May 25, 2012

Mears accepts position with NCEA, will treasure archdiocesan school memories

By John Shaughnessy

Kathy MearsKathy Mears smiles as she recalls the two best compliments she’s ever received as an educator.

Her first favorite compliment came from a visitor who entered the school office when Mears was the principal of St. Roch School in Indianapolis.

“The person said, ‘What do you do? All the kids are happy!’ ” Mears recalls. “That made me happy. I know that school is about academic achievement, but having happy children is important. My number one goal was always to make learning fun for kids. Schools should be a happy place.”

Her second favorite compliment came from a teacher who told Mears, “You make me want to be my best.”

Those two goals—creating a great environment for children to learn and helping teachers reach their potential—represent the approach to education that has marked Mears’ 30 years of service to Catholic education in the archdiocese, including her most recent role as an assistant superintendent of schools.

Now Mears will take that emphasis to a national level as she becomes the executive director of elementary education for the National Catholic Educational Association in Washington. She will lead the Elementary Department of NCEA, directing nationwide services and programs for Catholic elementary education in the United States. She will start her new position by Aug. 15.

“Kathy has made significant contributions to the archdiocese during her tenure as principal and diocesan leader,” says Annette “Mickey” Lentz, chancellor for the archdiocese, who previously served as executive director of Catholic education and faith formation. “I am both proud of Kathy as a mentee and leader. She is not afraid to work hard for the mission of Catholic education. Her record proves this point.”

In her 30 years with the archdiocese, Mears has influenced Catholic education at every level.

She taught at St. Gabriel School and Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School, both in Indianapolis, and St. Malachy School in Brownsburg. After serving as principal of St. Roch School, she became the archdiocese’s director of learning resources with Project EXCEED, a school improvement initiative funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and other donors.

“She inaugurated Project REACH, a program to help teachers provide for special needs children in regular classrooms,” notes G. Joseph Peters, associate executive director of Catholic education in the archdiocese. “During this project, the number of special needs students in Catholic schools was greatly increased. Project REACH, as well as other programs of Project EXCEED, received national attention.”

So did her work as the Indianapolis chairperson of the National Catholic Educational Association Convention when it was held in the city in 2008, drawing more than 11,000 Catholic educators from across the country.

“Kathy has always been an effective and respected educational leader, particularly in the areas of professional development, special education, public policy initiatives and government programs, such as the introduction of state school vouchers,” says Harry Plummer, executive director of Catholic education and faith formation for the archdiocese. “She’s always willing to do whatever it takes to help schools succeed.”

Her work ethic is a family trait.

“I work really hard, and I don’t know any other way,” says Mears, a mother of two grown children who has been married to her husband, Brian, for 33 years. “That’s because of my parents. I grew up on a farm. A farmer plants until everything is planted. A farmer cultivates until everything is cultivated. And then he harvests until everything is harvested. I learned to always finish a job.”

She also learned to add a human touch to education—a quality that comes through when she recalls her favorite moments as an educator in the archdiocese.

“I was teaching a special ed child who looked at me and said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to get it today, but I will tomorrow,’ ” Mears says with a smile. “He’s graduated from college now, and married with two children. So it worked.”

She also shares a story from the day that one of her students at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School died of leukemia.

“I’m Irish so I get to cry,” she says. “The principal walked by and said, ‘You’re not teaching.’ The kids in my class said, ‘She’s sad because Adam died, and she would be sad if we died, too.’ The principal walked away without saying anything else. It’s a great moment when kids defend you.”

For Mears, it’s all part of the sense of family and community that marked her life growing up in a small town in Illinois—a sense of family and community that has continued during her 30 years of Catholic education in the archdiocese, she says.

“I’ve learned so much, and there have been so many great people,” she says. “It’s been wonderful.” †

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