Jay Clark is the executive director of Seeds of Hope.
It was certainly not as dramatic, perilous or historic, but I could not help but feel a little like I was among a band of brothers (and sisters) staring down the British Army in the movie The Patriot as I was standing among of all of our school principals at the monthly Office of Catholic Schools Principals meeting a few weeks ago. No, they were not preparing for battle in a literal sense, but I was in the midst of a group of intensely committed, singularly-focused professionals as they worked together to make their schools better and make each other better at their craft.
The reason an old Mel Gibson movie came to mind is these principals are amazing leaders who every day love, support and defend what it means to be Catholic in our schools, embodying the definition of being “a patriot” of the Church.
While I have never walked a mile in their shoes, I have learned by observation in my brief stint with Seeds of Hope (I just passed my six-month anniversary) that being a Catholic school principal means having to wear a countless number of different hats, having an unshakeable faith the Lord will provide, and having a desire to create a faith-filled, better world for their students.
One of the perks of my gig with Seeds of Hope is having unfettered access to our principals and their schools. In my visits to the schools, it is commonplace to find a principal taking care of or handling something that you would not expect to see the leader of a school doing, but that is exactly why they are such great leaders – they lead by example, doing whatever needs to be done. I have caught principals setting up cones for car lines, hanging student artwork in the hallways, clearing plates off tables between lunch groups, walking students down the aisle at Mass and wiping out the staff refrigerator and many other “it just needs to be done” type things. The principals serve as coaches and mentors for their staffs, shepherds and disciplinarians to their students, confidants and advisors to their parents and “faces” of their schools to their local community. And just when you think they could not possibly find another hat to wear, helping with Sunday school or singing in the big Christmas show will come along.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of being one of our school principals is always needing to find ways to do more with less. Whether it be hustling for new furniture, new books, new technology or building repairs, the principals are constantly prioritizing a “wish list” where new items are always replacing ones checked off the list.
I have seen behind the principals’ unshakable sense of duty lies a commitment to the purposes of helping their students become disciples of Jesus Christ. Step inside any of our schools and you can immediately feel Jesus as the central figure. As I heard a wise man say recently about our schools, “Heaven first, Harvard second,” which is exactly the tone and environment our principals set. In today’s increasingly secular world, this is cause for celebration and truly is what makes our schools special in a competitive marketplace.
Through the inspiration from our principals, I am convinced the best is yet to come for our Catholic schools. With the new tuition model we will roll out to a limited number of schools for the 2018-19 academic year, and the expansion of our “Hope Scholarships” program (stay tuned for more details), more families will have the ability to benefit from the transformative experience of a Catholic education while being shepherded by some of the Church’s greatest patriots.