiced on me,” laughed the younger Shelburn, whose other siblings are Anthony and Nick Shelburn and Frannie Yohler.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity that I have been given here. I have a special connection to this place; perhaps God had a hand in me being named principal. I am proud of what we have accomplished and excited about the direction we are headed.”