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Two Times a Charm

Resurrection Catholic School at the Cathedral wins CEF’s School of Excellence again


by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Special to The Leaven

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “We keep plugging along, and it’s working,” said Lynda Higgins, principal of Resurrection Catholic School at the Cathedral here, this year’s recipient of the Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann School of Excellence Award — and the 2009 recipient as well.

But “plugging along” is hardly how Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) director Michael Morrisey describes the school’s success.

“You have to be good to win the award once,” he said. “You really have to be excelling in all four categories to win it two of the last three years.”

To win the School of Excellence honors, a CEF-sponsored school must excel in four separate categories — catholicity, academic progress, resource management and stewardship.

When Resurrection got word of the award, Higgins said, “Everyone was thrilled.”

Thrilled, but not entirely surprised.

“We’re doing really good things here,” said Higgins. “We work really hard and we try a lot of different and new things.

“And it’s paying off.”

Resurrection is the result of a recent consolidation of three schools, and its students draw from five different parishes.

Higgins was hired as a resource teacher the first year the school was consolidated. Eventually, she also took on the role of assistant to Ann Connor, who was principal when Resurrection won its first award.

The two worked well together and Higgins was the natural choice to step in as the next principal, when Connor moved to the archdiocesan school office.

“Like any good follower who now becomes the leader, she has taken the approach of ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,’” said Morrisey.

“However, she has strategically made tweaks to enhance the learning process at Resurrection,” he added.

But Higgins is the first to shy away from taking credit for the award.

“[Connor] really should have been accepting the award because she really put her blood, sweat and tears into making Resurrection what it is today,” said Higgins. “I was just basically accepting it on behalf of everyone.”

Faith is what led Higgins to Resurrection and what keeps her there.

“I do feel like I had a calling to come here,” she said. “When I heard that they were opening up Resurrection, I just kept feeling the call to come.

“And each year I continued to have the call to stay. I truly can say [that] this is where I’m meant to be.”

One factor in her school’s success, said Higgins, is a wealth of pastors active in youth formation.

Father Harry Schneider, rector of Cathedral of St. Peter, Father Dan Gardner, pastor of All Saints Parish, and Father Peter Jaramillo, pastor of Holy Family and St. Mary-St. Anthony parishes, are all active in supporting Resurrection School.

“They have done many good things in the catholicity category, highlighted by the parish priests personally working with the students who have not received the sacraments of baptism, holy Eucharist and/or reconciliation,” said Morrisey.

“I couldn’t ask for better pastors,” said Higgins.

That sentiment is returned by the pastors.

“I hear positive things,” said Father Schneider. “The word is going around; people say, ‘We really hear that’s a good school.’”

“And the word around with teachers is we’re a good staff,” added Higgins. “They’re all really good people who want the best for kids.”

Academically, Resurrection has made dramatic improvements in their reading and math proficiency scores in the last 12 months.

Higgins attributes that to dedicated teachers and continued professional development.

“We’ve all had yearlong professional development in teaching English as a Second Language,” she said. “We’ve all had a yearlong training of differentiated instruction because so many of our students are on different levels, have different needs.

“This year, we’re all having professional development on writing skills.”

The success of Resurrection is particularly impressive in light of its challenges.

“Our ESL (English as a Second Language) population is 57 percent English language learners,” said Higgins. “We have 78 percent of our students eligible for free and reduced lunch.

“Truly, those two factors are our biggest challenge.”

Most Resurrection families speak Spanish, but it also has a pocket of families that speak Croatian at home.

“We’ve come together with different backgrounds,” said Higgins. “But we’re working together and we’re finding success.”

Visiting the School of Excellence

If you could ask Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann anything you wanted, what would you ask?

That was the opportunity presented to students at Resurrection Catholic School at the Cathedral when the archbishop came for a visit recently.

Archbishop Naumann, along with CEF director Michael Morrisey and director of development Patty Morrisey, was taken on a tour of Resurrection by principal Lynda Higgins and two of the school’s supporting pastors, Fathers Dan Gardner and Harry Schneider.

Students stood and greeted the archbishop, then were given the opportunity to ask him anything they wanted.

Questions came timidly at first — and then with greater enthusiasm as students warmed up to the archbishop.

The youngest students’ curiosity was uncomplicated:

Favorite color? Purple.

Favorite candy? M&Ms.

Favorite ice cream? Vanilla.

Favorite sport? Baseball.

As the students got older, though, the questions became more astute and the archbishop found himself explaining the clothes he wore, the significance of his cross and ring, why he chose to become a priest, and how that led to the responsibility of being an archbishop.

He then spent time with the eighth-graders, discussing their upcoming confirmation, with a special emphasis on how they chose their confirmation saint.

The group finished its tour in the music room, where students performed a new hymn they were learning. The archbishop was clearly charmed by the young voices.

The archbishop bid goodbye to the principal under the 2009 School of Excellence banner. It will soon be joined by a new banner, proclaiming Resurrection as the 2011 School of Excellence.

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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