Friday Focus 12/6/13

Another week draws to a close with a strong reminder that winter is here. I acknowledge the hectic nature of this time of the year. So many variables are aligning that require our time and attention. It is times like these that I am thankful for a book that Dr. Smith shared with me – The Important Book. It’s a simple children’s book so it fits well with my reading list as Carter, Landon, Ethan and Maddy drive the majority of my reading selections now days. Here is a quick excerpt: “The important thing about a spoon is that you eat with it. It’s like a little shovel, You hold it in your hand, You can put it in your mouth, It isn’t flat, It’s hollow, and it spoons things up. But the important thing about a spoon is that you eat with it.” There is no doubt that all of the before mentioned variables vying for our time and attention have merit and value, but don’t forget the important things that were so eloquently presented to us in August. The important thing is to realize how we can “touch eternity” – Bishop Folda. The important thing is that ALL staff and students “feel loved and respected everyday” here at SHS/SMS – Dr. Smith and Fr. Charles. The important thing of this time of year, Advent, is to prepare our hearts for the arrival of the true meaning of Christmas. The important thing is to live a life worthy of the sacrifice He gave to us all.

As always, I hope that you take the time to reflect on this week’s successes of developing our students to realize and live what is important. Enjoy a great weekend!



Posted in Friday Focus for Staff | Leave a comment

Friday Focus for Staff – 11/1

Another week has come to a close and the month of October is now in the books.  As another week comes to a close, I am disappointed that I have not been able to fulfill my personal goal of populating my blog with postings that address the variety of our stakeholders.  The section that I had in mind for staff was the Friday Focus tab.  The intention of this section was to turn the focus of the end of the week into one of reflection.  So often times we are so focused on our few days off that we forget to look back at the successes and opportunities for growth that the week has provided.  I know that as I go through each week, I am presented with so many variables for which I did not anticipate, do not know how to address, or thought I have successfully addressed already.  To be fully transparent, sometimes I end the week wondering if I have made any positive impact or brought value to our organization.  In these times of a fixed mindset, I remind myself of the variables of which I have control, my resolve and my reaction.  I remind myself that these limiting variables will not outlast my effort, my determination, my will.  These variables will not outlast me.   I remind myself that while God has given me the free will to choose, God has also given me the strength to overcome.  My resolve to maintain a positive reaction is motivated by the successes that I can identify from each week – the positive interactions with students/staff, the manifestation of our core values in the actions of our students and ourselves, the list goes on.   My resolve to maintain a positive reaction is motivated by the words of Bishop Folda to “touch eternity”, our collective goal to ensure that all of us, staff and students alike, feel loved here at Shanley, and the profound words shared by yesterday’s PLC guest, Cory Steiner, that no school was built to employ adults and that our overriding variable in all scenarios is to do what is best for kids.  As I acknowledge that my vision of my blog may not be a reality, my reflection of the variables takes me to a level of greater clarity and motivation to make that vision a reality as those limiting variables will not outlast my vision to bring value to our school and stakeholders.

As this week comes to a close, I hope that you take the time to reflect on the successes and opportunities for growth that it has presented and are motivated to a reaction that takes another step down that perpetual path of excellence on which we collectively travel.  Best wishes for a restful and reflective weekend.


Posted in Friday Focus for Staff | Leave a comment

Friday Focus 9/6 – The Power of Hope

Although I don’t get to do it as much as I used to, I love to watch movies.  With the blessings of our children, April and I find ourselves watching more Chuggington, Bob the Builder and Ninjago that we care to admit, but I can still remember my favorites with great clarity.  As I was organizing my thoughts for this posting, I read something that reminded me of one of my all-time favorite movies, the Shawshank Redemption.  A great quote from this movie comes from a conversation between Timothy Robbins and Morgan Freeman.  As they talk, Freeman’s character enlightens us to the one thing that even the deplorable conditions of their incarceration could not take away from them – their hope.  Of all the great movie moments and quotes, this is one that has stuck with me as I matured in my personal and professional life.

The beginning of each school year is filled with so much hope.  Staff and students alike are filled with the hope of making their vision for a great year a reality.  Hope is such a motivating force for us in education.  We don’t have the luxury of always seeing the immediate results of our efforts in our profession, yet our hope that those efforts will have a positive impact on the lives of our students motivates us to remain vigilant and forge on. As our inmate movie characters taught us in the Shawshank Redemption, hope is the one thing we hold onto even during the most challenging times.  Hope that you can make a difference in the lives of your students is what brought you here and keeps you coming back.  The beauty of hope is it does not need instant or constant affirmation to be a driving force in life.

