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New superintendent of Catholic schools hopes to see more collaboration among education leaders

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Dr. Tim Uhl, the new superintendent of Catholic Schools, talks to Sister Gail Glenn, SSJ, principal of Catholic Academy of West Buffalo. Uhl visited the Delaware Avenue school to meet the faculty and staff of Catholic Academy and Our Lady of Black Rock School. Photo by Patrick J. Buechi

On April 19, Dr. Tim Uhl took on the role of superintendent of Catholic Schools for the diocese of Buffalo.  The Omaha, Nebraska native had beenthe superintendent for the Montana Catholic Schools, which includes 23 schools of both the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings and the Diocese of Helena. Before that he Bishop Fisher has cited his “passion for Catholic education and his superb track record as a superintendent, educator, coach, dean of students, and as an administrator for both primary and secondary schools” as making him an ideal candidate for the position.  

What led you to education?

I’d always been in Catholic schools. I’d been in Catholic schools all the way up through my Ph.D. I decided to start teaching at a high school and I followed a pretty natural progression in terms of being a high school teacher and coach, then becoming an assistant principal, then becoming a principal, then becoming a superintendent. But I’ve always been in Catholic schools. That’s all I’ve ever known. It’s all I’ve worked in. It’s all I’ve gone to school in.

Do you have friends in public school? Can you compare the two?

Sure. I’ve met a lot of people in public schools. I think the thing that has always stood out to me was the community aspect of (Catholic schools) when I was a student. I still have friends that I talk to from grade school, let alone high school, let alone college, let alone graduate school. I have some great memories of faculties that I was on and friends I have from my different stops. I think because you share more than just a work environment, you share a faith community. I think it brings you closer. There’s a mission there that extends beyond a job.

What drew you to Buffalo?

“I was looking for a place that would be a good place to raise a family. My children are of an age where we want to give them better high school options. That was part of it. The other part of it was, I was looking for a new challenge. Apparently, there are a few challenges here. I was looking for a place that was interested and open to innovation and maybe trying some new things.”

So, when you heard about Buffalo’s Chapter 11 and the ending of diocesan financial support for Catholic schools, that didn’t deter you?

I didn’t hear that. I read Bishop Fisher’s (installation) homily and noticed that he mentioned Catholic school teachers. So, I reached out to some friends who are from the D.C. area, and they raved about him. I thought to myself, “This is a good start.” That’s what attracted me. I was not aware of the funding, but to tell you the truth, I don’t think that would have deterred me. Every Catholic school system is undergoing funding difficulties and is re-examining governance and leadership, and is challenged by lower enrollments generally. Every Catholic school system has its challenges. I don’t think coming across a challenge or two would have caused me to pause.

What would you like to see? Do you have a plan of some kind?

I’d really like people to collaborate and cooperate and participate with each other, and support other schools. So, I’m trying to establish a culture of collaboration where we all need each other and we’re all going to help each other. That goes beyond schools. Parishes need schools, schools need parishes. I think it has to start with ourselves. Are we going to come to meetings and support one another? Are we going to help out a school in need? Is a high school going to help an elementary school? Is an elementary school going to help a high school?

The second thing is we have to be learners. We have to learn. What that means is, you don’t hold yourself up as the expert. You don’t expect somebody to know all the answers. You learn together. You learn from mistakes. You learn from history. You move forward. That’s sometimes hard for people in positions of leadership to be vulnerable about.

As a group we have to learn. What can work, what should work, what do we want to do differently, what do we need to change, how can we avoid repeating that same mistake over and over again?

Then we have to figure out what we need. What do we need and what’s most important? The most important thing is not money. The most important thing is establishing our mission as excellent Catholic schools. What can we do to get better, to be more authentically Catholic, to be better schools? That doesn’t come from more tuition money or more subsidy. It comes from embracing God and really looking at it, and trying to figure out how can we do it?

Uhl is a well-known national blogger and podcaster through “Catholic School Matters” which focuses on best practices and innovation in Catholic education.

My thought was, let’s try to get resources out, try to push out good resources and best practices and good stories and connect Catholic school educators with one another. That was the thinking behind it.

I’m starting to podcast with leaders who have undergone diocesan or archdiocesan reorganizations, where they reorganized schools and parishes under different kinds of models. As a diocese here, we’re starting to look at that and figure out how that could work. I thought my contribution could be talking to people from these different dioceses and saying how’s that looked? How does that work? What have you learned? I think school leaders will get a lot out of that.

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