The Final Four: Search for new principal narrows

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St. Thomas is going to have a new face next year. With the departure of Father Patrick Fulton and the appointment of President Kevin Storey as interim-principal, the biggest question facing the evolving administration of St. Thomas is who will take the reins. After an exhaustive, nationwide search, the pool of potential principals has been narrowed from 31 applicants to 4 exceptional candidates.

This phase of the search involves personal meetings and interviews with the candidates, including both faculty and students. Father Storey extended an invaluable opportunity to students, the opportunity to offer their opinions and help him come to a decision. Throughout the week of January 9-13, members of Student Council and Fellowship of Christian Athletes got acquainted with the potential principals and were very impressed by their choices.

Now, The Eagle is introducing the candidates to the entire student body, and allowing the faculty to learn how the student body perceived each one.

Aaron Dominguez ‘96

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Mr. Dominguez is a natural match. He has dedicated his life to education, and he began his journey at St. Thomas High School. After graduating from St. Thomas in 1996, he went on to The University of Texas at Austin and earned a degree in education. He then earned a Masters in Educational Administrations at The University of Houston, and is currently pursuing his doctorate at UT.

Mr. Dominguez has not only studied education for his entire adult life, but he has practiced it with impressive success and breadth. He is the principal of Treasure Forest Elementary in Spring Branch ISD, where 97% of the students are lower-income and 85% are English language learners. Prior to Forest Elementary, he was the principal at Garcia Elementary, where he earned one of the strongest growth rates in the district and transformed one of the lowest performing schools to one of the highest.  He has also served as the Dean of Students at Hamilton Middle School in HISD and as a teacher and math specialist in Fort Bend ISD.

Mr. Dominguez has worked in almost every position in the school – from principal, to dean, to teacher. His exceptional experience will allow him to relate to and manage every facet of St. Thomas life.

More important than his professional experience, however, is the impression he left on the students with whom he met. As an alumnus of St. Thomas, Mr. Dominguez connected and interacted with the students in a unique way. His personality was received as one that will fit perfectly in the culture of St. Thomas. He knows what it is like to walk the halls as an Eagle – and students see this as an indispensable quality that no other candidate can match.

However, while his youth is certainly seen as a huge positive by many, some students and faculty have concerns about it. Mr. Dominguez is 38 years old, and his age causes uncertainty for some students. In fact, he is a former student of Mr. Gensheimer and Mr. O’Brien. Transitioning to now being their boss may pose an interesting challenge.

Read Mr. Dominguez’s address to the St. Thomas High School community

“Mr. Dominguez is knowledgeable and passionate about the mission of St. Thomas.”

Asher Price, senior

Brian Mascona

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Mr. Mascona brings a breadth of experience and an aura of poise. He exudes a perfect balance of professionalism and personality. He is eloquent, and his years of diverse experience allowed him to answer all of the students’ questions with specific examples and depth.

Much like Mr. Dominguez, Mr. Mascona also went to a private, all boys, Catholic high school. He then studied business at Notre Dame, where he also worked in the admissions office. He earned a Master’s degree in education in California. He has been the principal of Our Lady of Mercy in Baton Rouge, where he serves 950 pre-K through 8th grade students.

Mr. Mascona has experience in areas that St. Thomas needs most right now. With the extension into the Joplin campus, St. Thomas is going to need strong leadership that knows how to grow enrollment and fund raise, all while maintaining the quality of education in every classroom. Mascona has done just that. He grew enrollment by 25% in 5 years, and he raised $8 million for new facilities –  all the while improving test scores.

Before this position, he served at Holy Spirit Preparatory School for six years, where he involved himself in all aspects of campus life – from teaching first grade, to junior high theology, to coaching and managing campus ministry.

Mascona has a cultured and adventurous personality, expressing a desire to see the world as his reason for leaving Baton Rouge. He is also very devout Catholic, having once joined a seminary and spending a year studying to be a priest.

Read Mr. Mascona’s address to the St. Thomas High School community

“Mr. Mascona is smart, young, and has a really good vibe.”

John Cordes, junior

“Mr. Mascona is familiar with the all-boys Catholic school life and understands the students opinions and viewpoints having attended an all-boys school. He has a desire to live and work in Houston. He brings experience, but also an energetic and fresh mind to St. Thomas. He seems 100% ready to take on the challenge of leading St. Thomas.”

