By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published April 28, 2016
ATLANTA—The leadership structure of Atlanta’s oldest archdiocesan high school has been modified to become a president and principal model. A youthful Catholic administrator will become its first president.
Chad Barwick, a Catholic middle and high school principal in Montgomery, Alabama, who entered teaching through the University of Notre Dame ACE program, will be the first president of St. Pius X High School. He will start July 1.
He will serve on a team with longtime St. Pius X principal Steve Spellman, who is in his 16th year at the 1,072-student school.
Spellman will continue to oversee the academic life of St. Pius and its faculty, while Barwick will be responsible for the school’s development, vision and mission, alumni relations, budget and facility.
“I think it is going to be a great step forward for the school. The majority of Catholic high schools are moving in that direction,” said Spellman.
“In the day-to-day operation of the school, you neglect those things that are needed for a vibrant future for the school,” he said of the principal-only model.
Barwick has “a very rich academic background and is an unbelievably strong Catholic,” Spellman said. “He believes in the faith and in the mission of Catholic schools. That’s what I am excited about.”
Size of school key to change
Having a president-principal model is more common in private Catholic schools than archdiocesan schools, but its merits for St. Pius have been discussed for over three years, according to Dr. Diane Starkovich, superintendent of Catholic schools.
“This was the juncture. … This was the time,” she said, in light of where the school is in student population, strategic planning and stability of leadership.
“The key is enrollment,” she said. Research is showing “how much more successful (schools) can be with co-leaders” when the school population exceeds 1,000 students.
The president assumes responsibility for key aspects of the institution: the physical plant, budget, institutional advancement, vision and strategic planning, and admissions, she said.
The principal can dedicate his time to running the school, hiring and mentoring teachers and focusing on the quality of the education.
Spellman wanted to remain in the principal’s role, Starkovich said. “He’s that people person. He’s the face of the school.”
Under the new structure, the principal will report to the president. Because of that, Spellman was not part of the interview committee, which included Starkovich, along with representation from St. Pius X, its Advisory Council and archdiocesan education and human resources departments. She also asked Marist Father Joel Konzen to assist since Marist School in Atlanta has long used the president-principal model.
Barwick was the unanimous choice of the committee, she said, citing his experience in Catholic school teaching and administration, in the Notre Dame ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) program where he did graduate work and was mentored, and his commitment to the mission of Catholic schools in the life of the church.
A key element in selecting a president is the candidate’s “ability to work in a tandem leadership role” with a “very talented” principal and not micromanage him, Starkovich said.
“They have to be a team. They have to have that relationship. They have to respect those roles,” the superintendent said.
Of Spellman and Barwick she said, “I think they are going to be a formidable duo.”
“Catholic identity is wonderfully strong”
Barwick, 39, who is married and the father of four children, has been principal of the 500-student middle and high school at Montgomery Catholic Preparatory School for the past four years. A graduate of the school and of Auburn University with degrees in English and journalism, he holds a master of education from the University of Notre Dame through the ACE program and a master of arts in educational administration from the University of Notre Dame Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program.
He has taught in Catholic schools in Plaquemine, Louisiana, Austin, Texas, and Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, and was principal of St. Anthony of Padua School in South Bend, Indiana, before accepting the post of principal at his high school alma mater. A “runner by necessity,” Barwick has been a cross country coach and took the girls team at Mount de Sales to a state championship.
His first job after college was as a newspaper reporter in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
He entered the ACE program and began teaching after a spiritual reawakening during a reconciliation service led him to reconsider his priorities in life.
“Since I taught that first day it has been an increasing faith journey for me,” he said, including how “to be a better husband, a better father.”
“Each community has also supported me in that journey,” Barwick said in a telephone interview.
He said this is a “dream job” for him.
“I have known about (St. Pius X) my whole life. It has always been kind of a shining example of a high school that has a Catholic identity that is vibrant. I was aware of the athletic prowess. … There was never a missing piece,” Barwick said.
“It was a dream job. I think the more I got to talk to people at St. Pius it felt like we were a good fit,” he said.
He expects that St. Pius X will be “a very inspiring, challenging and warm place where I will be able to continue to learn to be a better servant to Christ.”
“Catholic identity is wonderfully strong at St. Pius, but you have to shepherd this,” Barwick said. “To say to the community continuously, how can we best serve the church, how can we grow the school, how can we continue to be excellent. … The neat part for me is to make that vital and real.”
He said his first priority will be “to learn and to build relationships.”
Another priority will be to move from the notion of development at the school to that of advancement, “inviting people in.”
“I really am excited to hit the ground running with that fertile soil. We are about to kick off an advancement team with a president at the front of it. St. Pius has a lot to celebrate. I look forward to celebrating with them,” Barwick said.
One of four children, Barwick’s father was in the military and he grew up in Montgomery. His older sister is a special education teacher at Mount de Sales Academy. He and his wife, Christine, have two daughters and two sons, ranging from 10 years to 18 months old.
Longtime principal: “It is going to be great”
Spellman, whom Barwick first met in 2008 when he was a mentor principal in the Remick program at Notre Dame, is someone he admires and considers a mentor.
“I have been absolutely floored by his abilities. I am humbled to work with him, the wonderful things he has done,” Barwick said.
“We have different responsibilities but are part of the same team. He is the day-to-day guru for the school. I will be working on the tip of the spear (the one) who advances the mission, invites people to be involved in the life of the school.”
Spellman said the St. Pius faculty and staff “know how excited I am about it. I know it is going to be great.”
Rather than accelerating any thoughts of retirement, this makes him want to stay in place even longer, Spellman said.
“The president handles the strategic direction of the school, working with the foundation, the donors, the strategic plan. The principal runs the day-to-day operation. That is the job I enjoy most,” Spellman said. “We have an unbelievable faculty here and I want to work with them.”
Starkovich said she consulted with other diocesan school superintendents who are using the president-principal model and created job descriptions based on their experience.
For the last two to three years a committee has been working on the possible model with the blessing of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, she said. The committee included Spellman and members of the St. Pius X Advisory Council made up of alumni, past and current school parents, attorneys, financial and construction people and a clergy member. What she was hearing from other dioceses and from within the working group “was all coming together,” she said.
St. Pius X is a $16 million a year venture and “continues to be blessed with great leadership.”
Opened in 1958, it is the longest established archdiocesan high school and “it’s an incredibly strong Catholic school,” she said. “People love that school.”
The decision to move forward with the new model is a step into the unknown in one sense, but it has been taken after a great deal of consultation and study.
“It is a leap of faith,” Starkovich said, but “I am pretty cautious. It has got to be a best practice and substantiated as a best practice. There is a lot of research out there on this.”
“I am excited about the future,” she said.