The Rarest of Opportunities

You can do more with the grace of God than you think.- St. John Baptist de La Salle

In July 1999, Kathie Brown and her husband Dennis packed their belongings and relocated their family to the west side of the Twin Cities, an area more populated by cornfields than houses. Kathie was embarking on what turned out to be both an entrepreneurial venture and a vocational call – the creation of a new Catholic high school, the first to be built in Minnesota in over thirty years.

Twenty-one years later, Kathie views the decision to leave Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha, Wisconsin as a significant close-your-eyes-and-leap of faith experience. “Sometimes a question challenges us to say ‘Yes’ to change, to embrace the unknown. Reflection is valuable, but we will never have all the information we would like to make a perfect decision. Leaving CMHS, friends, and extended family was difficult, but working with a passionate group of people to grow a school created a new sense of what it means to be family,” Kathie believes. This responsiveness to the needs of young people is a legacy offered to each class of Holy Family students.

By the time Kathie reported for her first day of work in an office of then Klein Bank in Chanhassen, the architectural plans were drawn. The ceremonial shovels had been stuck in the soil of the farm that would support Holy Family Catholic High School. What was left? Everything.

President Paul Stauffacher asked Kathie Brown to be the first principal of Holy Family Catholic High School. When she arrived, the construction of the building was underway, but the curricula and the faculty who would teach it were not yet established.

Busing, food service, furniture, equipment, and supplies had to be acquired. These are essential components of a school that are so easy to take for granted in an established institution. Of great importance, however, was developing a vision for the curriculum and finding the educators who were knowledgeable, flexible, and creative to achieve that vision.

Kathie began by using her experience with a combined English and history course at her former school and imbuing it with theology. Integrated Studies (IS) was born. Seeking a theology teacher who could envision an interwoven approach to learning and deepen understanding of the Catholic faith, she found Doug Bosch, someone capable and willing to explore ways ninth grade students might see education as more than earning grades. Today, elements of this integration are found in the junior-level courses of American Literature, American History, and Catholic Social Teaching.

Eleven other teachers filled the available positions by the time the building was ready for limited occupancy. Four remain: Doug Bosch, Gary Kannel, Matt Thuli, and Jim Walker. Kathie credits the tireless efforts of these first twelve educators for setting a high standard of collegiality and innovation not only for each other but for the next teachers to join the professional community as the school grew.

The first students established many of the traditions we still celebrate today.

Kathie also recognized the importance of providing traditions and rituals for the first 147 students who walked through the doors in the fall of 2000. She established a weekly Convocation to pray, communicate information, and reinforce values. The classes of 2003 and 2004 established many other meaningful traditions. They suggested the Thanksgiving dinner and an honor society to acknowledge academic effort. These young people took ownership of their new school and led Holy Family quickly and decisively to a culture of excellence. Kathie recalls, “All they needed was someone to listen to their ideas and permission to use their energy to make them happen. I was in awe of their insights and eagerness to make Holy Family their school. They helped form me into the school leader they required.”

One of the most significant historical developments in the growth of Holy Family came in 2005 with the formal approval to join the Lasallian international network of schools. Former president Frank Miley initiated the discernment process and Kathie immediately identified with the Christian Brothers’ pedagogy that sees students as the center of the educational process. She loves the imagery of faculty and staff walking alongside youth as they teach minds, touch hearts, and transform lives – their own included.

In 2018, the Lasallian Region of North America recognized and honored Kathie Brown as a Distinguished Lasallian Educator from the Midwest District for 2018.

An essential aspect of our Lasallian charism is to “Live Jesus in our hearts . . . forever.” It is witnessed frequently in the way people say “Yes” to what will help students thrive. They are not concerned whether a task is in a job description. Over the last twenty years, faculty and staff have volunteered to moderate clubs, plan events, and suggest better ways to do things – and then do them. Kathie hopes the culture of doing “whatever it takes” is so well-established that such generosity continues to grow. She has tried to lead the way by serving whenever her skills are compatible. She remembers everyone in her family cleaning the school’s windows and bathrooms the weekend before Holy Family opened in fall 2000. Recognizing every job is an essential one, she has served as Holy Family’s first counselor, a substitute teacher, ticket-taker, concession stand coordinator, and, for eight years, as both president and principal.