As Mrs. Anderson and I met with a struggling student this past week, I was reminded of this positive power of hope and how sometimes, we unintentionally discount the motivational power of hope in our students.  The student that we met with was having a difficult time in a course.  He had concerns, the teacher had concerns and we both had concerns about the potential for success in this course.  Our discussion initially focused on the limitations of the situation – the things that weren’t going well.  The things that discount the hope that all of our students have.  We had set our course on a one-direction compass that told us dropping the class was the answer until Mrs. Anderson opened the door to hope once again by asking the simple question of what the student wanted to do after leaving Shanley High School.  We were both amazed by the clear answer given with conviction that he hoped to attend a specific four year school and earn a specific degree.  My heart sinks when I think about how we were seconds away from putting him into a course that would not have allowed him to meet the entrance requirements for a four year institution.  With that simple question and clear answer, hope prevailed and our conversation took a completely different direction.  Don’t get me wrong, we all acknowledged the very real challenges of the course but leveraged the power of hope to motivate us all to create a positive outcome.

What does this tell us?  I believe it tells us that hope is something our students have and desire.  The cynic or realist in us says we are setting students up for disappointment by allowing them to believe that anything is possible if we acknowledge our limitations and use hope as motivation to overcome them.  I ask all cynics (and I’m one at times) what gives us the right?  If we take away hope from a student, we may take away the most powerful asset that they have.

As a staff, can we focus on building hope?  Can we all do more to guarantee hope is ingrained in every lesson?  It may be simply how you greet students at the door that gives them hope this is going to be a great class today.  It may be using carefully chosen words for difficult concepts to give students the hope that they can understand this material.  It may simply be modeling a mindset that focuses on what is possible instead of what limits our hope.  I think of Mrs. Littlefield and how she took the time this week to work with a struggling student who was considering transferring out of Shanley High School because her hope to be a successful student was not a reality in her mind. By simply working with this student during study hall for a few minutes, Mrs. Littlefield restored her hope and motivation to continue.  I think of Mrs. Anderson asking that one simple question that reframed our whole conversation back around the hope of what is possible for the student with which we were working.  I think of the hope that I have that you read these postings, reflect on your own practices and choose to march that perpetual journey to excellence.  I hope that we can create a climate and culture in our building of collective ownership, support and accountability as we, staff and students alike, truly create a community that inspires excellence through faith, learning and service.   I hope that each and every day we get closer to the reality of Fr. Charles opening day homily.  I hope…and that is a good thing.


Posted in Friday Focus for Staff | 4 Comments

A Shanley Success – Alumni Spotlight on Zack Pieri

Shanley High School is proud of the accomplishments of all of its alumni.  There are so many stories of success in the proud, tradition rich history of our school.  I had  the privelege of coaching this young man during my time as a teacher and football coach at Shanley High School.  Zack has translated his Shanley experience into excellence in his profession and truly epitomizes our current core values.  Zack worked himself from a knee problem plagued freshman contemplating leaving the sport of football to an All-State offensive tackle his senior year who played collegiate football at Rose-Hulman College.  I am happy to share his story of how he has employed the same mindests and skills to make himself a notworthy engineer for General Motors.  This story reflects the goal that I have for ALL of our students here at Shanley High School: empower them with the skills and mindsets to bring their passion to reality in their lives and careers while inspiring others to do the same in true “Deacon” spirit.  Please enjoy this spotlight video procuced by General Motors on one of own, Zack Pieri (aka Big Slow).

Posted in Deacon Insights Home | Leave a comment

Friday Focus 8/23 – We Create our Culture of Excellence

During this past summer, I attended a conference in Minneapolis. While there, I had the opportunity to enjoy the environment of downtown Minneapolis, including the amenities of a full service hotel with my wife and young children.  It was while working through a situation of a dead battery in our vehicle due to an interior light being left on by one of the kids that I had an epiphany on the meaning of being great in the moment.  At our hotel, there was a man who worked as a parking garage attendant.  As a new American immigrant, I’m sure he aspired to someday attain the level of the American dream that his clientele achieved and so many took for granted. In him, I witnessed greatness.  The attendant station did not have the tools to jump start our van so this man made phone call after phone call to find a solution.  He then vehemently refused any tip that we offered him after he secured a device that got our van started.  If I was in his position, I think controlling the emotion of envy on a daily basis would be nearly impossible and the motivation to provide services above and beyond the call of duty without compensation would be void.  However, this man was amazing.  It was neither his job performance nor an amazing skill set that made him memorable.  Instead, it was his mindset, his attitude.  It was clear that he made up his mind to be the greatest parking garage attendant that he could be.  My family and I were truly in the presence of greatness.  I realize some of you will think this is crazy.  How can a simple parking garage attendant impact the life of another in what was a chance meeting?  Let me put it in perspective in relationship to our jobs.

