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Pursuit #13: What More Can We Do?

By Bill Whitaker, Founding President


The Washington Jesuit Academy has always been more than a school. But, I could never have imagined how our school would change and grow as we would anticipate the needs of our students, and eventually our alumni and our families.

Even when we were getting started, we knew we would want to offer a top-rate education with a 12-hour day, the best teachers, and facilities of which our students could be proud.  But back then, I could never have imagined how our school would change and grow as we would anticipate the needs of our students, and eventually our alumni and our families. Indeed, for 15 years, we have continued to pull apart the onion that is the cycle of poverty and ask ourselves, what MORE can we do in the service to our students?

The students who attend the Washington Jesuit Academy have diverse and ever-evolving needs.  Many were drastically under-served academically.  Others had missed critical opportunities to learn from role models and mentors, and all too many have faced untold challenges due to pervasive income inequality.  Because the WJA is more than a school, we have always been purposeful in anticipating those needs and tweaking our culture and our services to meet them more and more effectively.  And we always will.

Meeting these needs has taken many forms.  Sometimes, it’s meant a significant investment in a programmatic expansion, of which I am proud to say we have had many over the past 15 years.  Other times, it’s been a recommitment to what I believe represents our best and most obvious impact points: our people and the community they foster.

In any case, our lack of complacency in serving our students has led to some of our finest institutional milestones.

  • Because we realized that our students needed more in the classroom, the WJA invested throughout our history in technology, learning support staff, and powerful outlets of expression in the form of art and public speaking electives.  We tweaked our schedule to give teachers more one-on-one time with students.  We added an entire year to our curriculum in 2012 with our new 5th grade and, this fall, we will expand again to welcome 4th graders.  And in knowing that our teachers are the most effective change-makers in and out of the classroom, we continue to hire for talent and compensate competitively. 
  • Because we discovered that our alumni needed more once they leave us, the WJA invested in a robust Graduate Support Program that has evolved as these young men have grown up.  Whether through college admissions supports, summer internship placement, or one-on-one mentoring by our staff, our graduates still view the WJA as their safe haven and their brotherhood. 
  • And because we knew that our families needed more from us, too, the WJA invested in initiatives that engage parents as equal partners in our young men’s education.  Over the years, we formed a Family Retreat, a Home-School Association, and a Family Center on campus.  Most recently, we empowered our School Counselors to listen to what our families want and initiate programs that will serve their needs.

As a school leader, I’ve learned that the best steps I can take to manage change and expansion are rather simple: listen to our trusted administrators and teachers about what they need; hire and retain change-makers who are mission-driven and add value to our culture; and encourage our whole team to think strategically and creatively.  And when leaders can do these things, and when everyone is working in sync and toward our common goals, we can even allow ourselves and our teams to take chances and to think outside the box.

At the Washington Jesuit Academy, we serve the most precious and deserving of young men, and we owe it to them to do all we can to empower them and unlock their potential.  Asking ourselves, what more can we do, will always be a worthwhile pursuit.