Bozorgzad returns to her roots in Keokuk

Principal Shari Bozorgzad reviews some papers with fifth-graders Kaitlyn Magliari and Hannah Rippenkroeger.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

KEOKUK — A visit to her hometown of Keokuk led Shari (Jobe) Bozorgzad to an opening for principal at her alma mater, St. Vincent Catholic School. She had just finished her certification in school leadership and management from Harvard University and decided to inquire about the principal position. “The rest, as they would say, is history.”

“I care deeply about St. Vincent’s and the Keokuk community. My husband and I bought a house in Keokuk in 2007 with the idea of retiring here one day. I never imagined that I would get the opportunity to come back and serve in this capacity. I feel honored to be here.”

Her dad passed away three years ago and she knew that returning to Keokuk “would mean the world to my mom (who taught for years at Cardinal Stritch High School in Keokuk). It was certainly a transition, but I have really loved being here. Saying goodbye to the Washington, D.C., traffic was glorious.”


Bozorgzad grew up in Keokuk and attended St. Vincent and Cardinal Stritch. “When I was in school, we were mostly taught by nuns. I particularly remember Sister Marguerite, who calmed our antsy little first-grade bodies by playing her guitar and singing Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now.’ I also remember Sister Carmelle, who was so soft-spoken and taught me to read.”

Class sizes were larger then. Her class had 24 graduates. The friendships “I developed from Keokuk Catholic schools have lasted me a lifetime. I continue to be in contact with five Keokuk Catholic school friends, getting together whenever possible. I also fondly remember walking to St. Peter’s Church (now All Saints Church) for weekly Mass. St. Vincent’s was just three blocks from the church. There are simply too many memories to convey.”

She and her family belonged to the former St. Mary Parish but also attended Mass at the former St. Francis Church often with her grandmother. One memory that stands out is raising money for Mother Teresa’s mission in India. “I had the privilege to present the money to her personally (in Davenport). I will never forget her words of wisdom, ‘HE will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in HIS love than your weakness.’”

Bozorgzad believes Cardinal Stritch prepared her well for college. “I was very social, so I think that added to my successes, as well.” Following college, she began her education career as a preschool teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before moving to Carrollton, Texas, where she was a preschool director.

“My husband, who was employed by the U.S. government, was sent to work in Beijing, China. I taught at the International School of Beijing for a total of five years. I also taught in Dubai, United Arab Emirates for three years, and Vienna, Austria, for two years. Domestically, I have taught in the states of Oklahoma, California, North Carolina and Virginia. I have taught grades PreK-5, been an academic coach, a social studies department head and an academic dean.”

Class size at Keokuk’s Catholic schools is smaller than when she was a student. Today, St. Vincent’s has an average of 11 students per grade. “We also have a much lower Catholic/non-Catholic ratio than when I went to school at St. Vincent’s (approximately one-third of the students today are Catholic).” A very positive difference between then and now is that “students are very tech-savvy these days, and they love inquiry-based learning.”

A strong sense of community in the classroom and school continue to be focal points at St. Vincent’s, Bozorgzad said. “We continue to cultivate strong friendships and core values.”
When she arrived in her new job this past summer, she had pressing demands to fill positions for preschool teacher, kindergarten, grades one through three, religion and music. “It was daunting. I am thankful to Superintendent Lynne Devaney who checked in with me frequently and offered valuable advice and encouragement. She advocated with the Department of Education and the Bureau of Educational Examiners. Her support was instrumental in our success. We ended up hiring several teachers using Emergency Substitute Teachers authorized by the state of Iowa.”

Enrollment is steady but Bozorgzad’s goal is to increase class sizes. “I am working on getting our name out in the community so people don’t forget we are here. Social media has allowed us to have a more prominent presence.”

She recalled a quote that states ‘“Our greatest and best inheritance comes from the education that we have been given.’ Our amazing parents, teachers, alumni, and parish communities are our most significant supporters, and they are the reason we can offer this great inheritance to our children.”

Bozorgzad said, “Our teachers are amazing, but we cannot compete with the other schools in the area in terms of salary and benefits. Raising funds that will allow us to retain the very best educators is one of my greatest goals.”

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