Letter from the President
September 1, 2016
“Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.” Because our society moves at break-neck speed and creates never-ending “noise” that can distract each of us in so many ways, it is vitally important that we make time throughout each day to pause, remember, and reflect that we are indeed always in the holy presence of God. In my role as president at De La Salle High School, I will have as my greatest priority to ensure that every aspect of our school community is worthy of standing tall with confidence in the holy presence of God.
I am grateful, blessed, and excited to be the president of De La Salle High School. I offer my sincere thanks to our former, late president, Dr. Michael Guillot, for his vital role in galvanizing this school community for the spirited resurgence that it has enjoyed these last several years; and I add my thanks to Dr. Seghers for maintaining this resurgence with the help of many people throughout our school’s community.
Since July 15, I have officially been president, but I have had numerous opportunities to be a part of the school community since my appointment this past December. While still committed to my position as principal at Christ the King through June 30, I was fortunate to have opportunities to meet numerous DLS alumni, to have numerous meetings with members of the administration, to attend the SACS/AdvancED final recommendation/accreditation sessions, to attend the January back to school faculty in-service, to attend the local Lasallian Educators’ Convocation at Christian Brothers School, to attend several athletic events (including the state wrestling tournament in Shreveport, and it was very exciting to be there when we won the state championship!!), to attend a student performance of The Crucible, to attend our Board of Regents Dinner, and last, but certainly not least, to attend the Buttimer Institute for a wonderful two weeks of building community with Lasallian educators from throughout the country and the world as we experienced the deep dive into the life of St. John Baptist De la Salle. Of course, since I became president six weeks ago, my presence at “all things De La Salle” has made several leaps forward; and I am very excited about the opportunities I will continually have to celebrate and support our school community.
In my role as president, I will bring my personality, talents, experience, and values to my daily interactions, communications, and decision-making. For the sake of brevity, I will not comment on three of those four personal items, but I do want to make my values clear. They are faith, joy, gratitude, servant leadership, enthusiasm, respectful communication, and support. As I look back on my vocation as a Catholic educator, these core values have not changed. I am truly blessed to have a vocation in which I can experience such fulfillment of these core values, and I am very excited to be a part of this wonderful gift called Lasallian education. My seven core values will be the “major players” in my role as president as I promote and balance the apostolic, community, pedagogical, and business aspects of De La Salle High School.
As the overall spiritual leader of De La Salle High School, I am responsible for reminding the members of our school community that we truly are carrying on the work of the apostles. Of course, my first responsibility is to “walk this talk” and be a clear example to others about what it means to be a person of the resurrection and to treat every thought, action, and interaction with others as a sacrament, as a gift freely given in gratitude to a God Who has been and will continue to be so good and loving to each of us. I will continually encourage every member of this school community to see others as God sees them, and I will also encourage us to continually be open to God’s grace working in and through this school community. As I promote the apostolic aspect of De La Salle High School in my role as president, I will work with our principal, Paul Kelly, as he ensures that our religion program, retreat program, service program, co-curricular activities, and sacramental opportunities are true to our mission of carrying on the work of the apostles. Of course, providing quality and ongoing formation for faculty and staff in Lasallian spirituality and educational philosophy is vital if we expect to be successful in carrying the torch of Lasallian education.
If the members of our school community are being true in carrying on the work of the apostles, we will be well on our way to being that community entity that is such a foundational principle for any Lasallian school. As the president, I have the ultimate responsibility for creating the atmosphere that will either promote community or not. As I begin to create a positive atmosphere, I am taking to heart the lesson contained in Luke 10: 38-42. In this scripture passage, Jesus is visiting the home of Martha and Mary; and while Martha goes about busying herself with all sorts of housekeeping activities, Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening attentively to Him. When Martha complains to Jesus and urges Him to tell Mary to help her with her many chores, Jesus refuses and replies that Mary is spending her time much more wisely. In the same way, as a new president, the most important thing I can do is to do as Mary did—to listen, learn, and look at what we are currently doing in all aspects of the school. Being Martha would have me arriving and making decisions before I truly understand the context, and that would not be wise.
Of course, this listening/learning/looking disposition does not mean that I have not already started to think about preliminary ways to promote community and the other three aspects of our school. To promote our school community as a community, it is important that we be “one school.” With the myriad of things going on at De La Salle–as is the case at any school–it is understandable that administrators, faculty, and staff face the reality of working “under the same roof,” but not always necessarily “with” one another. This understandable reality might lead to situations when communication is not what it could be; thus, decisions might not be as fully informed when they are made.
I have created the President’s Leadership Team [PLT] with the intention to help us be “one school” and promote community among all of our school’s constituents—students, faculty, parents, staff, alumni, and friends of De La Salle High School. The PLT is comprised of those people who report directly to me as well as one person whose perspective and job responsibilities are too far-reaching for her not to be on the team. The PLT will meet weekly. In addition to myself, the PLT is comprised of Paul Kelly, principal; Tony Bonura, vice-president, athletic director, and admissions director; Ann Heslin, development director; Kheri Phillip, chief financial officer; JP Garnier, director of operations and facilities; Jessica Meehan Atwood, alumni coordinator, PR director, and social media director; and Cheryl Jarrott, admissions coordinator, assistant to the principal, and numerous other duties. Just recently on August 17, the PLT spent an entire day off-campus learning about ourselves as a team, discussing numerous ways that we can promote De La Salle as “one school,” and clarifying how each of us is a CRO—Chief Reminding Officer about what is most important to us at De La Salle. A major portion of our time together was focused on the book The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. Of course, we had some fun as well. We work hard here at De La Salle, but we also know how to have a good time. Being able to do both is an important element of community.
