Ignite the Faith still fueling schools with aid

Molding leaders for Catholic schools was the goal – and now there is a track record of success for helping archdiocesan teachers earn master’s degrees in educational leadership and administration.

Nine of 15 new principals or assistant principals in archdiocesan schools earned advanced degrees with financial assistance from the $53 million Ignite the Faith capital campaign.

They are part of a pipeline for leaders built up over the last three years that includes six administrators placed previously, 21 graduates ready to be placed, and 20 more completing two-year, online programs at universities and colleges including Creighton University in Omaha.

The new administrators are sharing part of nearly $1 million in scholarships awarded through Ignite the Faith that have allowed a total of 131 teachers to seek advanced degrees in wide-ranging disciplines including history, counseling, mathematics, English and Spanish.

"The program has been phenomenal for us in advancing development," said Donna Bishop, assistant superintendent of Catholic schools.

New principals with degrees earned through the program include Christy Keenan, principal of St. Gerald School in Ralston, and Julia Pick, principal of St. Cecilia School in Omaha. Keenan and Pick said they are grateful for the effort, and they see great benefits for the archdiocese.

"By training your teachers from within, they know you support them and foster them," said Keenan, who taught five years in public schools and 11 years at St. Gerald, and the last four years was that school’s assistant to the principal.

"I am ecstatic," she said of taking her new job after earning a master’s degree in May in educational leadership. "I went to St. Gerald as a child, so it’s full circle."

Other graduates of the program placed in school leadership positions this year include Lisa DuVall, principal at St. Matthew the Evangelist in Bellevue, and Julie Perrault, assistant principal, St. Columbkille in Papillion. In Omaha, they include Andrew Bauer, principal, Ss. Peter and Paul; Tawnya Mann, principal, Holy Cross; Steve Schumacher, assistant principal, St. Wenceslaus; Rebecca Sluyter, assistant principal, St. Pius X/St. Leo; and Patricia Ahlgren, principal, Holy Name.

Pick, a member of St. Cecilia Parish, said she feels "confident and supported" as she takes the reins at the school.

"There are so many hands to help me throughout the year," including colleagues, said Pick, who taught science for seven years in public high schools and the last four years at Marian High School in Omaha, before earning her master’s in curriculum and instruction. "I know that I can contact almost anyone in the Catholic Schools Office day or night and I will hear back from them within a day."

And she isn’t concerned about losing direct contact with the students, Pick said.

"I have already committed to being in the classroom so I can help support my teachers," she said. "I will arrange ‘Lunch Bunch’ with my younger students. I have been working on developing a student leadership team."

Bishop said the leadership effort has been a big success.

"It’s a wonderful opportunity to have a pool to select from, who have been tapped on the shoulder to be part of the program," she said. "We are continuing to mold leaders."

Keenan, a member of St. Gerald Parish, said she particularly enjoyed the faith element in Creighton’s program.

"Going to Creighton has allowed me to have that infusion of Catholic faith in everything we do," she said. "It allows you to pray on it, link it to your school and interweave it in your mission all the time."

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