For Kevin Powers, working in Catholic schools is more than a job, “it’s my vocation,” he says — one focused on helping students to grow both academically and spiritually.
“Of course, we want our kids to be A+ students, but ultimately our goal as Catholic educators is to help get them to heaven,” he said. “So how can we create good, happy kids who will carry on the values we instill in them so that one day they’ll be in heaven? That’s our goal.”
Powers, who has served as principal for the last four years at St. Margaret of Scotland School in Chicago, was named March 20 as the first superintendent of Catholic
Community Schools, a new consolidated school system in the St. Cloud metro area. He officially begins his position July 1.
“I look forward to building on the educational excellence, collaboration and commitment to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ that already exists among the CCS member schools,” Powers said. “One of our goals together will be to foster a system that ensures Catholic education is affordable, sustainable and available to anyone who wants their child to attend a Catholic school.”
Schools participating in Catholic Community Schools are All Saints Academy (St. Cloud and St. Joseph campuses), Cathedral (St. Cloud), Holy Cross (Pearl Lake), St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (St. Cloud), St. Francis Xavier (Sartell), St. Katharine Drexel (St. Cloud), St. Mary Help of Christians (St. Augusta) and St. Wendelin (Luxemburg).
Bishop Donald Kettler initiated the idea for creating the new school system as a way to increase collaboration and keep Catholic education in the St. Cloud metro area academically and spiritually strong and financially viable. The 2016-2017 school year is a transition year for the CCS system, which is expected to be operational for the 2017-2018 school year.
“Kevin Powers has demonstrated a passionate commitment to Catholic education both as a teacher and administrator,” Bishop Kettler said. “His vision for Catholic Community Schools will strengthen efforts to provide a top-notch education as we form the next generation of leaders for our world and our church.”
Father Ron Weyrens, chair of the Catholic Community Schools board of directors, said Powers has a gift for connecting with people and articulating a vision, which will help “draw us together and move us forward as we strengthen our schools and the Catholic presence here in our communities.”
A superintendent search committee was formed last October by the CCS board of directors. Three finalists were selected after a nationwide search that garnered 14 applications from individuals with a range of experience. The CCS corporate board made the final selection with input from the superintendent search committee, the CCS board of directors, and information gathered from community-wide interviews with the three finalists held earlier this month.
The other finalists were Mike Mullin, president of Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, and Anne Penny, principal of St. Charles Catholic School in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Over the next few months, Powers and his wife, Molly, who has worked for the last six years as the director of campus ministry at St. John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, will be searching for a home in the St. Cloud area. They have two children: Clare, 3, and Mary Colette, 1.
During that time, Powers hopes to meet with some principals, teachers, parents and CCS board members.
“I want to do everything I can to assure there is a smooth transition as I come on board,” he said. “I also want to make sure teachers, principals and families know that there shouldn’t really be any big changes. Their school should look and feel the same on July 1 as on June 30. The stuff I’ll be doing will be much more behind the scenes the first couple months.”
Down a different path
Powers, a native of Haverhill, Massachusetts, earned a bachelor’s degree in business from St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 2008. While in college, he began volunteering at area schools.
Once or twice a week for a few hours, Powers would teach English to immigrant children and adults in Manchester. During his senior year, he volunteered at a school, including in a kindergarten classroom for deaf children.
The experiences changed his career outlook. “I realized I didn’t want to put a suit on every day and go crunch numbers and trade stock,” he said.
Following graduation, he enrolled in the Alliance for Catholic Education program at the University of Notre Dame. During the two-year program, he taught second grade at St. Anthony Elementary School in Long Beach, California, and earned his master’s degree in education from Notre Dame.
He then taught third grade for two years at Alphonsus Academy and Center for the Arts in Chicago, and middle school for one year at Our Lady of Charity School in Cicero, Illinois, before being named principal of St. Margaret of Scotland School in 2013. He earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from DePaul University in Chicago in 2014.
Powers also currently serves on the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Curriculum Advisory Council, Archdiocese Principal Advisory committee and the Archdiocese School Board Subcommittee on Financial Strategies.
During his tenure at St. Margaret of Scotland School, Powers said he took steps to improve the school’s curriculum and support systems to better serve its students, which come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. Test scores have risen, and enrollment has increased from 150 students to 225 students. The school cut its deficit in half and increased its outreach to donors, raising over $1 million in the last four years for scholarships and various projects.
One goal in his new position, he said, will be to strengthen school enrollments by reaching out to more families in the St. Cloud metro area “who currently aren’t in Catholic schools, or don’t think they can afford it, or don’t know much about it — trying to get more of those people who have never thought about considering us, to join us.”
Powers also hopes to build new relationships in the community.
In Chicago, he said, “We’ve been able to create a lot of relationships with local businesses and a couple of local universities to help us with finding teachers and providing tutors and mentoring for our students. I think some of those ideas will be helpful here, especially since there are so many great universities so close.”