Category Archives: Catholic School Matters

Catholic School Matters Top 5

We are all sad for what we’ve lost. The present can seem downright depressing and the immediate future looks even less promising. Read the HBR article entitled “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief” which addresses the emotional experience of change in times such as these. While it might be easier to think only students are losing out on many spring rituals, most of us have been living disrupted lives and grief can surface there, too.

We’ve all been trying to provide the best environment for our employees and the most valuable experience for our students. Chris Lehmann, a principal from Philly, offers a great reflection “Doing School in the Time of Coronavirus.” It might be the best thing I’ve read this week. Close behind is Deborah Cohan’s “What Do We Need to Teach Now?” in Inside Higher Ed.  It’s a great look at one professor’s struggle to figure out the technology, connect with her students, and figure out what’s essential.

We need to stop and consider the concept of overwhelm.  “How not to overwhelm your school” from ASCD is a reminder that you can’t do everything.  And yes, I realize the irony that this is coming from the guy who presents 50 links at a time!  Our faculty, staff, students, and parents are already close to the breaking point with anxiety and stress.

Decision fatigue is a factor.  Our lives have become so disrupted that we are now forced to make so many decisions that overwhelm is a factor in our daily, family, as well as professional lives.  This great blog post about “Decision Fatigue” from the Cult of Pedagogy folks is a classic.

I worry about our people.  The level of anxiety and stress is high and that’s before we even consider the disruption of our school lives.  We are worried about our health, our loved ones, the future.  When we try to re-create school digitally, it can overload our students, parents, and teachers.  On top of that, we have a disruption in our social supports.  Think for a minute of a student who loses a parent due to COVID-19.  They might have been separated from them at the time of death.  None of his/her friends can join him/her during this time of need.  There will not be a funeral for a while and even the committal ceremony is private.  The family might be separated by quarantine.  Read this article from The Atlantic about a social recession which offers 4 tips that you can implement now.  The “social recession” threatens to be even more damaging than the economic one.  Another article to consider is from EdSurge: “The Case for Shutting Down Schools.”  I’m not advocating for this course of action but the ideas are thought-provoking.  What are we prioritizing?

We need to carve out a little time to think strategically.  We always need to do this!  I’ve been asking “How do we want our schools to look differently after this crisis?”  It’s a great question because it assumes that we’re not just doing this to survive but we’re experimenting and innovating and the best parts will be integrated.  So what are your best parts?  Here’s a great article to get you thinking about the big picture by conducting a “premortem” of the crisis.

Three other articles really jumped out at me this week:

Top 5

The week has been spent focusing on Coronavirus matters—operational questions, HR questions, cash flow questions, remote learning issues, closures, etc.  So, again, I’m sharing some of the best articles in this week’s newsletter that I came across to give you a little food for thought and a sense of connection to others who are struggling to make sense of their new realities.  The Top 5 (all listed at the top of the links):

  1. Brene Brown’s great blog post “Collective Vulnerability, the FFTs of Online Learning, and the Sacredness of Bored Kids” really struck a nerve. Check out this quote: “how hard it is to be new at things – from small things to global pandemics. When we have no relevant experience or expertise, the vulnerability, uncertainty, and fear of these firsts can be overwhelming.”  Aren’t we all feeling a bit of this vulnerability?  Trying something new, not feeling entirely comfortable at what we’re doing.
  2. The HBR article “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief” has become one of their most popular articles for good reason. We have all lost a little something and we need to recognize it.
  3. Chris Lehmann’s “Doing School in the Time of Coronavirus” is a great article born out of his experience when his school was shut down earlier this year.
  4. Tom Barrett also came through again with another great article, “The Post Corona World.” This is about strategic thinking. Can you imagine a good outcome to your school after this crisis?
  5. Deborah Cohan presented some great thoughts on the struggle to set up a remote learning experience for her students in “What Do We Need to Teach Now?” It’s a look at how teachers need to balance the technological learning curve, the reality of their own lives, the place where the students are, and the need to teach what’s important.

Enjoy the articles. Stay safe and take courage.

Catholic School Matters Radio Hour

Here is a link to the March 25 Catholic School Matters Radio Hour featuring three great guests. First, I talk to principal (soon-to-be “Doctor”) Lauren Roberts of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in Dallas about her graduate program at SMU and her experience of earning her EdD while working. We explore her research project on funding inequalities in Catholic schools in one diocese.

