Notre Dame Preparatory Adopts New Leadership Model
Parochial school, Notre Dame Preparatory has established itself as one of the finest high schools in the state of Arizona. Part of the school’s success can be attributed to the many dedicated teachers and forward-thinking administrators that work tirelessly to educate the students while instilling Catholic values, a sense of community and global responsibility.
Since 2002, Notre Dame Prep’s leadership operated with a principal. It will now move into a model with both a president and principal, with ongoing insight and directional input given by the Notre Dame Preparatory Advisory School Board. Jim Gmelich, the school’s most recent principal, was appointed as school’s president last March. Jerry Zander is the school’s new principal. Working together with the Advisory School Board, they are looking to hit the ground running for the 2016-2017 school year.
Greg Gienko is the chair of the Advisory School Board and has two daughters who currently attend Notre Dame Prep and one who graduated from the school in 2015. “I got involved because my kids were here,” explains Gienko. “I’m also an attorney by trade and I was asked to serve on the school board before Jim got here because they had an attorney who was going off the board. Jim and I started basically at the same time and then he asked me to serve as the chair of the school board and I accepted.” Gienko has found his experience to be very rewarding. “I personally believe that we have the opportunity here at this school that is so unique given its location, the profile of the school and the youth of the school.”
Recently, Notre Dame Prep unveiled a sports complex that includes a new football field and track with an impressive set of bleachers. The campus improvement was much needed and appreciated as previously, 80 percent of students had to leave campus to train or compete with another school team in most sports. There had been ongoing issues with scheduling, transportation and safety. Gienko states, “With the addition of our brand new sports stadium and sports complex and the track, we’ve now rectified a lot of those issues.” Gmelich adds, “For kids to be able to hang out after school, have some fun activities and literally walk 200 yards to a field – the spirit grows and the campus grows!”
The New Leadership Model
Zander hails from North Dakota where he grew up attending Catholic schools. After college at University of North Dakota, he went on to teach math at a Seattle Catholic high school for 12 years. Zander says, “The math teaching role moved into the director of student life out there.” When his wife had the opportunity to pursue her master’s degree at the University of Arizona, they moved to Tucson and he took up teaching at a Catholic high school while there before the couple once again relocated to Seattle.
After the couple realized they had enough of the gloom of Seattle, they headed back to sunny Arizona. Zander served for three years as NDP’s Assistant Principal for Academic Affairs prior to accepting the position of principal last spring. Among his immediate goals are endeavors in teaching and learning. “We already have the greatest teachers you will find in Arizona,” he explains. “The school is top notch as far as that goes. We can always get better, so the focus will always be on student learning and what their experience is; not only academically, but in their formation. I’m really excited. I’m ready for the school year to start!”
Zander continues, “The other two schools I was at both had the president/principal models while I worked there, so I’m very familiar with that model. With a school this size, when I came here, I was surprised that they didn’t have the president/principal model, so I was really happy to see that it went to that. It’s a ton of work for one person, and especially in a school that is growing so quickly.” Among the next large undertakings at Notre Dame Prep is the addition of a Fine Arts Center.
The Applications Process
The school now includes a student body of about 920. “We’re growing steadily and we’ve worked really hard in the admissions world to really define what Notre Dame Prep is,” says Gmelich. “Having been at a number of Catholic schools, I know that there are some here in the Valley… every one of them has its own charism. There is a specific thing that Notre Dame does that is different from Brophy, or Xavier, Seton, Bourgade or St. Mary’s. Our goal really is to highlight what Notre Dame could offer and find the kids that would best fit at Notre Dame Prep.” Not every Catholic school is a perfect fit for each student and the culture and strengths of each school attracts a different student.
“Our goal is to present what Notre Dame offers to all the kids of high school age, bring them on campus, have them experience what we do for at least a day and the events we throw and hopefully they find a match and we bring them in,” says Gmelich. Speaking to the way Notre Dame Prep attracts students, each of the last three years has seen a dramatic increase in student applications to the school. Students of all faiths are considered for admissions to the high school with the understanding that Catholic curriculum is taught throughout all four years. There is also a beautiful chapel on site at the school where mass is held daily.
To ensure a good experience and a positive student-to-school match, Notre Dame Prep participates in a comprehensive school admissions process. Gmelich states, “It incorporates taking a standardized test that is pretty common across the country. We look at 7th and 8th grade grades, letters of recommendation, the student writes a statement of why they want to come to Notre Dame, mom and dad write why they would like their child to come to Notre Dame and we actually interview every student and every parent. We want to make sure it is a good fit.” The high school attracts students from across the Valley seeking the finest high school parochial education and the staff of Notre Dame Prep is committed to each student for the duration of their four years at the school.
The Incoming President at Notre Dame Prep
Gmelich has a rich history with secondary Catholic schools. “I worked at Brophy for 16 years,” he explains. “I taught for six years and then I was an assistant principal for 10. I moved to Colorado as a principal at two Catholic high schools, a Jesuit school and a Christian Brothers School. Then, I helped open an all-girls Catholic school in New Jersey, Trinity Hall. It was a terrific project.” For six months while working with the administration and founding families of Trinity Hall he also assisted St. John Vianney Catholic School on the west side of the Valley with some challenging administrative issues. While all of that was taking place, Gmelich was approached with the new position at Notre Dame Prep and it wound up being a fit. He is now looking forward to helping Notre Dame Prep with its next steps and ushering in its next generation of students.
“Every school that I’ve worked at and every school that I’ve attended had a president/principal model,” explains Gmelich. “So, when I applied for the position here… I was a little surprised that president- principal wasn’t being used.” After some thought and knowing that Bishop Olmsted supported the decision to incorporate the new leadership model at Notre Dame Prep, Gmelich accepted the new position. The model was right for Notre Dame Prep and the time was now.
“I think Jerry and I have a shared vision,” Gmelich says of principal Zander. “My responsibility will be more long term strategic planning… focusing on the school’s Catholic mission, advancement and development, and communications and marketing of the school.” He also points out how appreciative he is that the board is so supportive of the mission of Notre Dame Prep.
Service as Part of a Catholic Education
Students at Notre Dame Prep are required to complete service hours. “All of our students are required to do service, but it’s also a huge part of who we are as a school,” Zander explains. “So, it goes well beyond just the required service hours and so many of our students go above and beyond what their requirement is.” He particularly loves to hear the individual stories of the students associated with their service to the community.
“Our goal is to expose our kids to different types of service learning,” Gmelich adds. “We want them to think about things locally, and then regionally, nationally and internationally.” It is the hope the students will gravitate towards what they love and are passionate about and carry that passionate service into college and through their adult lives.
Opened in 2002, Notre Dame Prep is a Catholic diocesan college preparatory high school with a co-ed enrollment of about 920 students. The school has received national recognition for the caliber of its academic and athletic programs. The school is located at 9701 E. Bell Road in Scottsdale. For more information or to schedule a tour of the spacious campus, visit www.ndpsaints.org or call (480) 634-8200.