by Virginia Groark Hale
We recently caught up with Shane Staszcuk, principal of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Academy. Mr. Staszcuk who is married (Rowena) with two daughters (Madison Class of 2015 and Mia Class of 2018) who attend the parish school, reflected on his time as principal, his accomplishments and what the future holds for OLMCA.
Virginia: Where did you grow up and go to college?
Shane: I grew up in Hazelwood, Mo., which is a suburb of St. Louis. I did my undergraduate work at DePaul University where I earned a bachelor’s degree in history and a teacher’s certificate. I obtained a master’s degree in educational administration from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
Virginia: What did you do before you became principal at OLMCA?
Shane: I have always worked in the field of education. My first teaching job was at St. Hyacinth Basilica School. I taught sixth grade in both Catholic and public schools and served as assistant principal in Berwyn for five years.
Virginia: Why did you choose to pursue a career in education?
Shane: I really enjoy working with kids and I felt that my education, especially in college, was a turning point for me. No matter where you come from, whether you are poor or wealthy, if you are given a great elementary education you have that forever.
Virginia: How long have you been principal at OLMCA?
Shane: I started the job in the 2005-06 school year.
Virginia: How did you hear about the school and what made you want to work here?
Shane: I was working in the public school system and dealing with day care, and my wife suggested I look for a job in the Catholic school system. I was interviewing at a number of Catholic schools and then the Mount Carmel job opened up last minute. I interviewed there and really just loved the location, loved the school and saw that my talents and what the school needed at the time fit really well
Virginia: Why did you send your children here?
Shane: I believed in the school. I believed in the teachers, and I believed in the Catholic environment and the Catholic formation. It was a no brainer.
Virginia: How has the school changed since you became principal?
Shane: The students are pretty much the same. We had really great smart kids then and we have great smart kids now. I think the building is in much better shape than it was. A lot of people have worked hard to make the building a more attractive place. The quality of the teachers was good then and it’s even better now. We have a lot more consistency and less staff turnover. The enrollment has gone up. We are probably 25 percent larger than when I started and we are in a much better financial position. The test scores are also far better than they were.
Virginia: What are some of the things that you have implemented that you are most proud of?
Shane: When I took the job I grew to really appreciate the history of the school. There is a certain responsibility of carrying on this very long legacy. It had been a premiere school on the North Side for a long time. There was such a need for a medium-sized Catholic school in this part of town, but the trends were not great. Our enrollment was drifting under 200 and we were borrowing money. It’s really hard to turn enrollment around, level it off and bring it back. But we had a good product there just had been limited marketing. So a lot of it was grassroots marketing. I was going to fairs and festivals and passing out cards. We reopened the preschool and that helped. I think I have helped forge a much closer connection between the school and the parish as a whole. I’m very proud of the academics and bringing in a new reading and writing program, and solidifying the already strong math program. I’m also very proud that so many of our students are successful in getting into very competitive high schools.
There was no foreign language program when I started. We really improved extended care and after school extracurricular offerings. We’ve grown the special education program. Also, there was no children’s choir. There was no altar-serving program. There was no student cantor liturgy program. I didn’t implement all of that but working with Paul French and Steve Palanca we started those things. Students didn’t go to Mass weekly. They went monthly. I think all of that helps out. We’ve been able to grow the school and been able to be in a better financial position without losing the economic diversity of the school. Some schools become very elitist. We’ve managed to improve our financial position without becoming an elitist school.
Virginia: Who goes to the school?
Shane: Seventy-five percent of our students come from the 60613, 60657 and 60614 zip codes but we draw from 25 zip codes. If you work downtown we are a good school to drop off to and our before and after care program allows parents to come from a large distance.
Virginia: What are the school's greatest strengths?
Shane: The greatest strengths are the teachers and the staff. We have a very hard working, talented staff that treats people well. We get along with each other. It’s a very nice work environment. Being a Catholic school is a great strength.
Virginia: What are some of the exciting plans for the school's future?
Shane: We are finishing out the capital campaign to add new classrooms, which will allow us to remodel our science lab and move and remodel the art room. It will enable us to take more students. Our longer-range plans are to build a gym and elevator. Even longer-term plans are to build an addition that focuses on science and technology. I would also love to have an early childhood center based out of the school or the parish.
Virginia: What role does the parish have in the school?
Shane: It’s a parish school and for many years they supported us and our very basic financial needs. We need the prayers and support of all the parishioners. We appreciate the support of the parish. They are always very good to us. If anyone wants to learn more about the school, I’m happy to give them a tour. It is the parish school and the more they know about it, they will have a lot of pride in it. Please stop by anytime.