Her work explores what the funding inequities look like, what are the downstream effects, and possible solutions. She details the impacts on student learning and she is raising important questions. We talk about how subsidiarity is used to mask these issues.

Recently graduated from the Catholic University Ph.D. program, Dr. Jim King joins the podcast to describe his research in Catholic education. He studied lay Catholic elementary programs and influence of contemplative leadership practices on Catholic school culture. Dr. King described what his study looked like and how he conducted the research. He talks about how this project became interesting to him and how graduate school unfolded for him.

Currently enrolled in the Ed.D. program at Creighton University while working at Bishop McNamara High School, Abbie Greer joins the podcast to discuss her research in Catholic education. Her dissertation will investigate the special education knowledge of secondary school leaders and the relationship to their school’s inclusive education programs. She wants to explore whether the knowledge of the leader impacts the programs offered or even whether inclusion is tied into the charism and mission of the school.

She described the choice of the Creighton program and how it worked into her professional life. Here is another link to this great episode.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

How do we do school when we aren’t at school? And how do we do Church when we aren’t at church? As we’re all trying to navigate this new world, it helps to take a step back and remember that we are trying to connect with people in new ways. It seems that every waking hour in the past week has been taken up by Coronavirus responses, Coronavirus reading or research, or dealing with the mostly exceptional Uhl children running around our house. Here’s how I’ve approached this crisis:

Pay attention to relationships. On my end, I’ve instituted a daily virtual meeting at 9 AM with principals. They can log in and get the latest reports and ask anything. We’re trying to solve problems together. I send them a daily Coronamemo with links and information. I encourage them to do the same with their staffs, and I encourage every teacher to video conference with their students. As so many of us are socially isolated at home, we need to provide connections to classmates and teachers. A one-on-one between every student and teacher should be mandatory. Office hours, links to the counselor, daily emails to parents, all feed our need for connection.

Another important note about relationships. We start here to keep our focus on the needs of our students and our communities. This should be our primary concern and should be the first note of all of our communications. Yes, our school’s futures are at risk. But that should be a secondary concern.

Build routines. Part of the reason for a 9 AM daily meeting is to help me establish a routine. Our students need routines. After a week, those routines will work to alleviate some of the anxiety. You should build in a morning assembly, daily prayer, weekly Mass, a daily email to parents, virtual town halls once a week, daily video checkins with faculty, etc.

Build your model of remote learning. Every school is a little different with different capacities, technology infrastructure, and expectations. Each school needs to find that sweet spot somewhere between handing out a worksheet packet and following the class schedule. How can you bring real, rigorous, relevant learning remotely? No one has it down yet. But you need to put rigorous learning as your goal, try something, and build on that.

Be an Educational Leader. Most of our parents don’t know how to manage their children all day. They need ideas for structure, model daily schedules, suggestions for screen use, and recommendations for books and entertainment. How do you lead a school when no one is there?

Communicate what you’re doing. This goes back to relationships and routines. Your parents and stakeholders need to know what you’re doing, what’s working, and where/how you’re concerned.

Don’t lose sight of the operational and HR needs. Federal employment law abruptly changed last week and will impact sick leave and emergency leave. Unemployment benefits have changed, too. You need to understand these to lessen the anxiety of your staff.

Share your plan for the future. What’s your cash flow look like for the rest of the year? With the loss of fundraising revenue and possible loss of some tuition, what will that do to your budget? If you don’t come back to school until August, what will this mean? You need to communicate with your parents. If you’ve done this all, then it won’t be hard to ask for support. If the first thing you do is send an invoice for tuition or ask for more money, you’re not likely to garner much response.

With a one-two punch of the Coronavirus and a looming recession, many fragile Catholic schools are facing an existential crisis. We need to take care to respond appropriately to inspire confidence and prove our worth.

