Before he became deputy superintendent of elementary schools for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Tony Galla was a Catholic elementary school principal living by the simple dictum that if you wanted something done, you were going to have to do it yourself.
“We’d joke that when you’re a principal of a Catholic school you’re pretty much a one-stop shop,” he said. “You’re not going to call someone to take care of something for you, you just roll up your sleeves and take care of it yourself.”
Over the past school year, Galla has watched as Catholic school personnel have taken care of issues ranging from familiar to unique, from studies to technology to dealing with anxiety as well as mental and physical health issues for both students and faculty alike.
But while much of the focus needed to be about getting through this most unusual of school years, eighth-grade students also were thinking about next year — what high school they would attend and how they would go about making that decision when information and access were limited due to the pandemic.
That’s when sleeves were rolled up.
Galla said he was amazed at the creative solutions both elementary and high schools came up with to help kids and their parents make informed decisions about what high school they believed would be the best. Schools hosted virtual and drive-thru tours, online engagement hours where eighth-graders were able to talk with their high school counterparts, not only asking questions about specific programs, but simply getting a feel for the personality of a school.
“Look, nothing is going to supplant an actual, in-person high school tour,” Galla said. “But they put on a valiant, super creative effort to help answer questions for families and kids.”
One of the most creative, Galla said, was Claudia Rodarte, principal at St. Raymond School in Downey. Rodarte, who has been at the school for four years, had already been garnering attention for her use of social media, which she has developed along with administrative assistant Kaytee Estrada.
When she first arrived at the school, the number of St. Raymond students going on to Catholic high schools was relatively small. Through programs designed to inform students and families about what Catholic high schools had to offer and how it could be financially feasible, the number climbed each year.
To maintain that momentum, even during a global pandemic, St. Raymond’s staff used every possible method to allow students and families to learn about and visit, even if virtually, local campuses. Rodarte’s efforts to educate St. Raymond families about their high school options mean students are now not only interested in local high schools such as Pius X-St. Matthias, St. John Bosco, and St. Joseph, but look at options such as Loyola (west of downtown LA), Ramona Convent in Alhambra, and St. Paul in Santa Fe Springs.
Those additional choices meant the St. Raymond’s staff had to do everything it could to provide not just tours, but information covering everything from financial assistance to transportation options, and to do it all on the fly; Rodarte likens it to working with a “massive puzzle, and then puzzles in more puzzles. Tech puzzles, information puzzles, instruction puzzles.”
That puzzle included such old-school methods as a high school fair organized by vice principal and eighth-grade teacher Valeria Pacheco. Now, looking back at what was accomplished, Rodarte said she is “absolutely amazed” at how her staff and St. Raymond’s parents were able to not only get through the past year but push forward into the next phase of their student’s academic lives.
“I’m very grateful for the community I’m part of,” she said. “The faculty, staff, and parents walked alongside each other, pushed together, cried together, were scared together. There was a lot of on-the-spot learning and relearning on how to implement new things, a lot of logistical stuff.
“It’s just been amazing. We learned to rely even more on each other and, all of a sudden, technology just redefined what we could do and allowed us to navigate some challenging waters.”