Local Schools

New faces in new places

Meet the new principals and presidents at archdiocesan schools


by Jessica Langdon

The smell of crayons and freshly sharpened pencils is in the air.

Catholic school students in the archdiocese are officially back in school.

But the Catholic school educators — especially the principals and school presidents — started back long before the first bell rang.

And this year, more than a dozen of these leaders are in a new place or position. A few are brand-new to the archdiocese.

To help families get to know them, each answered a few questions about themselves and about educating Catholic students today.

Diane Liebsch
Atchison Catholic Elementary School, Principal

Experience: 36 years as a public school educator; active in youth ministry and at St. Benedict’s Parish; enjoyed numerous connections with ACES
Parish: St. Benedict’s, Atchison
Best part about new school year: “It’s a joy to watch a Catholic school come alive in mid-August as the teachers start appearing in the building. I love the conversations with our brand- new teachers who are excited to share their faith and knowledge with students.”
What families can do: “Have those daily conversations about our Catholic faith and books!”
What do you want students to remember about this time? “I hope the students at ACES will create wonderful memories about their Catholic school years and cherish the place where they learned to serve God and their world through special projects.”


Micah L. Neff
Our Lady of Unity School, Kansas City, Kan., Principal

Experience: Starting eighth year in archdiocese; has taught fifth-graders through seniors in high school
Parish: Our Lady of Unity, Kansas City, Kan.
What families can do: “I would ask families to pray with their children every day. One of the missions of our Catholic schools is to instruct and form students in our faith. Parents are the primary teachers, and these important lessons begin at home.”
What should students know? “If I could convince each student of only ONE THING, I would convince them that every person is a child of God. Each person in the world deserves dignity and respect. Therefore, treat one another in this manner.”
Biggest reward: “The most rewarding part of educating kids today is the challenge. Each day, educators are faced with decisions that directly impact our students’ lives. With God’s guidance, we continue to pass on Jesus’ teachings, just as the apostles once did.”
Who inspired you? “My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Price, once told me I was gong to be president of the United States. I can still remember those words clearly. Teachers’ words are very powerful.”


Stephanie Hill
St. Agnes School, Roeland Park, Principal

Experience: Starting 12th year in the archdiocese. Taught fifth through eighth grades for three years at Good Shepherd in Shawnee and for three years at Ascension in Overland Park. She has served for the past five years as principal of St. Paul in Olathe. Before starting her career in education, worked for the Dayton Hudson Corporation in Grand Forks, N.D.
Parish: Good Shepherd, Shawnee
One thing families can do: “I ask that parents be faithful to their responsibilities as Catholics and as the primary religious educators to their children. The school is first and foremost a school of religious education and is responsible for nurturing the child’s development spiritually and academically. Through this positive partnership, students will learn what it means to be Catholic by having a clear and concise understanding of the Catholic faith. Students will experience what it means to be Catholic and understand the Catholic experience is an encounter with Christ through and with each other, both at school and at home. Students will live what it means to be Catholic. After all, the Gospel message is more than a lesson; it is a way of life.”
She’d like to convince each student: “ALL students can learn and succeed . . . but not on the same day in the same way.”
Most rewarding: “Helping students learn and succeed! Students have the opportunity to pursue their own potential. They play a role in assessing their own performance and are actively engaged in the learning process. It is so rewarding to me to witness and celebrate their success on a daily basis.”
Most challenging: “Responding effectively to each student’s individual learning style.”


Bobbie Beverlin
Holy Cross School, Overland Park, Principal

Experience: Taught kindergarten, first, second and fourth grades in Denver and Kansas City. Served for three years as assistant principal at Prince of Peace School in Olathe. Served one year as an instructional coach at Argentine Middle School, and was the principal at Eugene Ware Elementary, both in Kansas City, Kan., for the past two years.
Parish: Prince of Peace, Olathe
On the new school year: “My favorite part of starting this school year is meeting all of the new students and families.”


Denise Perry
Holy Name School, Kansas City, Kan., Principal

Experience: Twelve years at Queen of the Holy Rosary (now John Paul II) in Overland Park, involved in many aspects of the school
Parish: Curé of Ars, Leawood
What each child should know: “That each one of them has a special talent and that they are unique and wonderful people.”
Biggest reward: “Watching children grow and achieve.”
Her inspiration: “I had a math teacher who, because of teacher changes, taught me for three years from geometry to calculus. He had a great sense of humor, he was strict, but he was also inspiring. He made me love math but, more importantly, he made me want to be the same type of teacher.”


Tonia Helm
St. Paul School, Olathe, Principal

Experience: Six years teaching at Holy Cross in Overland Park, including four years as director of discipline; six years teaching at St. Ann in Prairie Village; two years teaching in Kansas City, Kan.
Parish: Holy Cross, Overland Park
Favorite part about new school year: “I love the looks on children’s faces when they come into their classroom for the first time.”
What families can do: “I would encourage families to find time to pray together every day. It helps children focus on the Lord as a priority.”
What each child should know: “I would convince every student that God has a very special plan for their lives that will ensure their happiness. It is up to them to ask him what it is.”
Who inspired you? “My biggest inspiration was Sharon Buscher, my eighth-grade homeroom and science teacher at Most Pure Heart of Mary in Topeka. She was always positive, enthusiastic, and you always knew by the way she talked to you that she really cared about you!”