Top 5

My past week was dominated by Coronavirus concerns so I’m going to share the resources and articles I found valuable. The Top 5:

  1. In the first section, Fr. Joe Corpora from Notre Dame has written a poignant piece on navigating this crisis: “Being Mercy, Salvation, and the Laundry Left Undone” is simply wonderful.
  2. Later in that section, to remind yourself why we’re doing this, make sure to read the Imperial College report which changed everything, or the “Extraordinary decisions” article about Italian hospitals.
  3. In the Operational Resources section, Dr. Julie Cantillon and the Diocese of San Diego Catholic schools team has put together a super website with resources for remote learning. Check it out and sign up for her daily updates.
  4. In the Religion Resource section, I’ve come across a number of great resources for religious content (Formed, Word on Fire, Sadlier) but the best is the Diocese of Grand Rapids. It’s what church looks like during this difficult time.
  5. In the last section on Crisis & Communication, the HBR article “Build Your Resilience in the Face of a Crisis” is a great reflection. Call this what it is (a crisis) and look to learn to improve your skills navigating.

Be safe and be courageous. We need great leaders now more than ever.


This week’s Catholic School Matters podcast episode presents three Catholic school practitioners who are completing their graduate degrees with dissertation topics in the field of Catholic education. Lauren Roberts from Dallas, Dr. Jim King from Maine, and Abbie Greer from Washington, DC all present their story of graduate school, research, and share interesting implications from their research.

Catholic School Matters Radio Hour

Here is a link to the March 18th Catholic School Matters Radio Hour. This week’s podcast features two great guests. First, Dr. Ann Garrido, professor of homiletics and author of the recent book “Let’s Talk About Truth: A Guide for Preachers, Teachers, and Other Catholic Leaders in a World of Doubt and Discord, joins the podcast (again!) to discuss her book on truth and what she was hoping to accomplish.

Ann believes her message is important so we discuss “everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” facts, objective reality, truth, and alignment with reality. She outlines the different levels of truth: facts, judgements, and relationships. She discusses the difficulty of making good judgements because it’s difficult to get facts and trust the sources of our information.

Ann discusses how some people’s motivations interfere with truth. They are not interested in aligning their realities to truth, rather they are interested in persuading people to another reality.

Ann says that our society has seemed to have lost the capacity to name a lie.  We discuss how the divorce from facts has impacted our culture. Ann points out that she has never heard a homily about lying. According to the catechism, lying affects the fundamental relation between a man and God.

Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Those three questions provide some fodder for conversation as we discuss how important relationships are in communication. Love and mercy need to be part of the discussion about truth.

Then my next guest, Meg Samaniego, the Director of the Onward Leaders program in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles describes the leadership formation program in the Archdiocese. Seventeen emerging leaders have been trained with sixteen still in the Archdiocese and six are being trained this year. Samaniego describes what they are looking for and the three levers they use to train new leaders: stewardship, navigating the Archdiocesan school system, mission of the school as part of the parish, the Archdiocese, and the church at large. Two skills and one mindset, she explains, which serve to train new leaders but also serve as threats to a new leader.

She also underscores the unique ways they train new leaders and prepare emerging leaders for the challenges of Catholic school leadership.

Here is another link to the March 18th podcast.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

I had the privilege to read Ann Garrido’s latest book Let’s Talk About Truth last month and her message of examining, articulating, and challenging truth in our world has been swimming in my mind for the past few weeks. She challenges Christians to speak out in defense of truth and recognize that there is such a thing as objective truth. She posits that we should all be trying to align ourselves with the truth.  In other words, our reality should try to align with objective reality.

Then, I heard President Trump address Coronavirus concerns in February. “Additional cases in the United States are likely, but healthy individuals should be able to fully recover. So, healthy people, if you’re healthy, you will probably go through a process and you’ll be fine,” he said. The implication is that if you’re not healthy, you’re not important. And I’ve heard this repeated over and over—that our students aren’t in danger and we shouldn’t be so concerned.

Yet we are concerned about our students serving as vectors (meaning that our students are going to spread), not as much as victims. Here is a great article about whether closing schools helps contain pandemics. We need to be concerned about all members of our community and closing our schools can help to flatten the curve and protect all our citizens.

I do not fully understand the situation with the medicine for this virus, what existing medicines can be taken, is it worth buying Aralen?

My concern is that we are allowing people to become dehumanized. We can now include the elderly and sick with immigrants, non-Americans, and the disabled. We cannot allow this to continue. Every person has dignity and worth. This is our truth and we need to work to align our current political reality with this truth.

Why are we not speaking out? I think the reason can be found not in Garrido’s book but in a NCR interview with Bishop John Michael Botean of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy of St. George’s. Bishop Botean alludes to the fact that to have any “leverage with the administration,” they need to support the president. Too many Catholics, including our bishops, have become enamored with the results of the current administration and fail to question the false statements and outrageous and un-Christian comments. The ends don’t justify the means.

