Catholic School Matters

May 6, 2018

The House Always Wins

Jim Collins (Good to Great) is often quoted about the bus, getting people on the bus, driving the bus, etc. But people often don’t talk about the hedgehog concept. Catholic schools do one thing really well—build community. In a wide variety of Church documents, the Church calls us to build faith communities and communion within our schools. What I often hear is schools saying, “Yes, we do the community thing already. We got that down. So let’s focus on our test scores.”

Balderdash! I suggest we double down on community and become even more intentional. One such strategy is the House System catching on in our high schools. More common in England (and Hogwarts!), the House System was brought to Chaminade High School (St. Louis) in 2002 by a group of students on a Marianist exchange program to Australia. The students wanted to bring this to their school. Interesting sidenote—when the House system began in English boarding schools, those schools were pre-Reformation Catholic. So there are actually Catholic roots to the system!

The House System has spread to at least 52 Catholic high schools. Stop what you are doing right now and watch this video about the House System from Cincinnati’s Moeller HS. It is so good that if you watch it, you can skip the rest of this blog! Notice the video talks about formation right away. The House System is not designed to primarily promote school spirit, rather it is about providing a sense of caring and belonging to all students. Students are randomly placed in a House where they stay all four years. They can compete against other houses, yes, and I imagine at all-boys schools that might motivate most of the young men (!) but the program also provides mentoring, fellowship, and identity. At Moeller, the students join a homeroom under their House so they are spending time immediately with students from other grades.

Names of the houses are chosen to reflect and to establish a common identity—saints from the founding religious order, former teachers or principals, religious sites important to the school’s charism—as well as colors, banners, and crests all provide students with another identity.

Who would resist this great idea? Alumni have trouble buying in due to concerns that there might be more loyalty to the House rather than the class. Seniors resist because seniors resist all changes. The most conservative group in any high school, the senior class, wants every 9th-11th grader to have the exact same (sometimes miserable) high school experience. Faculty will often resist because faculty can resist changes.

There is a network forming. Moeller is putting on a summer conference on June 24th. Called the House System Institute #2, this student leadership summit is bringing together schools which currently use the House System as well as schools interested in implementing the program. More information here or email Moeller’s Director of the House System, Karen Matuszek at More links:

· First, watch this video of the House System in action as the students from Archbishop Riordan HS (San Francisco) compete in a school-wide Rochambeau tournament. It’s 90 seconds and worth your time!

· Here’s a link to information and great background about Archbishop Riordan’s House System.

· Here’s the link to the Archbishop Moeller HS web page about the House System.

· Great article in the Marianist newsletter about the House System in Marianist high schools.

· Website and links about the House System at Chaminade College Prep HS (St. Louis) and Chaminade-Madonna HS (Florida) including names of each house.

· Link to information about O’Dea HS (Seattle)’s House system, including information on how the House names and crests were created.

· Link to information about Gross Catholic’s House System, including an explanation of the names.

· Link to my podcast conversation with Sr. Mary Jordan Hoover, OP, the founding principal of St. John Paul II HS in Phoenix (opening this fall) who designed the school to support the House system.

This newsletter is coming a few days after I blogged about Nicole Stelle Garnett & Margaret F. Brinig’s seminar work on the importance of Catholic schools in urban America, Lost Classroom, Lost Community. Tomorrow my podcast conversation with Garnett will drop. We’ll talk about the proven value of Catholic schools (spoiler alert—community) and the path forward.

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Dr. Tim Uhl
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What I'm Up To

This week I'm off to LA for accreditation meetings and school visits. Tomorrow, my podcast conversation with Nicole Stelle Garnett drops. Garnett, who serves with me on the USCCB Committee on Education, was co-author of Lost Classroom, Lost Community and we discuss the findings of that must-read book as well as School Choice, Notre Dame, and other topics.

This week, I'll also release a podcast preview of the ICSL (Institute for Catholic Leaders) 2018 Convention. Four great presenters will preview their talks and we'll share why this July 15-18th event in Los Angeles is must-attend professional development for all Catholic school leaders.

Last week, my podcast conversation with Alicia Bondarella Simon of FADICA (Foundation and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities) dropped. Simon and FADICA was behind the influential 2015 publication "Breathing New Life Into Catholic Schools: An Exploration of Governance Models" as well as the recently-released marketing report.

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

  • Sunday: Travel to Los Angeles
  • Monday: WCEA (Western Catholic Education Association) Elementary Accreditation Meeting; Podcast #128: Nicole Stelle Garnett
  • Tuesday: WCEA Secondary meeting; visit St. Gertrude the Great (LA)
  • Wednesday: Visit All Souls, Cathedral HS, and Verbum Dei (LA); Wed book blog: Breaking Bad Habits (2017) by Freek Vermeulen
  • Thursday: Office (Helena); Podcast Preview of ICSL
  • Friday: Great Falls meetings

Miles this week: 481 driving miles; 1,982 air miles

Miles travelled in 2017-18: 24,086 road miles; 43,483 air miles


Summer Conferences

  1. New Directions Assessment Conference, June 18-20 Philadelphia
  2. 16th Annual Education Law Symposium July 5-8, Louisville
  3. Institute for Catholic School Leaders, July 15-18, Los Angeles

What I'm Reading

  1. When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (2018) by Daniel Pink.
  2. Catholic School Leadership (2016) Ed by Anthony J Dosen & Barbara S. Rieckhoff
  3. Inside the Vatican: The Politics & Organization of the Catholic Church (1998) by Thomas Reese, SJ.
  4. A Flock of Shepherds: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops (1992) by Thomas Reese, SJ.
  5. Archbishop: Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church (1989) by Thomas Reese, SJ

Click this link for a full list of my professional reading along with links to Wed Book Blogs

For Montana Administrators & Teachers

Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

April 29 2018 "Educating to Fraternal Humanism"

April 22, 2018 "Learning to Listen"

April 15, 2018 "The Community of Catholic Schools"

March 25, 2018 "The Passion of St. Francis School"

March 18, 2018 "March Madness"

March 11, 2018 "Special Issue on School Violence"

March 4, 2018 "Bishop McNamara Leads the Way"

February 25, 2018 "New Catholic Schools, Week 3"

February 18, 2018 "New Catholic Schools, Week 2"

February 11, 2018 "New Catholic Schools"

February 4, 2018 "Turnaround Schools, Part 2"

January 28, 2018 "Turnaround Schools"

January 21, 2018 "Synthesizing Church Documents"

January 14, 2018 "What's Brewing in Milwaukee"

January 7, 2018 The 411 on 529's

December 17, 2017 Best of the Fall Issue

December 10, 2017 Serving Hispanic Catholics

December 3, 2017 Building Culture the ND Way

November 12, 2017 "How Are We Building Relationships?"

November 5, 2017 "Journal of Catholic Education"

October 29, 2017 Church Documents

October 22, 2017 Momentum Special Issue

October 15, 2017 "Anthem Protests"

October 8, 2017 Classroom Managment Special Issue

October 1, 2017 "The Un-Themed Issue"

September 24, 2017 "Joy of the Gospel"

September 17, 2017 "ESSA"

September 10, 2017 "On Leadership"

August 27, 2017 "American Catholic News"

August 20, 2017 Back to School Issue