These experiences explain why what comes next is not a question Kathie can answer. She could not have predicted what would be necessary to end this school year with as little loss of learning and relationships as possible. As the challenges increased, what became important was supporting students and teachers in their efforts to adjust and stay healthy in every way. Again, she had help. Teachers ensured the students were well-taught. The staff and parents supported the teachers. Family takes care of family.

All is well these days as Kathie packs up the many memories two decades can collect. And because all is well, she is not concerned about making plans for the immediate future. The question that needs her next “Yes” will come when it comes.

Additional Resources:

The Kathleen Brown Opportunity Scholarship Fund was established to honor Kathie’s legacy and commitment to our school. More information about her scholarship can be found at: http://www.hfchs.org/giving-opportunities/brown-scholarship/

Kathie shared Holy Family’s story during the 2020 Founders Week. Visit this Vimeo Showcase to view her videos: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7299211

The Secret to Success for Holy Family’s Student Assistance Day

Keeping up with assignments and maintaining test scores doesn’t come without hard work, commitment and plenty of time management. That’s particularly true for students at Holy Family Catholic High School, where students often carry a heavy academic load plus juggle multiple extracurricular activities. What does it take to make sure students are performing at their absolute best when it comes to academics in this active, stimulating environment? According to Principal Kathie Brown, it takes a unique program with an equally unique acronym—SAD, which stands for Student Assistance Day.

“The catalyst was the need to help students learn that everyone has times when it appears there is no way he or she can keep up with expectations,” Mrs. Brown says. “Opportunities to prioritize, organize and seek help are life skills that often must be experienced to be internalized.”

Unique Opportunity to Reset

Brown initiated the program over a decade ago, giving students the opportunity to push the reset button and get back on track when the demands of high school life get a little overwhelming.

“By the end of a Student Assistance Day, many students have caught up on their work or advanced their understanding of classroom concepts,” she points out.

Here’s how Holy Family’s Student Assistance Day program works, and why it has been extremely successful in preparing students to be proactive in their success after high school:

  • Once a quarter, SAD is scheduled to coincide with Eastern Carver County Schools’ late starts.
  • One-on-one appointments between students and teachers run from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. All teachers, counselors and learning specialists are available to meet with students.
  • Time can be used to make up work, receive group or individualized help, work on and set priorities for long-term assignments, or take exams missed due to absence.

According to Dean of Academic Support Melissa Livermore, students struggling in a particular class receive SAD appointments with teachers not as a punishment, but as an opportunity to get the individualized help needed, redo work that didn’t meet standards, complete additional assignments to improve understanding and, in return, improve their grades.

Students not required to attend SAD, but who feel the strain of an overwhelming schedule, often make appointments with teachers, as well.

“I have many students who are doing well in class come in to deepen and extend their knowledge. It’s like taking a deep breath,” Livermore says.

Translated: SAD is an opportunity for students to clear their heads of any classroom confusion, relax and focus.

“Learning how to balance academics with outside commitments is valuable,” Livermore says. “However, like in many executive function skills for this age group, it is a skill that many haven’t yet mastered and need guidance with. SAD provides the time for students to work with their teachers without needing to choose between school and an extracurricular activity.”

Extended Reach of SAD

“Over the years, we have found ourselves using SAD as service opportunities wrapped around educational experiences,” Brown says. A few examples:

  • Robotics students often visit local grade schools to engage younger students in engineering lessons.
  • The band director runs a middle school instrumental clinic to encourage young musicians.
  • Groups of students serve breakfast for the homeless at Simpson House in Minneapolis.

Students who need even more assistance don’t need to wait for SAD to regroup. Sometimes staying ahead of the game is half the battle. The NOW program, which stands for No Outstanding Work, is for students needing weekly check-ins to keep up.

  • Students missing assignments during the week stay after school on Wednesdays for a NOW appointment, giving them a chance to catch up and stay on track.
  • Teachers make these appointments, and parents are kept in the loop.
  • To accommodate NOW, extracurricular activities don’t begin until 3:15 p.m. on Wednesdays.

“I find pure joy in the fact these days have organically evolved to serve in many deep ways,” Brown says. “This is education at its finest—when everyone is learning.”

Mark Your Calendars

2019-2020 SAD dates

  • Thursday, October 3
  • Thursday, December 12
  • Thursday, February 13
  • Thursday, May 14

Click HERE to read about Holy Family’s game plan for student success.