Garrido’s book provides a framework for understanding truth and calling one to action. Jesus spoke out for the marginalized; he didn’t further marginalize the neglected. And then, I ran into a LinkedIn post by Lizanne Pando, the current President of St. Hubert School for Girls. Lizanne was celebrating her daughter’s acceptance to college. Jenna, who has Down Syndrome, was accepted to a college program. The joy on her face (pictured with her father) is a testament to the gifts and beauty of every person, not just the healthy normative types celebrated by so many in our current political climate.

Top 5

Last week, I said I was going to take a break for a couple of weeks.  However, everything has been cancelled so I have had time to collect some great articles and put together this week’s issue. I don’t imagine this is going to change because I think we’re in for a long disruption in travel and social interactions. The Top 5:

  1. Let’s start with the Coronavirus. If you haven’t looked at the CDC guidance, please do so. And even if you have, look again. There’s a lot of great information here. I’ve also included four different links in the Teaching & Learning section which present resources and tips for virtual learning, including one teacher’s online teaching plan. In the Miscellaneous section, there are two articles dealing with communication tips with children. Frank Donaldson of IPSD passed along his crisis management tips which are certainly valuable. I imagine this is as far as most of you will get with the newsletter since Coronavirus is dominating our work right now.
  2. In the Leadership section, the Science article “Does Closing School Slow the Spread of Coronavirus?” is insightful and should help school leaders deal with confused stakeholders who don’t understand why school must be suspended. The Atlantic’s article on the “triage” approach and moral dilemmas in Italy’s hospitals is worth a look.
  3. William D. Parker’s powerful blog post “The Power of Sharing Your Own Story” is simply wonderful. He worked to identify 8 powerful stories about his life which he can use to illustrate who he is. Worth a read for every school leader.
  4. The HBR article “How to Spot an Incompetent Leader” is delightful. It includes a measure of narcissism (!) and discussion about our ability (and failure) to detect signs of incompetence.
  5. At the end of the Miscellaneous section, I include two resources from Dr. Ashley Berner of Johns Hopkins. First, there is a report on pluralism studying the results of the School Choice movement in Indianapolis titled “Does Educational Pluralism Build Civil Society?” and then there is a 45-minute webinar on a new measurement of school culture which she helped develop. Looks like an interesting and valuable project.

Be well! These are interesting and difficult times. Take care of yourself.


On this week’s Catholic School Matters podcast, Dr. Ann Garrido, professor of homiletics and author of the recent book “Let’s Talk About Truth: A Guide for Preachers, Teachers, and Other Catholic Leaders in a World of Doubt and Discord, joins the podcast (again!) to discuss her book on truth and what she was hoping to accomplish.

The Director of the Onward Leaders program in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,  Meg Samaniego, describes the leadership formation program in the Archdiocese. Seventeen emerging leaders have been trained with sixteen still in the Archdiocese and six are being trained this year. Samaniego describes what they are looking for and the three levers they use to train new leaders: stewardship, navigating the Archdiocesan school system, mission of the school as part of the parish, the Archdiocese, and the church at large.

Catholic School Matters Radio Hour

On this week’s Catholic School Matters Radio Hour podcast, I bring on three great guests to discuss my new book, Orchestrating Conflict: Case Studies in Catholic School Leadership. They are all return guests and represent different perspectives on the case study book. I sent them a chapter before the book was published and we had a conversation about what they read.

First, author and theologian Dr. Ann Garrido joined me to discuss a chapter on coercion and we discuss how conflict impacts our decisions and how one can navigate the tricky situations. Since Garrido wrote an entire book on conflict, it is a great conversation about shaping school culture and ministering during the difficult times.

Then, Dr. Mimi Schuttloffel of the Seminaries of St. Paul joined me to discuss the value of case studies and a chapter on Catholic identity. We discuss how to balance community and hierarchy and how that impacts our work in Catholic schools.

Finally, Joe Womac, the President of the Specialty Family Foundation, joined me to discuss a chapter on a donation and ethics in development. He mentions a few interesting stories from his past where he had to apply ethics while pursuing his goal of raising money for Catholic ministries.

