by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “Holy Name could not have made the progress we have without the team,” said Holy Name of Jesus principal Amanda Vega.
The “team” Vega refers to is a group of 12 business people with different backgrounds, expertise, skills and connections.
They meet once a month to support Vega and Holy Name pastor Father Anthony Ouellette with advice concerning the business operations of the school.
The team is a result of Holy Name’s involvement in the archdiocese’s School Advancement Program, a pilot initiative designed to sustain Catholic schools, especially in underserved areas.
Because of the business team approach, Holy Name is starting this school year ahead of the game and looking to a bright future.
Advice from the experts
“Educators everywhere wear many hats,” said Vega. “But this is especially true in Catholic schools.
“It would be impossible for me, as the principal, to be an expert in finance, marketing, fundraising, facilities, enrollment, recruitment — in general, the various aspects of organizational capacity.”
That’s where the business team comes in.
The co-facilitators of the team, Hamp Henning and Justin Apprill, are both parishioners of Curé of Ars Church in Leawood, the sister parish to Holy Name. Henning, who works in investment and financial planning, and Apprill, an engineer and president of a mechanical construction company, understand exactly what Vega is talking about.
“After she’s been the principal, the teacher, the social worker, the counselor,” said Henning, “all the hats that the principal at one of these schools has to wear — to tell her now you’ve also got to figure out how to make this thing operate more smoothly from a business point of view [is] not feasible. It’s not fair.”
And so, the business team comes together with Vega and Father Ouellette to consult, analyze and advise in those areas.
“Having a group of professional people who have worked in various fields, who are intelligent, gifted and have a passion and desire to help the school, has just been wonderful in that sense of feeling supported,” said Father Ouellette.
With the help of the business team, the principal and pastor are able to concentrate more on the areas of their own expertise — the academic enrichment and faith formation of the students.
For their part, team members are grateful to be part of this positive approach to the future of Catholic education.
“Amanda’s a great principal,” said Henning. “But it’s nice to have a third party to kind of objectively evaluate your processes, what you’re doing, help you identify your goals, and then put steps in place to just kind of incrementally move toward the goal.
“And that’s what this team is doing.”
Road to sustainability
The School Advancement Program, launched in the archdiocese some 18 months ago, gives business leaders an opportunity to help Catholic schools become self-sustaining, especially those in which many students qualify for the federal free-and-reduced lunch program
“I’ve seen the benefit my children have received from Catholic education,” said Apprill. “I certainly would not want the availability of Catholic education to be limited only to those who could afford it.”
With his background in construction and engineering, Apprill has primarily worked with the school’s facilities, developing a plan prioritizing potential capital improvements.
“The expertise he brings to looking at this older building on [Southwest] Boulevard,” said Henning, “the work he and his team have done, the people he’s brought in — all gratis — is unbelievable.”
Team members come from parishes throughout the archdiocese, including two from Holy Name, and their areas of expertise range from negotiating better phone plans and long-range strategic planning, to marketing and fundraising.
“The support of the business team goes beyond expert advice and technical guidance,” said Vega. “They have taken the time to listen and to really learn our school.
“I know they care about the students and staff as people, not numbers.”
Once the business team was established, fundraising became a primary goal and the team helped establish a new event last January that raised more than $70,000 for the school.
“One of my happiest moments was at that event,” said Henning. “I saw the principal when it was announced, at that point, that we raised 60-something thousand — she couldn’t believe it.
“At Holy Name, that’s a game changer.”
Eyes to the future
As pilot schools in the School Advancement Program experience success, it’s hoped the program may be expanded to help sustain other schools.
But each school will need an individual, specialized approach and that, said Henning, is exciting.
“I think this idea definitely works and would work anywhere,” he said. “The thing that should energize people who want to get involved is the fact that the issues are different at each school — and they’re the same.
“Having people come in and help with the processes and prioritizing problems and that kind of thing is universal, but the issues are going to be different everywhere — that’s what’s so exciting.”
As the business team at Holy Name continues to help prioritize needs, craft strategic plans and improve business practices, the next goal is to increase enrollment.
“We want to make Holy Name a great school, a safe place where people can send their kids to get a good education, learn the faith and strengthen their family,” said Henning.
Father Ouellette agreed.
“It’s very difficult to gauge success if you’re talking about a child,” he said.
“But I hope the children that graduate from our school encounter Jesus Christ,” he continued, “that they have a place where they receive formation and education.
“And that they are able to respond to what God asks them to do in their life.”