by Jessica Langdon
LENEXA — Now in its 10th year of educating high school students, St. James Academy here received an honor it views as a nod to the overall importance the archdiocese places on Catholic education.
The Cardinal Newman Society announced that St. James Academy has been named a 2014 “School of Excellence” on the Catholic Education Honor Roll.
The honor recognizes the integration of the Catholic faith in every aspect of all programs and activities, as well as academic excellence at a Catholic school.
Leaders at St. James applied for this recognition in the spring and received notification in mid-September that it is one of 71 schools to be named a school of excellence this year.
Another nine schools received honorable mention distinction.
“It’s a tribute to our diocese as a whole as to what our schools are doing for our kids today,” said Andy Tylicki, president of St. James Academy.
Moreover, he continued, “This is a compliment to all our supporters. As we celebrate our 10th year of educating great students in our region, the credit for this award is shared among our founding leadership who established the culture and expectations; the families who took a chance by enrolling in a new school community; and the faculty, staff and coaches who honor and abide by our mission.”
This honor speaks to what the archdiocesan Catholic grade schools and high schools are doing to share the faith with a young generation of Catholics, he said.
“Since competition began in 2004, the honor roll has been a helpful tool for administrators, families and benefactors in recognizing the quality of a Catholic high school education,” said Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society. “The honor roll schools are a reminder that Catholic education is getting better every day — not only academically, but in the renewal of Catholic identity — and we are delighted to see the increased level of competition among the schools that participated in the program this year.”
Karla Leibham, principal of St. James, also credits the entire community for this honor.
“It’s a joy for me to work in a community that’s very intentional about how we go about our daily business of Catholic education,” she said.
The word “intentional” resonates with her, whether it’s how faith is woven into lesson plans and activities or how the school interviews its teachers and coaches.
Candidates are often surprised to respond to a query such as, “Tell us about your faith journey,” she said.
Deborah Nearmyer is the director of faith formation at St. James and is among the founders of the high school that now has 839 students enrolled.
“It is really rewarding to see so many people’s dreams really come true,” said Karen Maginn, director of admissions at St. James, who has also been there since the start.
The founders “set the tone,” she said, “and our kids and faculty and coaches really carried it forward.”
‘Celebration of all Catholic schools’
“It is an honor and celebration of all Catholic schools to receive this recognition,” said Colleen Kolich, chairperson of the English department and instructional coach, who has also been at St. James since its start.
She has witnessed “unwavering commitment” to mission that provides confidence and direction every day.
“When you only have to ask one question, ‘Is this in keeping with our mission?’” she said, “it makes life pretty simple.”
Greg Hohensinner, chairperson of the science department, believes a Catholic education has substantial value because it allows students’ and faculty members’ hearts and minds to open and see Christ in everything they do.
A decade ago, the founders — Archbishop (now Emeritus) James P. Keleher, Mike Alex, Barbara Burgoon, Tylicki and Nearmyer — had a vision of what they wanted this high school to be, he said.
“We started at year one with this group as our leaders and, 10 years later, it has come to be,” said Hohensinner. “All of our administrators, faculty and staff are all very proud to receive this very special recognition.”
St. James shared the news of the School of Excellence honor with its students during an assembly the morning of Sept. 15.
The attendees also watched a short video — part of a series celebrating 10 years of education at St. James — highlighting the spirit of the beginning of the school.
“I believe that Catholic education is priceless,” said Kolich. “Our Catholic schools are committed to educating the whole person: body, mind, soul. Every classroom is enriched because it is infused with our Catholic values and worldview.
“Being surrounded by peers, teachers and staff who are a reflection of the Catholic faith enables students to share their joys and have the confidence to face adversity and challenges.”