Together, these three conversations serve as a great introduction to the new book, Orchestrating Conflict: Case Studies in Catholic School Leadership. Here is another link to the podcast.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

This week’s blog centers around my new book, Orchestrating Conflict: Case Studies in Catholic School Leadership. I hope to explain why I wrote it, why I think it’s valuable, and why I think you should read it.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen friends in Catholic education endure some really difficult situations. As the pressure on keeping enrollments at sustainable levels have reached critical stages, the moral quandaries have seemingly become more difficult. How does one prepare for the kinds of conflicts which can divide a school community when we can least afford any division? Or, perhaps better, how do we learn from the experience of other Catholic school leaders as they’ve navigated these troubled waters?

A couple of years ago, I read a book on deliberate practice entitled Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool. It inspired me to begin thinking about how we could apply deliberate practice principles to forming Catholic school leaders. I started writing scenarios, then some of them became case studies, and before I knew it, I had a book proposal!

I finished the book last fall and it’s now published. Orchestrating Conflict: Case Studies in Catholic School Leadership is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I believe the book will enrich your understanding of the conflicts in our Catholic school communities and will help stakeholders navigate those controversies.

The case study method and deliberate practice—involving a systematic method of analyzing and reflecting on conflicts—will help Catholic school leaders to meet the challenges of Catholic school leadership as they face a myriad of conflicts and controversies which are dividing many school communities. Inside are twelve case studies, a method for learning from these controversies, and an appendix full of other potential scenarios for further study. The case studies cover topics that are controversial now in Catholic schools and reveal the conflicts between different factions in Catholic schools. 

The book suggests paying attention to the particulars in each situation and orchestrating the conflicts between community and policy. The title came from Ron Heifetz who suggested we need to spend time on the balcony as well as on the dance floor, orchestrating and acting simultaneously. We need to talk about the controversies and this book allows for leaders to explore ways to explore ways to orchestrate conflict.

Top 5

In this week’s blog and podcast, I introduce my new book, Orchestrating Conflict: Case Studies in Catholic School Leadership. I’ve also included a case study about discipline and African-American braids and some great articles. The Top 5:

  1. In the Leadership section, the first link is to information about a new Strategic Planning course produced by the Arrupe Virtual Learning Initiative. I’ve taken the course and found it extremely useful. See this link for more information.
  2. In that same section is a 5-minute TED video on effective feedback. It’s a very interesting and practical video.
  3. In the Teaching & Learning section, the best link I can provide in this issue is from the great blogger Larry Ferlazzo entitled “Gold Mine of Resources for Educators Preparing for School Closures.” He provides a link to many resources and it will be a page I will want to continue to check. How does one plan for a Virtual Day for second graders? (This is a question I ponder since I have one of those living in my house!). Larry delivers once again! We need to be prepared for how the Coronavirus response will impact our schools.
  4. In the Miscellaneous section, the first article “The Definitive Guide for Handling Haters” by Maria Popova (of the “Brain Pickings” blog) is simply fantastic. It gives you inspiration on how to handle criticism and push forward with your ideas. If you’re a school leader facing criticism about a tuition increase, or the parent of a middle schooler (!), or guiding a project toward completion, you’ll find this article speaks to your reality.
  5. The next article in that section details Mitch Daniels’ efforts to freeze tuition at Purdue. In Catholic schools, I hear talk about what we don’t have (resources, students) or what we can’t provide (higher salaries, better facilities) but we don’t focus on what we do—provide an excellent education for as little cost as possible. Mitch Daniels has done this on the university level and it’s worth considering.

Have a great week! I’m going to take a week or two off to complete some important projects so will be back later this month.


This week, I present a different type of Catholic School Matters Radio Hour podcast. I sent three people sample chapters from my new book and we had conversations about what they thought, how they were inspired and whether they thought the case study worked for them. All three are return guests: Dr. Ann Garrido, author and last year’s NCEA keynoter; Dr. Mimi Schuttloffel, formerly of Catholic U. and now from St. Paul Seminary; and Joe Womac of the Specialty Family Foundation in Los Angeles. All three are return guests and old friends so the conversation is rich and enjoyable.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

The late Thomas Sergiovanni once wrote that if we were to change the metaphor of schools from organization to community it would change how schools are run, how we motivate teachers and students, and it would change our understanding of leadership and authority. It’s worth recognizing that many of our Catholic schools claim to be communities or families—yet a hierarchical system of authority undergirds that metaphor. Also, many leaders fall short of community principles with their leadership styles. When we enforce policy at all costs, for instance, we send the message that policies outweigh relationships.