What if we came to work every day and made up our mind that we would try and be great at everything we do?  What if we truly tried to be excellent?  The key words in those questions are not great or excellent.  The key term is actually ‘try’.  In our jobs, we control so little.  We don’t get to pick our students, the parents with which we work, or even the standards we are to address.  The one thing in our chaotic world we can control is attitude.  Would our building be an even greater place to work if we all made a commitment to having a ‘great’ attitude each and every day?  Would student achievement rise? Would coming to work be more enjoyable?  Of all the programs and innovations, the one thing that can make the biggest difference, our attitude and the culture it creates, is still controlled by us.  Still not convinced…

What would the greatest lunch line supervisor do differently than an average one?  I think they would greet students with an enthusiastic welcome and engage them in some meaningful conversation specific to them.  They would maintain the integrity of the line and the behavior of the kids without them even knowing it.  They would be relentless and they would outlast the kids.  They would smile and treat every student as their favorite.  I saw one of our English teachers, Mr. Bashford, do this today.  He turned his lunch line supervision duty into  a hand shaking, baby kissing public relations spectacle that would make any politician envious.  Instantly, I thought about the parking garage attendant.  I realized I was in the presence of greatness yet again.

What does all this mean?  Simply put, it means we make our own climate in this building.  We make a conscious choice when we walk through the doors to be great or something else.  Our core value of excellence is not achieved by having the most skill or knowledge.  It is achieved by having the perseverance to attempt to be great in all that we do.  I ask you to think about the roles you play during the day at Shanley High School/Sullivan Middle School.  Have you ever caught yourself not being great in the moment?  (I know that I have and that is ok.  We are only human.)  The key question is, what did you do about it when you missed the opportunity to be great in that moment?  I challenge each and every one of us to make the conscious effort to be great in the moment and march the infinite path to excellence.  It is a choice and we do have the power… what are we going to do with it?


Posted in Friday Focus for Staff | 4 Comments

Welcome to our New Staff

As the start of the new school year fast approaches, we are pleased to announce that we are again at full staff at Shanley High School.   Mrs. Cassie Thomasson joined our staff this week and will handle our introductory Spanish I courses.  Including myself, Mrs. Thomasson will be the tenth new staff member at Shanley High School this year.  Our new staff members bring a wealth of talents, experiences and knowledge to our building.  Below is a breif overview of these talented individuals.  I am excited to welcome them into our Shanley community and look forward to their contributions to our community inspiring excellence through faith, learning and service.

Mr. Joshua Gow:  Religion Department.  Mr. Gow is an alumnus of Concordia College where he earned a degree in Mathematics education.  Joshua heard the call to share his faith and spent the last year as the Faith Formation Director and St. Michael’s in Grand Forks.

Mrs. Mercedes Hanson: Spanish Department.  Mrs. Hanson is a network parent and did her student teaching at Shanley High School.  She brings a wealth of experience to our Spanish department after spending the previous years teaching many levels of Spanish at Fargo South.  In addition, Mrs. Hanson has experience leading students to Spain for summer cultural experience trips.

Mrs. Brani Franck: Mathematics Department.  Mrs. Franck completed a long term sub position last year at Shanely High School.  We are excited that she will be continuing on in that classroom as the full time teacher.  We are excited to have Mrs. Franck experience her first full year in our school.  Mrs. Franck also helps with our volleyball program.

Ms. Amy Grinnsteinner: Library Media Specialist.  Ms. Grinsteinner is an alumnae of Notre Dame and a product of the Dickinson Catholic Schools system.  She earned her teaching credentials recently from MSUM and is excited to take on her first educational position as our library media specialist.  Ms. Grinsteinner will also be coaching some middle school volleyball.

