September 3, 2010

School leader trades mile-high view for up-close look at faith-based education

By John Shaughnessy

Joseph HeidtThe intriguing phone call that changed everything for Joseph Heidt came when he was in the midst of a successful five-year run as a commercial real estate broker in Denver.

The caller told Heidt that Providence Cristo Rey High School, a private Catholic school in Indianapolis, was searching for a new president—someone with a background in education and business, someone who could connect with students from low-income families and develop relationships with business executives.

The more the caller talked, the more Heidt was intrigued by the school’s faith-based, work-study approach to high school education. Students attend school four days a week for extended classes. They also work a fifth day in a business setting, earning money that helps pay for their education.

“I was having a good career when the call came,” Heidt says. “But what sold me was the mission of the school.”

So the 38-year-old Heidt and his wife of four years, Stacey, packed up their belongings and their newborn baby, Nola, so he could start in the new position in July. It was a homecoming for Heidt in more ways than one.

An Indianapolis native, Heidt returned to the city where his parents, his sister, his cousins and many friends live. He also returned to education and the kind of urban, multicultural high school where he served before switching to the commercial real estate business.

From 2000 to 2005, Heidt was a faculty member at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco, where he taught, coached and served as the co-dean of students. Many of his students there came from backgrounds similar to the 81 students enrolled at Providence Cristo Rey High School.

He hopes to increase the number of students, the school’s supporters and the corporate-study partnerships.

“It’s an ideal job. It’s also very challenging,” he says. “A short work day here is from seven in the morning to six in the evening. In terms of what we can achieve, it’s wonderful. To meet the students and see how they benefit from this school is fantastic. Our approach allows them to make the connection between education and their career goal path.”

The benefits of a faith-based education also are apparent to Heidt.

“We offer our children the opportunity to create their own personal relationship with God,” he says. “The values of Catholicism and Christianity are imbedded in our academics and our community service. We want them to know they can make a difference.”

Heidt wants to do the same. †

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