Sergiovanni’s article came to mind when I visited Bishop Manogue High School last month. When I visited two years ago, the school was in transition. The school had seen continuous leadership and staff turnover. Their new principal, Bri Thoreson, sought ways to build morale and build community after she recognized that the turnover had led to trust issues, which was clear to me as an accreditation team member.

She attended a school culture workshop with a few teachers and tried two initiatives which both failed. This story has a happy ending but it’s important to recognize that Thoreson’s first two initiatives failed. Success doesn’t always come immediately. She kept trying. When the school decided to become a 1:1 school, she realized that the faculty needed professional development and support. They created a popular Google classroom for teachers and Thoreson began to recognize that teachers were chatting and hanging out more—first online, then face-to-face. A new president, Matt Schiambari, was appointed and Thoreson mentioned that she wanted to start a spirit-building competition. Schiambari encouraged her to try. He gave her the freedom to try another program and promised to participate.

Thoreson launched the “House Cup” competition last fall. Staff members were randomly assigned to four houses (named for the four Harry Potter houses) and were given points for attending school events, competing in spirit competitions, and completing service projects. The Houses are given a meeting time once per month (although they meet more frequently) and the House members dress in their House colors on certain days. This is only for staff members and the winning house each semester is given $100 a piece. (This is Nevada, after all. Money has to be involved!).

On my return visit last month, every person mentioned the benefit of the House Cup. Staff members raved about the connections they have made with people from other departments. Students talked about how jealous they were that staff members can compete. They noticed that staff members are happy and friendly with one another. Everyone seemed to recognize that the House Cup competition has become contagious. School spirit is up and it looks like staff retention for next year will be lower, too.

I met Thoreson through Tony Sabatino, the late Loyola Marymount professor who impacted so many in Catholic education. Tony would have been so proud of Thoreson for her excellent leadership! Congrats to Schiambari for leading in an empowering way and for the staff of Bishop Manogue for building a community built on relationships, instead of an organization based solely on rules and hierarchy.

Want to keep up with the conversations surrounding Catholic education? Set up your own Google Alert, subscribe to this newsletter by clicking “follow,” subscribe to the Catholic Schools Daily, or subscribe to the Catholic School Matters podcast.

Top 5

Welcome to March! In this week’s newsletter, I discuss one school’s successful innovation to build community and morale. It should serve as good food for thought for this crazy month. With one foot firmly planted in finishing this year, we all have another foot planted in planning for next year. Add to that the inevitable meltdown (staff member or student) and it’s usually an interesting month. The Top 5:

  1. In the Leadership section, blogger David Geurin has a great piece called “Experience Alone is Not Enough” where he explores the idea that simply doing something for a few years doesn’t make you a master. There is an old joke about a retiring teacher (“he had one year of teaching experience that he repeated 24 times”) that could just as easily apply to school leaders. How are you learning from your experience?
  2. The next link in that same section is from Tom Barrett who explores the meaning and application of design thinking principles. Have you heard “design thinking” thrown around educational circles?  Barrett’s article provides you with a great framework for understanding.
  3. In the Teaching & Learning section, George Couros has a great blog piece on learning new skills, “Switching it Up.”
  4. The next article discusses the academic benefits of hiring a school counselor. It’s worth considering the priority of student mental health.
  5. In the miscellaneous section, Farnam Street’s article on the mental models of an astronaut is worth a read. The discussion of mental models is thought-provoking and Shane Parrish is doing great work in this area.

Have a great week!


On this week’s Catholic School Matters Radio Hour, I have two great conversations with two great Catholic school leaders. The founding principal of Juan Diego High School in Salt Lake City, Dr. Galey Colosimo, joins the podcast to tell the story of the origins of the school which began in 1999. The project began in 1995 and Colosimo tells the on-again, off-again story of the newest Catholic high school in Salt Lake City. Then, the Diocese of Sacramento’s Executive Director of Schools, Lincoln Snyder, joins the podcast to discuss new governance models in his diocese. Taking a unique path to the superintendency, Snyder’s business experience and work on school boards prepared him for the challenges of his current experience. He is also the first naturalized Polish citizen to join the podcast.