Mr. Brian Kaluza:  Social Studies Deparment.  Mr. Kaluza is a Montana native that brings teaching experience from Idaho to our school.  He and his wife relocated to Fargo last year after she secured a teaching position with the Fargo Public Schools.  Mr. Kaluza will also be assisting with our basketball program this winter.

Mrs. Alyssa Nord: Art Deparment.  Mrs. Nord is a familiar face in our network schools as she completed a long-term sub position in art at our elementary schools last spring.  Armed with her new married name, Mrs. Nord will be enjoying her first full year of teaching.

Mrs. Suzann Olson:  Mathematics Department.  Mrs. Olson brings a wealth of experience tour our Algebra I and II courses.  She has taught in Missouri and different parts of Minnesota, most recently Adrian.  We are exctied about her joining our staff.

Ms. Dawn Swenson: Science Department.  Ms. Swenson joins us after spending five years teaching at Wahpeton High School.  Ms. Swenson became certified to teach AP courses this summer and will be a great addition to our staff.

Mrs. Cassie Thomasson: Spanish Deparment.  Mrs. Thomasson brings a wealth of experience to our Spanish Department as well.  She has 15 years of classroom experience teaching Spanish to all levels, including middle and elementary level students.  With a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts, Mrs. Thomasson is also a certified art teacher.  Mrs. Thomasson joins most recently taught in the Detroit Lakes Public School system.

Other Notables:

Mrs. Gourde makes the move from Sullivan to our Shanley English Department.

Mrs. Raber returns to lead our choir.

Mrs. Lorsung is now Mrs. Erdmann after her marriage this summer.

Posted in Deacon Insights Home | Leave a comment

To Surface or Not to Surface? JPII Microsoft Surface Promo

The recent technology newsletter and Microsoft Surface promo has created much buzz and questions amongst our students and parents. First, thank you to all the generous supporters of the Special Projects auction. The generosity of these supporters have allowed us to make major upgrades to our technology infrastructure here at the Shanley/Sullivan campus as well as our other network schools. Although this great investment will not provide a great increase in the number of devices here at Shanley/Sullivan like it will at our elementary facilities, it will provide us with outstanding wireless capabilities all throughout our building as well as access to robust software tools that will support our staff, students and parents in all aspects of the educational process.

Many questions have arisen about the Microsoft Surface promotion. First to clarify any misconception, Shanley/Sullivan itself has not purchased any of these devices for distribution to students. Again, the bulk of our technology expenditures here at the Shanley/Sullivan campus have been invested into wireless network infrastructure to allow devices that we have in inventory as well as student owned devices to connect to the network all throughout our campus. In addition, great investments have been made in updating the devices in inventory as well as accessing subscription services to support curriculum delivery. As we move forward, we will develop capacities in our instructional staff and students to leverage school and personal devices to support the learning process.

That being said, the discounted price on the surface device is an outstanding deal. The device promises to be robust enough to accommodate most functions that a high school student would need. To learn more about the apps available for the Windows 8 platform, please visit The windows app store is only accessible by devices with Windows 8 or Windows 8 RT. The RT version of Windows is the mobile version that is simplified to improve performance on mobile devices like tablets and phones. As I mentioned earlier, with cloud storage capabilities and the windows store apps, this device should meet the needs of most high school students and plans are in place to support the instructional staff in the purposeful integration of technologies such as these devices.

To learn more about the JP Microsoft Surface promotion, please visit:

Posted in Thoughts On Technology | Leave a comment

Goodbye and Thank You Mrs. Petik

It is with great regret that I announce that Jackie Petik has accepted a position to teach Spanish with Fargo Public Schools.  I remember teaching with Mrs. Petik back in 2002 when I taught World Geography and US History here at Shanley Sullivan.  Mrs. Petik has given many years of excellent service to our students and schools.  We certainly thank her for her time here at Shanley and wish her the best as she begins a new chapter in her career.  She will continue on as Cross Country coach here at Shanley for this season


Posted in Deacon Insights Home | Leave a comment

Busy Month

It has been a busy month here in the Shanley office.  In an effort to increase the level of transparency through effective communication, I have started a weekly update to staff to create a level of awareness of the work being done in preparation for the upcoming school year.  Below are some highlights that will afford all of our stakeholders and inside look at what has been occurring at Shanley High School this summer:

All positions for the 2013-2014 school year have been filled.  Most positions were filled by the former adminsitration but here is info on the two new employees that have joined our schools since July 1.

