The Gateway Catholic School Leadership Academy

The following post is contributed by Dr. John T. James, Associate Professor, Education Department and Director of the Institute for Catholic Education at St. Louis University.

In 1999, when I assumed the presidency of Saint Albert Catholic Schools, a consolidated PreK-12 Catholic school system, I had a fairly clear understanding of the role. I had “come up through the ranks” as a teacher, department head and principal at different Catholic schools, but like any leadership role, you don’t know exactly what you’ve got yourself into until you’re “in it.”

The learning curve was steep, the challenges immense, and the ongoing professional development specific to my role was scarce. I attended NCEA conventions, attended advancement seminars and even took my leadership teams to visit high-functioning Catholic schools in other cities to learn what they were doing.

After coming to Saint Louis University, I met Brother Ray Vercruyssee at an NCEA convention. He was also a former president and later became Director of ICEL at USF. We worked on the first national President-Principal conference offered in San Francisco, then Saint Louis, then Washington, DC. The week-long conference for presidents and principals was the best we could do at the time, but it clearly wasn’t enough.

While working with the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, I soon discovered how important leadership discernment and development is in creating a viable pipeline of principals and presidents. I also learned what amazing things can happen as a result of a high-functioning team, and the incredible damage done to individuals and schools when there is a miss-match: team alignment was necessary. I also learned that the leadership discernment, ongoing professional development and job-specific training process for comprehensive Catholic school leadership, together, is often too big a job for even the largest archdioceses. After serving six years on the Jesuit Secondary Education Association (JSEA), I discovered that even an organization serving nearly sixty secondary schools, while doing amazing things, also struggled with these issues.

You’ve all heard the phrase TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More. Is it possible for all the various groups and stakeholders involved in Catholic education, who face these same issues of leadership discernment, ongoing professional development, team alignment, and job-specific training process for comprehensive Catholic school leadership to come together around this issue on a national level? Could we create a national network including NCEA, JSN (previously JSEA), superintendents and heads of sponsorship of religious order schools to address these challenges?

The Gateway Catholic School Leadership Academy (GCSLA) is a result of a two-year conversation that has brought together the National Catholic Educational Association, the Jesuit Schools Network of North America, the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers of North America, the Sisters of Mercy, and a growing number of religious orders to provide a nationally networked professional development program for current and aspiring presidents, principals and heads of Catholic schools.

GCSLA is based upon solid research-based best practices in professional development (on-going, job-embedded, real-world experiences) built upon a platform of prayer and spiritual discernment.

The Academy includes 22 sessions that are delivered in two gatherings in Saint Louis on September 28-30, 2016 and April 13-14, 2017 with additional virtual meetings in November 2016, January 2017 and March 2017 as well as virtual “check-ins” in October 2016, December 2016 and February 2017. Academy participants will also be encouraged to learn about executive-level leadership (the Presidency or the Principalship) through “homework” and experiential learning in their home diocese/school. The two gatherings, virtual meetings and “check-ins” provide both concentrated opportunities for shared reflections and learning, as well as ongoing accompaniment and learning throughout the academic year.

More information on the Gateway Catholic School Leadership Academy can be found on the web at