|Students, teachers and staff returned to Pope John Paul II High School for the first day of classes for the 2015-16 school year on Monday, Aug. 3. It marked the beginning of the tenure of the school’s new headmaster Michael Deely. Above, Deely addresses the students during the assembly on the first day. Photos by Andy Telli
Since Michael Deely was announced as the new headmaster at Pope John Paul II High School last December, he’s been busy learning about the school, the faculty, the staff, the board, the community and the students.
While finishing the school year as principal of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, Deely spent hours on the phone in conference calls and exchanged hundreds of e-mails with JPII faculty, staff and board members. When he and his family arrived in Hendersonville in June, “I felt like I knew them well.”
With the opening of the new school year, his first at JPII, on Monday, Aug. 3, Deely is ready to start working on putting what he’s learned so far, and is still learning, into action.
“I’m having a blast,” Deely said. “The faculty and students, the energy is so great … I’m just feeding off the energy right now.
“I’m happy it finally began,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for so darn long for this to happen.”
Deely is JPII’s third headmaster. He succeeds Faustin Weber who has moved to the Fairhope, Alabama, area where he has been named the founding principal of St. Michael High School, a new school in the Archdiocese of Mobile.
Before arriving at JPII, Deely served for nine years as the principal of Cathedral Catholic, a co-ed school with an enrollment of about 1,700 students, in his hometown of San Diego.
As JPII’s headmaster, Deely said, “I get more involved in the strategy of the school rather than just doing the day-to-day operations.”
Having “a really good staff” who can handle more of the day-to-day duties gives Deely more time to work on the bigger picture, he said. And the bigger picture will be a big part of his job during his first year at JPII as the school updates its five-year strategic plan by next summer.
But Deely is casting his vision further than five years. “I’m thinking 10 years out,” he said. “In 10 years I want us to be nationally leading in every area.”
|Michael Deely visits a class on the first day of school for JPII. He is the school’s third headmaster and comes to the Diocese of Nashville from San Diego, where he served for the last nine years as principal of Cathedral Catholic High School.
“I would want other Catholic schools to say JPII is where you need to go to learn about how to do a Hand-in-Hand program (JPII’s program for students with intellectual disabilities) or an AP program,” Deely said.
In listening to the people in the JPII community, the school’s academic excellence has emerged as one of its biggest strengths, Deely said. “We’re always going to try to be the strongest academic school. … Our (Advanced Placement) program will always be top notch.”
But moving forward he and the faculty and staff will be looking at ways to maximize the students’ time, Deely said. “How we teach, how we organize their time, what’s in place to make it better, particularly, how we organize the day,” he said.
The goal would be to give students more time to delve more deeply into a subject, Deely said. He also wants to give students who excel in a particularly area, whether it be math or art or another subject, the time and opportunity to take their interest even further. “We want to take whatever the kid’s talents are and offer them more.”
Coming to JPII, Deely said, he is “building on a first-class faculty and a committed parent community and, most importantly, kids who want to do better.”
The faculty and staff all want the best for the students, Deely said. “They really buy into the renaissance child,” allowing students to pursue their interests in a variety of areas, a theme that has been part of JPII’s culture since it opened in 2002.
“I’m trying to create a system where the good idea can be brought out and then (there is) a freedom to go do that,” Deely said. “I’m happy they have a sense of permission to really dream big. … My plan is to make sure we execute on these dreams.”
A JPII education also has a spiritual component. “These are great kids,” Deely said. “I want to really work on the formation of them as a vibrant Catholic community.”
A key to that, he said, is seeing God in everything the school does.
JPII has always had a significant number of non-Catholic students, but that hasn’t lessened the school’s Catholic identity, Deely said. “I found the Catholicity very strong here. The prayer is present, the love is present, the sacraments are present.”
Non-Catholic students and their families don’t feel excluded, Deely said. The school’s responsibility is to help everyone see they can be part of a Catholic community, he said.
“Catholicism at its best has always been inclusive. The golden rule is love your God and love your neighbors.” When people love their neighbors, he added, “you are being as Catholic as you can be.”
“At end of the four years,” Deely said, “I want the students to say ‘I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m holy.’”
Part of Deely’s charge as headmaster is to take the school’s story to the community.
“We may be one of the best hidden secrets in Middle Tennessee,” Deely said.
He will be leaving campus regularly to connect with pastors, parishes and other schools. He also will be getting to know the community in Hendersonville and the surrounding areas. “I want Hendersonville to have a better sense of this diamond in our community,” Deely said.
As was the situation in San Diego, JPII is competing for students with other Catholic schools, private schools and strong public school systems, Deely said.
“I think it’s good we always have to be working at that,” he said.
To attract more students, he said, the school must start with “what do families need. We have to be family friendly, not that we aren’t, but being better at it.”
Deely’s move to Middle Tennesse has gone smoothly, he said. “I’m very happy here. I’m loving it here.”