Catholic School Matters

March 1, 2020

Building a Strong Community

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.

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Dr. Tim Uhl

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Case Studies Ripped from the Headlines

In this section, I present a Catholic school controversy in the headlines. I don't mean to single out one school or criticize its leaders. I want to present the story and offer you a few questions to consider in case this controversy lands on your desk this year. I encourage you to look at the particulars of the situation to understand the intricacies of the controversy.

A controversy erupted at Kennedy High School in Seattle over the past couple of weeks. Take a look at the highlights and try to reflect on how the situation could have been handled better. On Friday, February 21st, the high school announced that two teachers had voluntarily resigned. Protests and frustration boiled over. The president released a statement which gave details to the public about the resignations. The attorney for the two teachers spoke out. Last week, Archbishop Etienne announced that the president was placed on leave and an interim president was appointed.

American Catholic School News

Catholic Schools Opening & Closing

Leadership Links

Teaching & Learning


What I'm Up To

This week I'll be in the office working on some projects--namely, the research paper on the Discerning Catholic Worldviews survey instrument and the Archbishop Murphy accreditation. On Tuesday, we'll have the March Virtual Admin meetings and on Wednesday I'll travel to Billings for the School Board meeting.

On this week's Catholic School Matters Radio Hour, I welcome two fascinating guests. 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.

In case you missed it, on last week's Catholic School Matters podcast I welcomed two outstanding guests. Kathleen Porter-Magee of the Partnership Schools in NYC joins the podcast to describe her recent writings on Catholic school culture. Then long-time principal Kathy House of Little Rock joins me to discuss the secrets to her success!

Here is the link to the podcast. Here are videos showing you how to download and subscribe to a podcast on Apple podcasts and how to download and subscribe a podcast on Android.

  • Monday: Office (Helena)
  • Tuesday: Virtual Admin meetings at 9 am and 1 pm
  • Wednesday: Billings Catholic Schools board meeting
  • Thursday: Office (Helena)
  • Friday: Office (Helena)

Miles this week: 585 road miles

Miles travelled in 2019-20: 22,418 road miles; 31,903 air miles

What I'm Reading

    The Last 5 Books:

    1. Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership (2011) by Howard Gardner
    2. The Great Commission: Models of Evangelization in American Catholicism (2008) by Timothy Byerley

    3. True Self, False Self by Richard Rohr

    4. Catholic Identity or Identities: Refounding Ministries in Chaotic Times (2013) by Gerald A. Arbuckle

    5. A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America (2003) by Peter Steinfels

            Click this link for a full list of my professional reading

            For Montana Administrators & Teachers

            • Here is a link for the March 3rd meeting, school leaders are challenged to come up with a 1-minute story about a parent who went from oppositional to supportive
            • Here is a link for the Letter of Intent for Administrators due February 28th. Schools should be administering their own letters of intent for school personnel.

            Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

            Feb 16, 2020 "Catholic but not Christian"

            Feb 9, 2020 R.I.P. Archbishop Brunett

            Feb 2, 2020 "The Nashville Exchange"

            Jan 26, 2020 "Learning from our Elders"

            Jan 12, 2020 "Shaping School Culture"

            Jan 5, 2020 "Timelessness"

            Nov 24, 2019 "Best of the Fall"

            Nov 17, 2019 "Synodality"

            Nov 3, 2019 "Finance Best Practices"

            Oct 27, 2019 "Blaine Amendments"

            Oct 20, 2019 "Community & Belongingness"

            Oct 13, 2019 Sr. Angie's Lawlapalooza

            Oct 6, 2019 "River of Fire"

            Sep 29, 2019 "Male and Female He Created Them"

            Sep 22, 2019 "Surveying Catholic Culture"

            Sep 15, 2019 "New Catholic Schools"

            Sep 8, 2019 "The Mustard Seed Project"

            The Nashville Exchange

            Join this first annual conference for Diocesan high school presidents. Presented by the Greeley Center, the conference promises to provide great professional development to presidents/heads of schools for diocesan Catholic schools. However, all are welcome! Special thanks to the Diocese of Nashville for hosting. Here is a link to the Nashville Exchange flyer, here is the link to the schedule. Go to this link to register. Please go to for more information and to register.

            Orchestrating Conflict

            Orchestrating Conflict: Case Studies in Catholic Leadership is now available on Amazon or on the Barnes & Noble site in print or e-book formats. The book explores issues in Catholic school leadership and the tensions between building community and following Church policies and introduces deliberate practice as a method for leadership formation. This is my first book and has been an ongoing project for the past couple of years.