Last year, St. Angela School proudly welcomed its new principal, Bruce Schooler, whose vision for St. Angela includes faculty and staff working together to increase academic excellence. Schooler’s appointment coincides with the centennial celebration of St. Angela, ushering in a second hundred years of leadership in service of students and the Austin community.
Schooler comes from a long line of educators, and because of that, and his fortuitous last name, he playfully calls his career as an educator “predestined.” Schooler says he has always had a passion for education. “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve been very blessed that I got to follow my dream,” he said.
A native of Northwest Indiana, Schooler earned a Master’s in Administration from Purdue University before working at Aquinas Catholic School in Gary where he oversaw an impressive School Improvement Plan. That plan targeted a lack of leadership and led to improved test scores. Schooler served as curriculum director and principal at St. Augustine School in Lafayette, IN. prior to joining the leadership team at St. Angela School.
Schooler said his decision to join the St. Angela community was not one of need, but of resonance. Schooler was working at St. Augustine when a friend from Schooler’s time in Gary, who was working for the Archdiocese of Chicago suggested that he visit St. Angela.
“I came here and five minutes in I knew this was where I was supposed to be. I met the staff, and I fell in love with the place. I had no ambition to leave where I was, but that’s what happened,” Schooler said.
Schooler says much of the focus and direction of leadership was already in place at St. Angela School, and that he hopes to improve on the already strong administration in place. “I hope to further solidify a culture of collegiality. The staff is very close knit, everyone gets along and it’s a very professional staff, so I hope to add to it,” he said.
As part of Schooler’s plan, a new school improvement team made up of faculty, staff and administration meets biweekly to focus on ways to benefit students and instruction through faculty collaboration.
Schooler’s vision for St. Angela School revolves around improving literacy scores. While St. Angela School students overall excel in math, reading scores are lower on the ASPIRE tests, the standardized tests which students in Archdiocesan schools take.
Schooler plans to address the gap in scores through increased literacy coaching, levelled reading, and the oversight of Dr. Marygrace Farina, a nationally recognized reading specialist currently teaching at the school.
Lynn Fredrick, director of advancement at St. Angela School, says the regular biweekly faculty meetings provide the great benefit of having a continuous conversation between faculty and staff about reading scores and other academic initiatives.
St. Angela School has a history of strong leadership, and Schooler is being passed the baton from a long line of administrators who made St. Angela the school it is today. Sister Mary Finnegan, RSM, who served as interim principal before Schooler’s arrival, started working at St. Angela School in 1987. Massasoit Avenue, the street where the school is located, is named Honorary Sister Mary Finnegan Way in recognition of her service.
Kelly Busa has worked at St. Angela School for 10 years, first as a teacher and then in her current role as assistant principal. Busa expressed her excitement about the future of St. Angela and the positive changes that the new administration is bringing. According to Busa, there is a new focus on increased communication among administration, teachers, parents and students. In particular, the administration is finding more flexible options throughout the day for parents to meet with teachers.
“Principal Schooler has meetings with students just so he can listen to their concerns about the school. He wants them to feel proud of St. Angela and have input into what’s going on,” Busa said.
According to Busa, “The students and staff at St. Angela are very loving and committed to their academics as well as their relationship with God. I also think that our teachers are determined to set an example of what it’s like to be part of a community; I don’t think you find that at every school. When people come here they feel that sense of belonging, that sense of camaraderie.”
Schooler is working with a Patrons Board at St. Angela School, a diverse group of alumni and community members working to keep the school prospering into the future. Rich Murphy serves as president of the board, and voiced his enthusiasm about advising and supporting the new administration: “[Schooler] has done a really nice job of taking the vision for the curriculum and saying ‘how do we take this to the next level?’,” he said.
Murphy said that because the board serves in an advisory position, he hopes to continue to bring new voices to the table to reflect the diversity of St. Angela.
“Everybody wants the same thing. We want St. Angela to be a tremendous resource for the North Austin community. We want wonderful outcomes for the children and families who made the decision to attend. And when you bring really well intentioned, smart people to the table, you can really get awesome results,” Murphy said.
One of the biggest changes this coming year will be a collaboration between the Big Shoulders Fund and St. Angela School. The fund has an incredible track record for supporting Catholic schools throughout Chicago by investing in scholarship support, leadership development, academic programs and more.
—LUCIA WHALEN Contributing Reporter
Follow these links to all of the other individual stories in the St. Angela School special section: