Bishop Miege looks to the future with new president

by Jill Ragar Esfeld
jill.esfeld@theleaven.org

“As someone who was born and raised Catholic and a product of Catholic schools,” said Joseph Hornback, “I jumped at the opportunity to join the Miege community when Dr. [Joseph] Passantino announced his retirement.”

The Bishop Miege community is also fortunate enough to have outgoing president Passantino in his new position as president of the foundation board, close enough to ensure a smooth transition.

“I am very excited about working with Dr. Hornback to keep Bishop Miege moving forward,” said Passantino. “In the few weeks we have had the opportunity to work together, I have been very impressed with his enthusiasm for serving the Bishop Miege community.”

Hornback, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish in Shawnee, said the hiring process was as thorough as any he’s experienced. It included multiple interviews with Dr. Kathy O’Hara, superintendent of archdiocesan schools; Bishop Miege executive board and foundation board members; and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.

He comes to the position with impressive credentials.

Hornback grew up in Des Moines, Iowa; a Kansas University football scholarship brought him to this area in 1991.

While at KU, he earned a bachelor’s of science in education, a master’s of science in curriculum and instruction, and a master’s of science in school administration.

He taught chemistry and physics for 11 years and, for the last nine years, has been principal of Bonner Springs High School.

He returned to KU in 2010, receiving a doctorate in education in 2013. For the last year, he’s also been a part-time adjunct professor at KU.

Hornback and his wife Melissa have four children attending Sacred Heart School — twins Helen and Grace, 10, Noah, 9, and John, 7.

Hornback already had a connection to former president Passantino through Dowling Catholic High School in Des Moines.

“I was going to be a student there when he was assistant principal,” explained Hornback. “He left a year before I got there.

“But when I came back to Kansas City, I had that connection with him, and I’ve met him a few times over the years.”

Once he got the job, Hornback had frequent meetings with Passantino.

“It’s been great,” he said. “Joe has been so generous with his time.”

Their time has been spent on more than just management and budget issues.

“We’ve spent time for me learning the culture of Miege,” said Hornback. “I’ve had some time to meet some people, just to ease my way in, and that has been great.”

Hornback has discovered a close-knit community with proud and supportive alumni.

“I’ve been impressed with everyone I’ve met,” he said, “how much they love and care about the school and how interested they are in seeing Miege grow and improve.”

And he feels at home in the Bishop Miege community.

“It’s similar to what I grew up with,” he said. “Being excited and proud of your school — that’s the way people are about Dowling.

“And that’s such a fun culture to be in as an educator and as a parent.”

Hornback is especially enthusiastic about Bishop Miege’s two signature programs: the science, technology and engineering program called Project Lead the Way, and the college prep ACT program.

“My background as a teacher was in chemistry and physics,” he said. “Project Lead the Way is something that will differentiate us from other schools in the area.

“And the ACT program that Dr. Passantino started years ago really looks at taking kids where they are right now on their ACT and developing a plan to help that score grow and improve.”

Hornback is also excited about working with Passantino and the foundation board on improving enrollment.

Passantino shares that goal. As board president, his focus will be Bridge to the Future, a drive to fund an endowment that will provide Good Samaritan scholarships for deserving students who want to attend Bishop Miege.

“With two of the biggest challenges facing our school being maximizing enrollment and securing additional resources for tuition assistance and programs,” said Passantino, “the plan gives Dr. Hornback and me each the opportunity to team up to accomplish these goals.

“I look forward to continue serving the Bishop Miege community — especially to help build our Bridge to the Future endowment fund to a level that will continue to support 200 students per year for decades to come.”

Hornback has a philosophy he’s shared with his students and faculty for years. And he’s excited to share it with the community at Bishop Miege.

“There are two things I want students to have out of their high school experience,” he said. “One, I want it to be kind of hard because you should be challenged and develop some skills that will help you in college and in life.

“But the second thing is: It’s got to be fun. We want it to be an experience kids will remember for the rest of their lives.”

It’s a philosophy Passantino is happy to see adopted.

“I hope that our entire school community will join me in welcoming the Hornbacks to Bishop Miege,” he said.

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