To help me listen to, learn about, and look at the De La Salle community more thoroughly, I will be meeting in small groups, and individually when possible, with students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and friends of De La Salle. These meetings have already begun with Board members and with many alumni and alumnae, and they will begin in the near future with the other groups mentioned above. Please stay tuned about these opportunities which will begin shortly after we return from the Labor Day holiday.
Of course, our mission as an apostolic community is focused on the constituent group that is most special to us; namely, our students. St. John Baptist de La Salle created the Brothers of the Christian Schools because he understood how a certain type of school and a certain type of teacher would create the foundation for poor children to live a fully human life—spiritually, educationally, emotionally, and socially. As the Brothers of the Christian Schools became more and more adept at being both the gospel and the curriculum for their students, even children of families with financial means made their way to these schools which truly were on a mission from God.
Most important to a Lasallian educator is the primacy of the student. Seeing Christ in each student is what Lasallian educators are called to do in a real way. In seeing Christ in each of their students, Lasallian educators develop an ardent zeal for their Christian teaching vocation resulting in these educators forming positive relationships with students. Students naturally respond by believing that they are valued, known, and understood.
Brain research clearly indicates that real learning is optimal when students believe that a learning environment is a “trusted space” where they feel secure enough to push themselves and to take risks. Because of the trust that our teachers, coaches, and moderators create in our classrooms and in other venues of student life, our students experience the secure foundation from which their God-given talents can find their true expression in creative and innovative ways. And our teachers vary their strategies and pacing in response to their student learners. Not only do our teachers understand that their students march to the beat of different drummers, but our teachers modify their teaching so that they themselves drum to the beat of different marchers.
De La Salle High School understands that we are educating our students for their future, not our past. De La Salle is not walking backwards into the future. The late David Bowie said it best: “The future belongs to those who can hear it coming.” De La Salle has its collective ear tuned in well to the sound of the future. The creation of the “Classrooms of the Future” was only possible because of the positive, forward-thinking educational climate that exists at De La Salle. This positive, forward-thinking educational climate will continue, and it is what our students deserve. How are we continually preparing ourselves personally and as an educational community to be good shepherds to the students entrusted to us? As president, that is a question that I will continually pose to our administration, faculty, and staff.
In order for De La Salle High School to exist as an apostolic community and be the good shepherds to current and future generations of students, we must attend well to the business aspects of our school community. Of course, it is in the business area of the school that I must be most “hands-on” as president. The challenge of De La Salle as a tuition-based school is a reality for us just as it is for every tuition-based school throughout our country and, indeed, throughout the world.
The current national and world-wide reality is that lay people account for over 90% of faculty and staff at religious schools. The costs of faculty and staff salaries/benefits, student financial aid, utilities, insurance, assessments, cleaning, maintenance, building repairs, funding student curricular and co-curricular organizations and activities, and ongoing professional development for faculty are enormous and never-ending. And not even included here are costs associated with physical improvements and/or additions to our campus. Our entire campus and everything associated with it is here to provide us with a “home base” from which we can fulfill our mission as a Lasallian school. Without students, however, we have no mission to fulfill.
As the result of spreading the good news about De La Salle and a lot of hard work especially since Dr. Guillot arrived in 2012, De La Salle has experienced tremendous growth in student enrollment. But “getting the word out” about De La Salle comes with costs in the form of advertising for potential new students, public relations, and staying in contact with parents, alumni, and friends of De La Salle. And, of course, because we are running an enterprise that functions like a small town, De La Salle must generate funds from other sources besides tuition. These other sources typically result from the generosity of our parents, alumni, and friends. As president, it is my responsibility to ensure that De La Salle High School deserves the generosity of our benefactors; and we truly need and are grateful for their generosity.
We deserve the generosity of our benefactors if we are successful in being an apostolic community focused on educating our students about what it means to live a fully human life. There can be no greater gift we can give back to our loving God than to live a fully human life and do all we can to help our brothers and sisters live their fully human lives. But living a fully human life and helping others to do is no easy task.
While I was at Buttimer this past June, I made numerous friends with whom I remain in contact. In a recent email from a Buttimer friend in New Zealand, she mentioned the word Arohanui. Arohanui is a Maori word, and there is no direct translation into English. The closest definition is a “Big Love” that might be beyond a person’s, family’s, or community’s ability to grasp. It is my hope and prayer for this school year that every member of our school community places himself/herself in God’s presence on a daily basis so that we may experience a sufficient amount of God’s grace, wisdom, strength, and patience to experience Arohanui.
St. John Baptist de La Salle, pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts, forever.
Best and blessings,
De La Salle High School