  • Andrew Hornbaker will be replacing Sheldon as a daytime custodian.  Andrew is a Fargo native and brings a wealth of experience to our facility from the University of Minnesota and NDSU.  Sheldon will be the lead custodian at Nativity next year.  A big thank you to Sheldon for his years of service to Shanley/Sullivan.
  • Joshua Gow will be a new addition to the Shanley Religion Department.  Joshua will replace Nick Emmel and teach those courses.  Joshua is a Concordia grad with a Math Education degree who did observation hours here at Shanley and student taught at Discovery.  Joshua answered a call to share his faith as opposed to pursue a teaching position and is currently the RE Director at St. Michaels in GF.

Instructional staff hiring process

  • A new hiring process was developed and employed for ourreligion search – thank you to Mike Hagstrom, Fr. LaCroix, Carolyn Williams-Foell, Brian Geffre and Kath Littlefield for supporting this process.  My goal is to make this process universal for all instructional staff for which I am responsible.  I will be asking for support from each department to customize the process to their needs in terms of standardized questions, presentation topics and writing prompts.

New Staff Mentorship

  • With the number of new staff members in our building,there will be a need for mentors. In an effort to support our mentors and new staff, we have engaged in discussions on taking our mentorship program to the next level. We have leveraged our connections with the state to secure a defined mentor/mentee program with clear expectations, activities and goals articulated.

PLC Conference

  • I was able to attend a PLC Institute with Dr. Smith, MaryBeth Traynor, Cindy Hutchins and Laura Breen.  We enjoyed three days of outstanding learning with over 2000 other educators representing districts from all over the country.  The PLC process has great potential, is emerging in our industry across the nation and many schools are at different levels of implementation.  We made great connections, gained much insight and are excited to bring those experiences to our Professional Learning Community here at Shanley/Sullivan.


  • Please take the time to see the great mission work ourstudents did at Spirit Lake.  Visit the following link to read Mr. Hagstrom’s report and see pictures:

Writers Workshop

  • Hosted here in our library media center this past week.  Overwhelmingly positive feedback on this training that will formalize the development of the writing process in our curriculums and writing skills in our students.  Thank you to our elementary staff and representatives from grades 6 and 7 from the Sullivan staff for your commitment to this event. We are all responsible to support the development of writing skills in our students and there will be much momentum moving forward from this event.

Foreign Exchange Student

  • The process has begun for a young lady from the Netherlands and a young man from Germany to be a part of our school next year.  The process has many more steps but all indicators are positive at this point.

Up, Up and Away – Mr. Pochmara’s Rocket class

Activities/ Coaches in-service

  • Dr. Smith, Randy and I enjoyed visiting with our coachesabout their upcoming seasons.  Guest Speaker – Matt Bosch – former Shanley coach and current MSUM coach provided a great message on leadership to our coaching staffs.

Bismarck Bound

  • This past week took me to Bismarck for two events.  SANS (State Association of Non-Public Schools)-alliance of private sector schools organizing to secure public funding support for our schools. Supported by the Friedman Foundation for School Choice – national organization supporting many groups across the country.  Meeting focused on a communication plan to bring awareness to the group and its platforms.  Discussion of strategies for the next legislative session.  We have many supporters in Bismarck, including Lt. Gov Wrigley.  New Administrator’s Conference-Opportunity to learn and network with other new admins across the state – there are many.
Posted in Deacon Insights Home | Leave a comment

Excitement for a new role

It is hard to believe that one month has already passed in my new role as Principal of Shanley High School.  I am excited and humbled to be in this position.  As I transitioned from a ten year career in West Fargo Public Schools back to where I started my teaching career here at Shanley, I had many mixed emotions.   I experienced the sadness of leaving so many strong connections in WF while feeling a sense of nervousness for assuming the role of instructional leader for a storied high school like Shanley.  After being in office for one month, those feelings have subsided quickly.  I have so enjoyed interacting with the great staff, students and parents here at Shanley and cannot wait for the school year to begin.  These past few days have brought in more students and parents.  My level of excitement only grows with each interaction.  I feel so blessed to be assuming a new role in a community built on such a solid foundation of faith.  I very much look forward to partnering with all of our stakeholder groups to continue to add to the tradition of excellence that defines our school and by doing so, bring our values statement to life by becoming a member of a community that truly inspires excellence through faith, learning and service.

Posted in Deacon Insights Home | Leave a comment