Catholic School Matters

March 12, 2017

Stall Points

Stall Points: Most Companies Stop Growing—Yours Doesn’t Have To by Matthew S. Olson & Derek van Bever interested me because of its premise—often companies stall because their most cherished assumptions aren’t challenged. The authors cite repeated examples of companies who stall and fail to grow. The companies are surprised, shocked, and often the fall is precipitous.

I happen to work for one of those companies who has experienced (or is experiencing) a stall point. The drop in enrollment in Catholic schools has certainly signaled a stall. The authors offer suggestions to diagnose a potential stall and to challenge a company’s assumptions.

Perhaps the most valuable method is to divide up a group of stakeholders into two groups to create two competing “premortems.” The first group is told that the company’s sales will triple in the next 10 years. Their task is to explain why the company grew so fast. The other group is told that the company doesn’t exist in 10 years. Their task is to explain why.

When the group of western Catholic school superintendents gathered in Phoenix in January, we conducted this exercise. Ulimately, the premortem exercise challenges you to articulate the essential factors of your work and to measure your time (and priorities) against those factors.

Looking back, it’s easy to identify disruptions that have contributed to the stalled growth of Catholic schools—loss of teaching sisters and vocations, drop in Mass attendance, smaller families, demographic shifts to the suburbs, aging buildings, increased costs in salaries and benefits, etc. The book challenges school leaders to identify external factors, strategic factors, and organizational factors. I believe that most Catholic schools stop at the external disruptions identified above and fail to examine their lack of strategic planning and organizational weaknesses. We can’t allow macro disruptions to cloud our vision of strategic and organizational failures which can be reversed.

In fact, the authors posit that 87 percent of stalls are due to controllable factors such as Premium Position Captivity (failure to shift tactics in response to the advent of a low-cost competitor), innovation management breakdown (failure to achieve growth in new products), Premature Core Abandonment (failure to explore growth areas in the core business), and Talent Bench Shortfall (lack of skilled replacements).

What the authors do extremely well is introduce cognitive psychology to their analysis. Looking at blind spots and mental models underlying assumptions is a worthwhile pursuit in strategic planning. For example, they argue, “The mental models of management teams are constructed of sets of assumptions about markets, competitors, and technologies that help speed decision-making under conditions of ambiguity. When these underlying assumptions behind company strategy begin to erode, however, the shared mental model of the senior team can first gradually, then suddenly, depart from reality. Once undermined, the mental models of the senior team lead to a peculiar isolation and resistance to new external market and strategy realities. (Chapter 4)

Certainly some of these models sound familiar. Departures from reality? Isolation and resistance to new realities? Does any of this sound familiar? Stall Points will challenge you to look at your school in new light.

Dr. Tim Uhl, Superintendent

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"Catholic School Matters" Podcast

This week, I have two great podcasts for your listening pleasure! Tomorrow, Episode #33 is in interview with Kelby Woodard, the President of Dallas Cristo Rey High School. Have you ever wondered how the Cristo Rey model works? This is the podcast for you.

On Thursday, Episode #34 is an interview with the talented veteran volleyball coach, Jim McLaughlin of Notre Dame. Jim is a devout Catholic who moved to Notre Dame a few years ago and talks about the value of working at a Catholic school. Coach McLaughlin, the only volleyball coach to win national championships as a men's and women's coach, describes how he recruits and builds his team's culture. He has valuable lessons for all school leaders.

Last week there were two great podcasts for your listening and educational pleasure. In Episode #31, I interview Sr. Cecilia Sehr, OP, a Sinsinawa Dominican who teaches science at Bishop Lynch HS in Dallas. "Sr. C" and I talk about how Catholic identity has shifted over the years and she shares her vocation and philosophy of service. It's a wonderful conversation!

In Episode #32 I interview four "newish" principals about the lessons they have learned in their first years of leadership. Arica Prado of All Saints in Ft. Worth, Domenic Franconi from Assumption School in Belmont, Michigan, Carrie Fuller from All Souls in Los Angeles, and Chris Gavin from St. Pat's in Tacoma share their insights and wisdom. It's a longer episode (approximately an hour) but is filled with stories and laughter. These are four principals who enjoy their work!

Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes. Please subscribe to the podcast so new episodes will automatically download. The show is also available on Stitcher and Google Play. If you don't have accounts with any of those content providers, here is the link to my basic page with the podcasts.

Last week, Dr. Uhl blogged about:

  • TUESDAY: Sister Cecilia Sehr's podcast
  • WEDNESDAY: Book Blog: Stall Points by Matthew S. Olson & Derek van Bever
  • FRIDAY: New Principal podcast

This week, Dr. Uhl will blog about:

  • TUESDAY: Kelby Woodard's podcast
  • WEDNESDAY: Book Blog: Why Don't Kids Like School? by Daniel Willingham
  • FRIDAY: Jim McLaughlin podcast

You can find and subscribe to the blog at

The Week Ahead

Sunday: Travel to Boise; WCEA Accreditation begins

Monday: Day 2 WCEA visit to Bishop Kelly (Boise)

Tuesday: Day 3 WCEA visit

Wed: Day 4 of WCEA visit

Thurs: Missoula meetings

Fri: Day 3 of Loyola Sacred Heart visit (Missoula)

Next week: 1,036 driving miles

Last week: 315 driving miles; 2,266 air miles

2016-17: 24,951 driving miles; 19,106 air miles

What I'm Reading 2016-17

  1. No One Way to School: Pluralism and American Public Education by Ashley Rogers Berner (underway)
  2. Back Blast by Mark Greaney
  3. Architects of Catholic Culture by Timothy Cook
  4. Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of an American Town by Brian Alexander
  5. Beyond Reform: Systemic Shifts Toward Personalized Learning by Lindsay Unified School District
  6. Spillover by David Quammen
  7. Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas L. Friedman
  8. The Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
  9. Weathering the Storm: Moving Catholic Schools Forward by DeFiore, Convey, & Schuttloffel
  10. Missoula by Jon Krakauer
  11. Redeeming Administration by Ann Garrido
  12. Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be by Frank Bruni
  13. Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
  14. Stall Points by Matthew S. Olson & Derek van Bever
  15. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
  16. Why Don't Kids Like School? by Daniel Willingham
  17. Tom Clancy: Commander in Chief by Mark Greaney
  18. Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam
  19. The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu
  20. Reading with the daughter: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (7 books)
  21. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  22. The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey
  23. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
  24. The Purple Goldfish by Stan Phelps
  25. The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen
  26. Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman
  27. Reinvention: Accelerating Results in the Age of Disruption Cragun & Sweetman
  28. Cultures Built to Last: Systemic PLCs at Work by Fullan and DuFour
  29. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
  30. Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time by Margaret J. Wheatley
  31. The Orange Frog by Shawn Achor

For Principals & Teachers

  1. Are you ready for ESSA? Here is a link to a massive amount of new documents. ESSA has not been repealed and it's time to get ready! Here's more guidance from the USCCB.
  2. Vickie Donisthorpe at GF Central Catholic HS has announced her resignation from the school effective June 30th. Vickie has served for five years and we appreciate all of her fine work. A search committee has been formed and we are actively searching for the next principal.
  3. Principal/President evaluation surveys have gone out to the following schools: Billings Catholic Schools, Butte Catholic Schools, Holy Spirit, Missoula Catholic Schools, Our Lady of Lourdes, Sacred Heart, St. Mary's, and St. Matt's. If you are a teacher, staff member, or Advisory Council member and have not received the survey, contact your principal/president.
  4. Reminder that March 30th is the deadline for all Safe Environment reports in the Diocese of Great-Falls Billings. Please submit to Laurie Horton at the Chancery.
  5. We have secured funding for all of our teachers to spend the night in Butte so that we can hold the Fall Professional Conference in one place! The Sophia Institute will be offering catechetical professional development on Thursday, Oct 19th and then we'll kick off the conference that night with Jonathan Doyle. We'll have Mass together on Friday morning and then will hear from Jonathan again and then we'll have breakout sessions.
  6. On the Horizon:
  • Loyola Sacred Heart WCEA visit: March 15-17
  • St. Paul MGS WCEA visit: March 19-21
  • St. Mary's WCEA visit: March 27-29
  • Regional principal meetings: April 10 (GF), 11 (Missoula), 12 (Billings).

American Catholic News

Meeting Students' Needs in Catholic Schools by Dr. Martin Scanlan in the International Studies in Catholic Education

Catholic Schools Opening, Consolidating, Closing

  1. Stamford (CT) consolidation plans announced
  2. Rockford (IL) contemplating consolidation of Catholic schools

Leadership Links

Teaching & Learning


Science Resources

The science of milk - Jonathan J. O'Sullivan