Barbara Curtis: Catholic School Leadership Academy

As a Catholic school teacher in the late 1990s, Barbara Curtis found herself increasingly drawn to leadership roles within her school. "I enjoyed working with kids as a teacher, but I also liked working with faculty, putting together groups and leading people toward positive change," Curtis explains. "I'm not one who sits back; I like acting on my convictions."

Several of her colleagues urged her to go into administration. Curtis initially resisted, but when the LMU School of Education launched a program in Catholic school administration, "I saw it as a sign from God that this was something I should be doing," Curtis recalls.

As she was completing the master's degree program in 2000, Curtis accepted an offer to become principal at St. Raphael, a PK-8 Catholic school in South Los Angeles. Over the next decade, Curtis, working with Fr. Tracy O'Sullivan, O.Carm., along with the faculty and staff, turned St. Raphael into one of Catholic education's major success stories. Test scores have gone up steadily, and large numbers of graduates are going on to well-regarded Catholic high schools on the path to college. The annual operations budget has doubled, and a tuition assistance program supports one-third of the students in the low-income community. Ninety percent of St. Raphael teachers have master's degrees or are currently pursuing them. The school's athletic and music programs are thriving. In summary, Curtis says, "We're changing lives of children in the inner city."

Curtis is one of many Catholic school leaders who are changing lives thanks to the preparation they received at LMU. "We are committed to developing moral, intellectual, responsible, and caring leaders in the Catholic tradition," says Franca Dell'Olio, director of SOE's Catholic School Leadership Academy. "Our graduates are strong, dynamic, transformative leaders. They go beyond rhetoric to lead change initiatives and empower others to help fulfill their vision."

Led by Dell'Olio, a former classroom teacher and school principal, the Catholic School Leadership Academy represents a collaborative effort among several SOE programs and departments, with support from key partners that include the Archdioceses of Los Angeles and Orange. Through a specialized cohort program, the Catholic School Leadership Academy offers a focused M.A. and certificate, along with the California Administrative Services Credential. Weekend, online, and on-site education are provided to help meet the needs of candidates who are going through the program while maintaining a busy work schedule.

Like all SOE programs, the Catholic School Leadership Academy integrates theory and practice. Classroom discussions focus on candidates' current or past challenges, enhanced by applicable research and theory. Field experiences involve day-to-day leadership and management under the tutelage of a site supervisor and university supervisor. Hands-on projects focusing on advocacy-oriented and transformative leadership give candidates the opportunity to take theories they're learning in the classroom and apply them at their school sites. Members of each cohort develop a professional network of peers who provide invaluable support and advice long after the candidates have graduated.