Lynda Higgins
Resurrection Catholic School at the Cathedral, Kansas City, Kan., Principal

Experience: 24 years in many areas of education, including teacher, parent educator, substitute teacher. Starting 10th year with the archdiocese; five years as resource teacher at Good Shepherd School in Shawnee and the past four as resource teacher and assistant principal at Resurrection.
Parish: Holy Trinity, Lenexa
Favorite part of new school year: “Getting to see everyone again and building new relationships.  And new school supplies.”
Each student should know: “With God, all things are possible.”
Most rewarding: “Watching them grow in their faith and acquire knowledge over the course of the year.”
How are things different today? “Resurrection Catholic School at the Cathedral is located in the same building as Cathedral of St. Peter Grade School, where both my mom and my husband attended elementary school. The building is very much the same, but what goes on inside is ever changing. We continue to help our students to know, love and serve Christ, just as they have always done.”
What do you want students to remember about this time? “I want them to remember that Resurrection was a place where they felt welcome, safe and treated kindly.  I hope they take their faith and talents that they developed at Resurrection with them and build on them as they journey through life. “


Mary Jo Gates
Curé of Ars, Leawood, Principal

Experience: 16 years in Catholic schools, 15 of those at Holy Cross in Overland Park, where she served as a teacher, vice principal and, for the past four years, principal.
Parish: Holy Cross, Overland Park
On getting families involved: “I would ask families to each and every day recommit themselves to being as Christ-like as possible. When I was teaching, I used to tell my students that it really didn’t matter to me if they got straight A’s, or were the best athlete, or got the lead in the play if they didn’t learn how to treat each other and how to give of themselves.”
One thing each student should know: “I would like to convince all of my students that God has given them a unique set of gifts in order to go out into the world to serve him and others. Those gifts may not be things others or society value, but they have value in God’s eyes.”
Her inspiration: “At each level of my own schooling, there was a particular teacher who inspired me.” It was Sister Mary James at Blessed Sacrament School in Kansas City, Kan. At Bishop Ward High School, it was Mrs. Peggy Sumner. At Saint Mary College in Leavenworth, it was Sister Marie Brinkman. “Each of these teachers knew how to connect with her students while expecting nothing less than our best. What great role models!”


Kathy Rhodes
St. Patrick School, Kansas City, Kan., Principal

Experience: Eight years in Catholic education. Taught in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph before becoming principal at Holy Name in Kansas City, Kan. She held that position for the past six years. She also spent three years teaching in public school, worked for several years at a private educational company, and worked for several years at a marketing company.
Parish: Prince of Peace, Olathe
What families can do to create great Catholic students: “Live like Jesus taught us — being kind and compassionate to everyone — and pray a lot.”
Most rewarding part about teaching kids today: “When we see kids absorbing what we taught and incorporating it into their daily lives — not just academics but faith and behaviors, such as manners.”
Most challenging part? “There is a lot expected of schools these days, but the biggest challenge is what our students have access to and are exposed to through media — we have to teach them to use these things wisely.”
What she wants children to remember about this time in school: “I want students to remember the beauty of our Catholic faith and what a difference it makes in our lives to practice our faith. We try to achieve that by giving students many memorable experiences with it, but mostly by our example.”
Who inspired you? “I was trying to follow the will of Jesus in my life and was pretty sure I never wanted to be a school administrator. Proverbs 3:5-6 sums it up: ‘Trust the Lord with all your heart, and don’t depend on your own understanding. Remember the Lord in all you do, and he will give you success.’”


Andy Tylicki
St. James Academy, Lenexa, President

Experience: Served the past three years as principal of St. James Academy and, prior to that, was director of activities
Parish: Good Shepherd, Shawnee
What can families do to help shape the best Catholic school students? “Bring them as they are; we love to work with all students.”
If you could convince each student of one thing, it would be: “God created each of us with wonderful spirituality and gifts. Use them to the best of your ability. There are no two of us alike, but God has created each of us individually.”
Most challenging: “Being countercultural to today’s pop culture society.”
Who inspired you? “My father, Walt Tylicki, who was a longtime educator at Bishop Miege High School. If I could be one-tenth of the man he was, I would be happy.”


Michael Bohaty
Bishop Miege High School, Roeland Park,
Principal for student services

Experience: This is his 39th year in education — 27th in administration and 24th at Bishop Miege.
Parish: Holy Trinity, Weston, Mo.
Favorite part about a new school year: “A new start for everyone — faculty, staff, administration, parents and students.”
If you could convince each student of one thing, it would be: “To be respectful in all things in your life. All things are a gift from God for a short time in our lives.”


Karen Davis
Xavier Catholic School, Leavenworth, Principal

Experience: 20 years in education, 10 of those in Catholic education; spent the past seven years at Our Lady of Unity School in Kansas City, Kan.
Parish: Holy Cross, Overland Park
Most rewarding part of educating kids today: “Watching our students grow in their own faith and develop a strong relationship with God is priceless!”
Who inspired you? “My parents are the biggest inspiration to me — they always told me I could do anything I put my mind to. They also instilled the importance of our Catholic faith in each of us!”


Karla Leibham
St. James Academy, Lenexa, Principal

Experience: Ten years as a school administrator — eight as associate superintendent of schools of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas
Parish: Holy Spirit, Overland Park
How families can create the best Catholic students possible: “Recognize that in our ‘partnership,’ we all need to practice what we teach!”
Each student should know: “Jesus is our best friend!”
Most rewarding part of educating students today: “Seeing them grow in Christ skills!”
How have things changed? “Raising my own children was very different! Our phone was connected to the kitchen wall. I worried about my children driving the car and changing radio channels! Our computer was only a word processor! What a difference technology has made for parenting!”

About the author

Jessica Langdon

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