Catholic School Matters Radio Hour

Here is a link to today’s Catholic School Matters Radio Hour. Two great Catholic school leaders join the podcast.

The superintendent of the Partnership Schools in New York City, Kathleen Porter-Magee, joins the podcast to first, discuss her new articles(s) on “Catholic On the Inside.” We discuss how we shape school culture. Her articles have been the most read for the past three weeks of Catholic School Matters. These are great articles and deserve your attention!

  1. Manhattan Institute report “Catholic on the Inside: Putting Values Back at the Center of Education Reform
  2. An Alienated America Needs Community-Building Schools–Something Catholic Schools Have Been Doing for Decades” in the 74.
  3. America magazine article, “In an Age of Extreme Individualism, Catholic Schools Are More Important Than Ever.”

She describes her argument that if schools imitate the exterior symbols of Catholic schools (such as uniforms), they lose sight of what’s really important in Catholic schools. Catholic schools are overperforming on state tests and she believes it’s because they are focused on more than simply test scores.

What are the differentiating factors which set Catholic schools apart? Often Catholic schools adopt practices, language, and reports that seem to mimic their public school counterparts. She then continues by discussing what sets apart Catholic schools: there is objective truth and all people are created in God’s image–as well as how that shapes us.

“You can lift people up by putting them down.” We discuss how asset framing works by not referring to people by their deficiencies and deficits. Instead, asset framing looks at potential and gifts to share the mindsets of our schools.

Then, the second guest comes who needs no introduction! Celebrating her 25th year as principal of Christ the King Catholic School in Little Rock, Kathy House is a living legend. First, House discusses her long-time collaboration (19 years!) with one pastor—the Bishop-Elect of Shreveport, Monsignor Malone. Monsignor Malone is scheduled to be ordained on January 28, 2020.

At one point, House and Malone gave seminars on the pastor-principal relationship, called “The Dynamic Duo.” House shares her wisdom that the pastor is ultimately responsible and she needed to defer to him. The collaborative nature of their leadership model is worth a listen.

House shared that she needed to figure out how each one of her pastors works and shows concern in order to be effective. She talks about the importance of keeping her pastor informed and discusses what that looks like.

The school started in 1986 and House has overseen tremendous growth. She discusses how the school grew and how expansion was prioritized. She discussed the fundraising plans and how the parish-school collaboration shaped their campaigns and talked about how she had to learn the skills to be an effective financial manager and fundraiser for such a large operation.

She discussed how she was tapped on the shoulder to lead as a kindergarten teacher, how serving such a long time has given her a unique perspective on community, and then how she has changed as a leader. “I don’t overthink things like I did then,” she said. She has developed a way to respond and has more confidence and a larger network to draw from.

She also provides tips on learning students’ names and the importance of doing this which grows the sense of belongingness among the students. House discusses how she gives the tours and shows the best of her school. She also gives tips on maintaining and cultivating Catholic identity.

More than anything, you’ll be listening to a great principal who loves her job and does it well. What more can you ask for?

Catholic School Matters Top 5

In the past few weeks, I’ve had a few school leaders share their disappointment in their school communities. They have felt attacked and abused. Having given so much effort into building community, they are perplexed at the vitriol which has emerged. Then a school leader shared with me that he was being let go from his school in an abrupt manner and another leader shared her disappointment that she was abruptly told not to apply to her dream job. For all, the common theme was being treated in an un-Christian manner in a Catholic school environment.

It brought me back to the most difficult year in my professional life. Ten years ago, my wife and I decided to return to Seattle after our sojourn to Louisiana. We made this decision amid an active campaign to get rid of me mostly conducted through the online comments pages of the local newspaper. At that time, the paper allowed anonymous comments and a few members of the community took advantage of this opportunity to attack me in often very un-Christian words. I certainly made mistakes and was by no means a perfect principal. But no one deserves to be attacked and smeared while doing their best work for the Church.

When we announced we were moving back to Seattle, I began to apply for administrative jobs in Seattle Catholic schools. But those hiring committees read those comments and believed me to be a toxic, unpopular leader. They wouldn’t hire me for any position, convinced that I was running away from a dumpster fire that I had lit. Members of my Catholic school community were not only destroying my present, they were also short circuiting my future. So we moved to Seattle (with two kids in diapers) without jobs and I was unemployed until October when I secured an interim principal position.

