As Joliet Catholic Academy’s class of 2015 celebrated their graduation from high school, their principal, Dr. Jeff Budz, was celebrating his own academic accomplishment: earning his doctorate in education from the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill. His doctoral studies coincided with his promotion to the role of president/principal of JCA at the start of the 2011-2012 school year.
“I never really had visions of getting my doctorate until I saw the program at St. Francis. So many aspects of the program would help me in my current position. I felt it was important for me to stay current with educational trends and that the start of my tenure as president/principal was the optimum time to pursue this degree.”
When Dr. Budz was named president/principal in 2011, he was the first layperson to assume this role at JCA in 142 years. “It’s a different time in terms of Carmelites and Franciscans in the building. The Carmelites and Franciscans really support our school and show their support by creating a strong presence on our campus. We are lucky to have one full-time Carmelite on staff with an additional one coming in next year and two Franciscans. Since the number of people entering religious life is declining, it is important that we have laypeople in place that understand their traditions and mission and will carry it on for them.” The Franciscans take a holistic approach to education and include the study of religion, academics, fine arts, athletics and other activities. The Carmelites believe that education is not an end, but a part of a spiritual journey. Joliet Catholic Academy incorporates both philosophies to ensure students attain a well-rounded education while in high school and build the foundation to continue their education throughout their lives.
At the end of the 2014-2015 school year, and his fourth year as president/principal, Dr. Budz praises the school’s academic achievements over the last 10 years as the reason they are a leader in Catholic education throughout the area. “We are a college preparatory school and our students have a college-like four year experience that prepares them for the next level. Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen our composite ACT score steadily rise; that is a testament to our faculty and staff. I’m proud of what our faculty and staff does for our students in the classroom. They put in a tremendous amount of work to make sure our test scores are solid, that students are getting into their top college choices, and we maintain our 100 percent graduation rate.”
Under Dr. Budz’s leadership, significant changes made to the physical campus, technology and the curriculum will springboard the school forward, ensuring students learn critical 21st century skills. To address the vital upgrades, the administration and Board of Directors have embarked on a fundraising initiative that will address the greatest needs of the school. “We just completed phase one, and it was very successful,” said Budz. “We met our fundraising goal for this phase, and we are finishing up the new Heritage Quad area. The next big thing is phase two of that capital initiative, which will include new windows in the back of the building, upgraded Wi-Fi for our one-to-one program and air conditioning throughout the building. Phase two will be big for us.”
As the use of personal devices explodes, the administration is thoughtfully integrating technology into the overall curriculum to engage students in the classroom and give them a more hands on role in their overall education. At the start of the 2016-2017 school year, JCA will introduce the one-to-one technology program, giving each student their own Google Chromebook. To ensure a successful implementation, the existing technology infrastructure will be reconfigured with new servers, an upgraded firewall and uniform technology equity across all classrooms. Additionally, each faculty member has received a Chromebook to begin using in 2015-2016 school year. This will give teachers an opportunity to focus on integrating the technology into their curriculum to enhance their students’ learning.
“This next year is going to be a big year for technology for us and creating the infrastructure for our 1-to-1 program is going to be huge. Laura Pahl, who we hired on last year, is a fantastic vice-principal of technology and curriculum. She’s been a dynamo in terms of organization and getting this whole thing launched. Now it’s about professional development. Our goal is to make sure curriculum drives technology and not vice versa. We spent many years researching the 1-to-1 program, and it is going to be more of a resource than a replace curriculum program. In four years, our entire school community will be using the Chromebook, starting with faculty and staff in the fall and the freshman and sophomores in 2016-2017, so we are focusing on getting the infrastructure in place now.”
Dr. Budz continued, “In the future, we are looking to redo the chapel as well as create a research media center. These are two bigger areas in our school that we want to redo once this current capital campaign in complete. What better time to have it when this 1-to-1 rolls out over the next couple of years. This is an exciting time at Joliet Catholic Academy, but there is a lot to do to get us there. Since we are fortunate to have the unwavering support from the Carmelites and Franciscans, we will be able to venture forward with the very best educational experience for our students.”