WHITEFISH BAY — More than 100 families attended the Dominican High School parent meeting on Tuesday June 2, hoping to learn answers to questions about the president and principal resignations announced just days before recent workforce reductions and next year’s enrollment.

Bill Curtis, DHS chair of the board of directors, began the discussion by thanking all for coming before offering reassurance to the parents who were holding papers and notepads and jotting down questions or comments as they listened.

“Like many of you, I, too, am a parent and concerned about the welfare of my child’s education,” Curtis said, whose two daughters have graduated from DHS and whose son will be a junior in the fall.

“…The message I want to leave you with this evening is all of our children, like I’m sure many of yours, have each individually benefited uniquely from their various Dominican High School experiences and the predominant thought that I want to begin with and later end with is this: The fundamental core of Dominican High School is intact and performing at a high level.

“Our faculty, our staff, everyone that works in this building remains committed to each of you and recognizes their shared responsibility with you in providing a top flight college preparatory experience for each of our kids. So, for whatever reason each of you may have chosen originally to send your children to Dominican High School, be it the religious education, the value-centered education, our theater program, our fine arts programs, sports, class size, et cetera, they all still apply and are thriving.”

Summer ‘to-do’ list

Curtis acknowledged a gap in leadership since the resignations of Maureen Schuerman, DHS president for three years, and Edward Kovochich, principal since 2007, but that he and vice principal, Edward Foy, as well as many other members of administration and the board of directors would work hard to bridge it.

“We’ve got a number of tasks to accomplish over the summertime and with Ed Foy leading that charge and the tremendous effort we’re going to get from our faculty members, their true commitment, we are going to be successful.”

Curtis reported that the executive committee, a subset of the board of directors, has assembled a transition team that will manage and coordinate issues surrounding the leadership changes, and a leadership search committee will vet the resumes and curriculum vitaes sent in response to companion advertisements that will be placed in a variety of educational trade journals, literature and online.

“I’m not going to mince words,” Curtis said. “This school, this school community, has been hit hard by the economic challenges each and every one of us face in our daily lives, in our businesses, in our jobs,” explaining that because tuition revenues and development revenues fell short of budget expectations, the school was forced to reduce staffing two months ago to balance the 2009-2010 budget.

Core values remain

Despite the cuts, Curtis said the DHS core values of truth, justice, community, compassion and partnership are alive and the school remains committed to low student-teacher ratio, individualized attention, an excellent learning resource center, robust campus ministry program, exemplary fine arts, full slate of student extracurriculars and a superior college preparatory academic curriculum.

Foy, who echoed much of what Curtis said when he joined him at a second podium, said he was optimistic about the direction the school is heading.

One parent, who admitted she was unsettled from news of the loss of the two top administrators, asked for an explanation of their departure.
Curtis responded that the resignations were voluntary, adding that the school board was equally disappointed in the outcome, but he did not offer specific reasons.

“Mrs. Schuerman and Mr. Kovochich both resigned voluntarily and they each individually reached their decisions to resign the positions independently and for their own personal reasons,” Curtis said. “…We’re all concerned. That’s why we’re moving quickly to re-establish leadership within the school and are assembling people that can help us get that job done and get back to what we do best – and that’s educate the kids.”

In response to a question about rumors surrounding a loss of control and respect with the students, Foy said that regular evaluations are done, and will be done over the summer, on programs and the enforcement of rules and policies, and that faculty members have volunteered to work with administration to make changes and improvements in regard to student life, discipline, dress code and enforcement issues.

“We certainly recognize where there’s areas that aren’t going exactly the way we want (them) to,” he said.

Communication a priority

DHS is also working to increase communication and transparency in the school by establishing regular opportunities for dialogue between parents.

“We’re having open, honest and frank conversation with anyone who wants to have a conversation with us,” Curtis said. “…We have a tremendous appreciation for the need for good, solid, strong leadership and, simultaneously, we recognize the need to improve the level of communication.”

Many of the parents in attendance Tuesday evening said that their questions were answered and that they were happy with the responses they received from Curtis and Foy. Kate Brondino, 47, of Bayside, said the change in administration has not changed the way she feels about the school. Brondino, who has one daughter who will return to DHS as a senior in the fall, and a daughter in eighth grade who will attend DHS in the future, said she and her husband didn’t choose the school based on the principal.

“Change is just a part of life,” she said. “…Any institution like this is larger than any one personality or any one person and it goes to those five core values – that’s where the organization is.”

Brondino, who works in higher education and is familiar with the cycle of academic hiring, said that her only concern is that it’s a tough time to be hiring anybody to fill the positions.

“That will be challenging, but I really think – I really have the impression that the board is taking the stance on listening very importantly,” she said. “We have an amazing faculty and I really do believe them. I trust them when they say that they’ve had a couple weeks to kind of digest this more than we have and they’re ready to roll. I believe that and you have to put your trust in them to do it.”

Other parents, like Jerry Bolan of Port Washington, the father of an incoming freshman and soon-to-be junior, left the meeting confident about the long-term future of DHS. “What was important to me was … were they pushed out, and Mr. Curtis answered quite clearly, ‘No, they left voluntarily on their own, for their own reasons,’” he said.

“I’m not sure if it’s really going to strengthen the school, but I think everybody will get by or through it.”

John O’Connell, member of the transition team, and his wife Patty, parents of three graduates and a senior-to-be, said the responses in the meeting reflected a positive outlook for the school.

“This is an opportunity to become an even better school,” John said.

Though the O’Connells live equidistant from two other Catholic high schools, Patty said, “We came here because of the uniqueness of Dominican, the diversity, the college prep and just the faith-filled foundation of the school and I think that’s alive and well.”

With three graduates who are doing well in college or have done well in college, John is confident in the preparatory education they received at DHS and he’s sure the their fourth child will do just as well.

Jackie Pollman, 50, a teacher in the Milwaukee Public School system, who lives on the south side of Milwaukee, drives her son, who will be a senior in fall, to DHS each day because she shares the confidence expressed by the O’Connells, even though she would like to know more about the resignations.

“He (Curtis) said they resigned for personal reasons, I mean, did this come up all of a sudden?” Pollman said. “…Do I want to know? Yeah, kind of, but it’s probably better not to know.”

Pollman said the long drive each morning has been worth it and she will continue to drive the distance because DHS has been a great school for her son.

“It still is a great school,” she said. “I mean, we’ve been very happy. Yes, my questions are basically answered. I think that it sounds like yeah, there’s some concerns here, but I think the right people are dealing with it and I think this turnout was great. I think there’s a lot of positive energy and I think this is just going to make us more stronger than ever and I hope it will be my son’s best year.”