I questioned my place in Catholic schools and wondered whether it was time to change careers. But I kept coming back to my great experiences in Catholic schools growing up and the great schools I had been part of like Bishop Lynch, Creighton Prep, and Bishop Blanchet. I knew I had something to offer and was falling victim to the horrible actions of a few. Unfortunately, un-Christian behavior can be a major component of Catholic school environments.

When faced with un-Christian behavior in your school, I recommend first looking at your school norms. Norms, after all, are what is accepted as normal. If it’s normal for parents to gossip about teachers on social media, someone needs to challenge that norm. If it’s normal for parents or board members to denigrate teachers or coaches in public forums, someone needs to challenge that norm. If you’re the school leader, you are the obvious one to challenge those norms and establish new ones.

As school leaders we shouldn’t be afraid, however, to be vulnerable and admit how ad hominem attacks can take a toll. Teachers can especially benefit by hearing how un-Christian attacks impact your life since many teachers deal with these attacks frequently. Imagine if vulnerability were our leadership paradigm—rather than power or being right. Then perhaps people would stop attacking people in power and treat others like humans. Or at the very least we could establish new norms.

If you need some inspiration, watch this 2014 Brené Brown talk. “Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count” talks about how to respond when critics attack. If you’re not in the arena struggling for truth, she says, your feedback shouldn’t matter.

Ultimately as school leaders we are called to love our enemies. “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them?” (Luke 6:32). We often talk about creating communities centered on Gospel values. Is love of enemies one of those values? Imagine what our schools would look like if that were true.

Top 5

In this week’s newsletter, I discuss the reality that most of us face at one point in our Catholic school careers—we can often be treated in a very un-Christian manner. I’ve also collected some great articles and here are the Top 5:

  1. In the American Catholic news section, the first article is an in-depth look at All Hallows High School in the Bronx. It’s inspiring, well-written, and worth your time.
  2. Take a look at the Catholic schools opening & closing section to read about the brand new Catholic school opening in Henderson, Nevada as well as the stark contrast in Flint, Michigan whose St. Pius X Catholic School is closing. In one place, the sheer number of Catholics is staggering compared to the dwindling numbers in the school and parish in Flint.
  3. At the end of the “Leadership” section, this 22-minute video from Brené Brown “Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count” is a great reflection on responding to criticism. It was shared by educational blogger Tom Barrett from Australia. Not caring what people think shuts us off to human connection, according to Brown, but allowing us to be defined by what others say cuts us off from vulnerability.
  4. In the Miscellaneous section, the New Yorker article on Richard Rohr (“How Richard Rohr is Reordering the Universe”) is a fascinating piece which reveals his appeal and explains his theology in very clear terms.
  5. In the same section, the next two articles highlight the phenomenon affecting private, small, and often Catholic universities. Concordia University in Portland just announced it is closing, the Chronicle of Higher Ed gives a guideline on school closings. Small Catholic liberal arts colleges are closing at the rate of one every 10 months and there are lessons that K-12 schools can learn.

Have a great week! It’s going to be two weeks until the next issue.


This week’s Catholic School Matters podcast highlights two great guests. The superintendent of the Partnership Schools in New York City, Kathleen Porter-Magee, joins the podcast to first, discuss her new articles(s) on “Catholic On the Inside.” We discuss how we shape school culture. Her articles have been the most read for the past three weeks of Catholic School Matters. These are great articles and deserve your attention!

  1. Manhattan Institute report “Catholic on the Inside: Putting Values Back at the Center of Education Reform
  2. An Alienated America Needs Community-Building Schools—Something Catholic Schools Have Been Doing for Decades” in the 74.
  3. America magazine article, “In an Age of Extreme Individualism, Catholic Schools Are More Important Than Ever.”

She describes her argument that if schools imitate the exterior symbols of Catholic schools (such as uniforms), they lose sight of what’s really important in Catholic schools. Catholic schools are overperforming on state tests and she believes it’s because they are focused on more than simply test scores.

Then, my next guest is celebrating her 25th year as principal of Christ the King Catholic School in Little Rock. Kathy House is a living legend. First, House discusses her long-time collaboration (19 years!) with one pastor—the Bishop-Elect of Shreveport, Monsignor Malone. Monsignor Malone is scheduled to be ordained on January 28, 2020.