Local Schools

St. Matthew School in Topeka named CEF School of Excellence

LEAVEN PHOTO BY SUSAN MCSPADDEN Heather Huscher, principal of St. Matthew School in Topeka, accepts the CEF School of Excellence Award at the Gaudeamus event on Oct. 20.

LEAVEN PHOTO BY SUSAN MCSPADDEN Heather Huscher, principal of St. Matthew School in Topeka, accepts the CEF School of Excellence Award at the Gaudeamus event on Oct. 20.

Gamble on principal pays huge dividends for topeka school


by Jill Ragar Esfeld

Father Jerry Volz, pastor of St. Matthew, Topeka, is not a gambler by nature. But four years ago, he took a gamble on Heather Huscher when he appointed her principal of St. Matthew School.

“When I came on board,” said Huscher, “I had no administrative experience. I had no elementary school experience.”

Father Volz’s gamble paid off. Saint Matthew has been named the 2012-2013 CEF School of Excellence.

Four years ago, Huscher was a high-school teacher feeling the need for a professional change and praying for guidance.

“I was praying about it a lot,” she said. “And then, within weeks, the job announcement was in The Leaven and I thought, I don’t have any experience in these areas, but I’m going to give it a try.

“Father Jerry took a risk, and I hope he thinks it’s paying off.”

“Definitely,” said Father Volz. “She’s made a great impact and is very strong in spiritual formation as well as her academic background.
“She’s definitely helped our school greatly.”

CEF executive director Michael Morrisey said St. Matthew stood out among CEF-sponsored schools because of the way it infuses catholicity into its curriculum

“St. Matthew’s is just doing more of it,” said Morrisey. “And they’re doing it better.

“They also did well in the other three categories.”

To win the School of Excellence, a CEF-sponsored school must stand out in four categories: catholicity, academic progress, resource management and stewardship.

“It’s a lot to be proud about,” said Huscher.

Stewardship is another standout feature of the Topeka school.

In a partnership with the veterans’ hospital in Topeka, students go once or twice a month to help with lunch and visit with the veterans. They collect toiletries and underclothes for the veterans as well.

The students also donate time to Let’s Help Topeka, an organization that provides clothing and meals to the poor. They help with the sandwich ministry at Mater Dei-Assumption Church, and they spend a day each spring getting the parish grounds ready for Holy Week.

“They are what I consider to be an under-resourced school,” said Morrisey. “Yet they still have figured out ways to go out and help other people, which I think is a very important trait for a School of Excellence.”

Academically, St. Matthew is a clear leader, too.

“On the Kansas State Assessments,” said Huscher, “we had the requisite number of kids get in the highest performance category at several grade levels.”

Huscher credits that success to a hard-working faculty that supported her from the start.

“I had no Catholic school experience,” she said. “Yet they trusted me enough to work toward a vision I had created for the school. All the credit is theirs.”

The school celebrated the win with a fun day and an assembly.

“We were really honored,” said Father Volz. “I think it shows the effort of our parish, especially our Catholic school staff and our Catholic school parents.”

Both Father Volz and Huscher are grateful for the help and support of CEF.

“It helps us greatly financially,” said Father Volz. “Also, it helps us to know about the greater support of the archdiocese.

“It gives us an opportunity to educate our people about the fact that there are other people within the church that are supporting them.”

Morrisey is impressed with the teamwork apparent at St. Matthew.

“Father Jerry has been very supportive of Heather,” he said. “And I think between the two of them they make a very nice tandem in making Saint Matthew this year’s School of Excellence.

“It’s nice to be honored,” said Huscher. “But we’re doing what we’re doing not to earn awards, but to bring kids closer to Christ.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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