Asher Price, senior

David Bernatavitz

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Mr. Bernatavitz has an impressive amount of experience in every facet of school. He has dedicated his life to education, and has many distinctions to show for it. He has a Bachelor’s in Secondary Education and a Masters in Leadership and Educational Administration, which he earned through his time in multiple higher-level educational institutions that specialize in teaching.

Currently, he is the Head of Lake Highland Preparatory School’s middle school, where he oversees administration of 400 students. Throughout his time working in at least six different schools, he has been a principal, a high school social studies teacher, an elementary school P.E. coach, an athletic director, and a high school coach for varsity football, basketball, tennis, lacrosse.

His experience also aligns with the specialized areas on which St. Thomas needs to focus. Specifically, Bernatavitz coordinated the move of his new middle school campus and allocated $1.5 million for its construction. This role will give him valuable experience for the move to the Joplin campus.

To the delight of students, Bernatavitz has a “less is more” attitude towards homework, and cited the recent Eagle article “Burnt out: Seniors voice concerns over workload, college applications,” as making many valid points that he would like to model in his administration.

Bernatavitz would also bring a cultured, global worldview to campus. He expressed a passion for travel, and his personal interests are very diverse – ranging from country music to European soccer.

However, these many positives of Mr. Bernatavitz’ profile do not come without considerable drawbacks. He did not leave the same impression that Mr. Dominguez and Mr. Mascona left on the students in terms of demeanor.

Bernatavitz also lacks the longevity that the previous two applicants promise, acknowledging himself that St. Thomas would be the “last phase of his career.”

Read Mr. Bernatavitz’s address to the St. Thomas High School community

“Mr. Bernativitz is very kind and has decades of experience. He is very knowledgeable about education and displayed a passion for teaching. He also showed a faith-centered approach to education. However, his personality did not translate to the students and St. Thomas.”

Asher Price, senior

Tom Walsh

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Mr. Walsh immediately dominated the room with his bubbling personality and slight Boston accent. He is exceedingly personable, down-to-earth and humble, and he has a personality that will fit perfectly into the laid-back atmosphere of St. Thomas. His answers were filled with stories and life lessons, and he showed a genuine care for the students he met.

After earning his Master’s degree from Dartmouth, he spent 19 years serving at the Rivers School in Weston, Massachusetts. In those two decades, he served as a teacher, dean of admissions, coach for numerous sports, and dean of languages. Now, he is the director of college guidance at the Roxbury Latin School.

Mr. Walsh not only has experience in every aspect of high school life, but he has invaluable expertise in the exact areas that St. Thomas is looking to bolster. These roles have given him the know-how to guide our counseling and language departments, both areas that are in the middle of needed expansion.

As the director of college admissions, Walsh would bring the expert leadership and longtime connections to help our counseling department provide the resources our students need in an increasingly competitive field.

As a passionate language educator, Walsh will lead the way as we expand our language programs to include Mandarin, while adding to our existing language programs in the process. He has taught Spanish and Latin, and has led students on trips to Italy, Spain, Québec, and England.

However, some students noted Mr. Walsh’s lack of passion specifically for St. Thomas that the other candidates showed. When asked why he wants to leave Boston, he responded that he is not yet sure whether he even wants to. While the other candidates were excited about joining a community at St. Thomas, Mr. Walsh was less decisive.

Read Mr. Walsh’s address to the St. Thomas High School community

All of the candidates are exceptionally qualified and would lead St. Thomas well. In the words of Ms. Breuer, “At this point, we’re only nit-picking.”

Father Storey is expected to release the final choice in the coming days.

“Mr. Walsh comes from counseling which is different from the other three candidates. He was very outgoing, humorous, and personal. He connected with the students and displayed excellent leadership qualities.”

Asher Price, senior

“Mr. Walsh’s background is perfect for this school. He has a great personality and would be liked by both the administration and the staff. He would be a leader and a friend to the students and can lead us in goodness, discipline, and knowledge.”

Nick Phan, senior

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Ryan is the Student Body President of St. Thomas High School. Outside of Student Council, he is a state-champion speaker on the Speech and Debate team, an anchor for the Eagle Broadcast Network, and a well-below-average basketball player.

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