Upheaval this week at a Catholic high school, with parents, students, even donors of Bishop McDevitt upset with its new leadership.
The school board hosted a town hall meeting Thursday to address concerns and explain a rash of recent staff departures. Few would go on the record with us, fearing retribution or retaliation from school leaders.
“We submit to you our vote of no confidence in Jim Vail as president of Bishop McDevitt High School,” reads part of a letter from McDevitt faculty to the board of trustees and obtained by ABC27 News.
Vail was hired last year as the school’s president, tasked with fundraising and growing enrollment. But lately, the only thing that seems to be growing is discontent.
Some call him too abrasive, rough and not socially conscious. Others believe his approach to Catholic education doesn’t live up to the 100 years of McDevitt history.
“Why are we losing so many teachers and administrators?” asked Bob Thomas, who attended Thursday’s town hall and whose daughter is a McDevitt senior.
Thomas is referring to recent departures that include widely-admired interim principal, Cathy Pagliaro, who resigned January 4. Several other administrators and the school’s vice principal, are now also gone after decades of service and employment within the diocese.
Thomas attended the town hall to find out why. Our cameras, however, weren’t allowed in.
“The kids and parents are concerned about the principal-president [model], just an explanation as to how the new model is going to work for the kids, going forward,” said Thomas, explaining why he attended.
Many we heard from said they are concerned with the president part of that president-principal model, which was instated in May 2018, around the same time Vail was hired.
One student said in a letter, “We feel as though he [Vail] is not personable enough and we don’t feel as if he fits the criteria to be a principal at this school.”
One longtime donor said the news of Pagliaro’s sudden resignation and of Vail’s unorthodox approach, is making him withhold future contributions. He said in a letter, in part: “…I can only suspect that any problems that may have forced Cathy to take this action lies with your new president rather than with her.”
“We have a great story to tell, all the pieces of the puzzle are here,” Vail told us last summer, shortly after he came to McDevitt from Paramus Catholic in New Jersey.
Vail is now a piece of that puzzle that some feel isn’t fitting.
“Anytime there’s a change, there’s always gonna be turnover,” said Thomas. “We’re just trying to get some answers as to why.”
At least one board member thinks change is needed at the school, suggesting that the problems they’re seeing now could be more about not liking change than an actual problem with Jim Vail.
Below is the entire written statement from the Board of Trustees to ABC27 News, after multiple requests for on-camera interviews were declined:
“The board of Bishop McDevitt High School hosted a town hall meeting for families to update them on recent developments at the high school. It was a productive conversation and the board is grateful to the many members of the Bishop McDevitt family who joined in the conversation.
On January 16, 2019, the board of Bishop McDevitt High School, in coordination with the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, announced that Dr. Nancy Burke had been appointed as the Administrator Pro Tem at Bishop McDevitt to assist with the day-to-day operations at the high school while the board completes its search for a new principal.
Dr. Burke will be a knowledgeable, familiar, and steady hand to assist during this time and a good partner to the school’s President Jim Vail. Mr. Vail will continue to focus on setting the strategic direction of the school along with outreach efforts and improvements to encourage growth.
The individual who held the position of interim principal of Bishop McDevitt High School resigned on Friday, January 4, 2019. With regret, the board of directors accepted that resignation and is working to facilitate this transition.
In May of 2018, Bishop McDevitt High School transitioned to a President-Principal administrative model, which is considered a national model of innovation and success. This structure divides the multiple administrative roles and responsibilities of a high school’s leadership between two individuals, a president and principal.
For 100 years, Bishop McDevitt has been recognized for its academic excellence, great strength in athletics, music, drama and the arts, and its unwavering commitment to God and each other.
The Bishop McDevitt faculty, administration, students, volunteers and parents all deserve substantial credit for these achievements. It is the board’s goal to continue to strengthen the school’s tradition, pride and excellence, which has shaped it into the strong Catholic school community it is today.”