Mr. Julian Petzold officially assumed the role of Executive Director of Valley Lutheran High School on August 1, 2020. Below he shares with us some of his favorite Valley memories, what he’s been up to since he last walked the halls here, his passion for joining and leading the Valley Lutheran faculty into this year, and more.
You recently had an opportunity to spend a few days at retreat with the Valley Lutheran faculty to prepare for this upcoming school year. What did you learn about your colleagues and the task ahead of you as you take on this new role?
I learned many great things about these incredible servants of Christ. I came to understand the extreme passion they have for the ministry of Christian education that we all share. They are committed to sharing Jesus Christ with students and parents while continuing to grow in their teaching skills. I found the combination of ministry focus and educational practice focus to be exciting.
I also learned that they love each other. Not only that, but they extended love to me as the ‘new guy’ as well. I was so welcomed, and I felt like I belonged immediately. That is what Christ’s love looks like in action, and I’m very thankful for their Christian love in my life. However, I was also drawn to understand the blessing that their Christian love is in the lives of students.
Finally, I learned how well they work together under Dr. Meyers’ leadership to remain in a posture of growth in improving as teachers. That is exciting for me to see such dedication to improvement.
The 2020-21 school year is going to look and feel significantly different in many ways. How is the theme for the year “Press On” appropriate for the experiences and challenges ahead?
I think the theme is so appropriate because Paul is talking about being pressed on every side as Christians. We live in a culture that is pressing on Christian values, beliefs, structures, morals, etc. The theme speaks directly to the everyday lives of Christians. But the theme also holds the promise that we are not crushed when the world presses in on us as believers. God sustains and strengthens us to live for Him and share the gospel message with others He places in our path.
I plan to also help the students see the value of “Press in” as well. We need to press into God’s word, the only source of truth, in order to live for Him in our world that will continue to “Press on” us as Christians. I also love the final part of the verse where Paul writes about the death of Christ and life of Christ being a part of our bodies. This reminds me of baptism, and I hope to do some celebrating of baptism birthdays this school year. I think that would be a great way to support one another as we remember all that God has done for us in and through our baptism.
As a Valley Lutheran alumnus, you join the many VL faculty and staff who have returned to work at their alma mater. Please share a couple of your favorite memories from your time as a student here.
I certainly have many fond memories from attending Valley. I didn’t cause too much trouble while here, but I can’t say I was a complete angel either. I think it would be best to say that the recent study about the decision-making portion of the brain not being fully developed until age 25 was accurate when I was a student just the same as it is today. I have to admit that I do know why the police came to school one day during my senior year because of a stolen vehicle report. I know why, and how, and where, and well…there was no stolen vehicle – just some senior boys Mr. Schlesselman left unsupervised for a few minutes.
Meeting my wife, Jen, is my favorite memory. We became friends in study hall my sophomore year and her freshman year. We didn’t start dating until about a year later, but I still have my best friend. I thank God for her every day! I ran cross country (thanks only to Mr. Schlensker – that’s another story for another time) and played basketball and baseball during my time. Those experiences created great memories. I loved sports, but I love the people I got to be with during sports. It was always fun and full of great school spirit. I would say that winning Districts my junior year was a big highlight for me. Everyone was so excited.
The teachers were so important in my life. Pastor Mac officiated our wedding over four years after our graduation. He meant that much to me due to the relationship we developed. Mr. Brandt was a great coach and mentor. Mrs. McCain taught me so much about life (and German too). It probably isn’t good to mention just a few. Every teacher had some kind of impact on me during my years, and I know they impacted me more than I can even recall.
Of course, there were events like homecoming, spirit week, prom, chapels, dramas, and other fun activities, but all the fun memories are rooted in the great people I was with – other students and the faculty alike.
Take us on a brief journey from the time you graduated from Valley Lutheran in 1989 to being named the new Executive Director in 2020. How has God prepared you in the last 31 years for this new Calling?
God has been doing some things that I never anticipated. I went to Concordia, Chicago after Valley and graduated in 1993 with a degree in Early Childhood Education. Here in Michigan, that degree translates to an Elementary Teaching Degree with an Early Childhood endorsement. A year later, I began my master’s degree at Oakland University, and I intended to get it in Early Childhood Education. However, that didn’t happen because I would have had to take 6 classes that I just took in Illinois, over again in Michigan. I wouldn’t do that, and I was left with the option of a master’s in Educational Leadership. God knew I’d become an Early Childhood Center director and then start a K-8 school at Living Word Lutheran Church a few years later. I had no idea He was preparing me for the work He had planned for me. I enjoyed being in a leadership role once I was doing it, but I never aspired to do that.
I’ve been privileged to serve on committees and boards at the Michigan district level as well. Especially my role on the Church Extension Fund (CEF) Board of Trustees has helped prepare me for this role. Being involved in the financial oversight of a strong entity like CEF has been a real blessing.
Currently, my doctoral program has helped prepare me as well. I’ve learned a great deal about school leadership, and I hope to finish my dissertation this fall and graduate from Concordia University, Chicago with a Ph. D. in Educational Leadership in December 2020.
Please introduce the Valley Lutheran family to the rest of the Petzold family.
My wife is Jennifer (Zwerk, VL ‘90). She is a Radiation Therapist at Henry Ford Hospital in Macomb, MI. We have three children. Evan is about to graduate from Central Michigan University in the fall of 2020 with a degree in Journalism. He is currently serving an internship at the Detroit Free Press as a sports reporter. Alaina is a senior at Western Michigan University. She will graduate in May 2021 with a degree in Public Relations. Logan is a junior at Lutheran High School North in Macomb, MI. He plans to study engineering, and he is considering Michigan, Michigan Tech, or Michigan State for college.
What words of wisdom from Dr. Brandt and examples of his leadership will you embrace as you step into this position as Executive Director?
Dr. Brandt has been very encouraging as I’ve begun my ministry here. He’s reminded me of the importance of sharing Jesus with students at every opportunity because, like him, I may never know the impact of a word, conversation, or sharing of my faith with a student. He’s also reminded me at this time of starting a school year with a global pandemic with odd, but still wise, advice: It’s not like anyone has ever done it better before! LOL!
Like Dr. Brandt, I plan to work diligently so that teachers can be great at their craft and Jesus can be evident in everything that happens here at Valley Lutheran. I know he has been blessed to work with so many great parents, students, and faculty and staff. I plan to enjoy that same blessing as the new Executive Director.
Welcome, Mr. Petzold, to the Valley Lutheran Family!