The presidents and principals of the schools of the San Francisco New Orleans District (SFNO) gathered in San Diego, CA September 22-25 for the annual fall gathering of the District Chief Administrators Association (DCAA).
Twice each year, the group convenes for an agenda formation, professional enrichment, organizational duties, and Lasallian family bonding.
However, unlike previous gatherings that were structured around a variety of presentation and breakout topics and activities, this DCAA session had a single theme and content focus. Taking advantage of the its border location and proximity to Centro La Salle in Tijuana, Mexico, the group concentrated its entire agenda on international migrant and refugee issues and ministries.
“We had been discussing increasing awareness of Centro de Formación Integral La Salle in Tijuana as a response to our 2016 District Mission Assembly’s directional statement to support emerging migrant populations,” explained SFNO Office of Education Director Michael Daniels. “DCAA travels each fall to different sites around our district, and the planning for this gathering coincided with a planned visit to Centro by a group of SFNO Brothers and Partners.”
The gathering was planned in collaboration with the Lasallians Without Borders (LWOB) committee, a group of representatives from SFNO and the District of North Mexico that develops and conducts awareness and action initiatives in regard to vulnerable migrant populations, especially the young, at the United States – Mexico border.
The schedule began on the evening of the 22nd with a welcome from DCAA chair Taylor Gantt and vice-chair Courtney Kassakhian and practice-sharing sessions for 1st and 2nd year SFNO presidents and principals. Conversations with a small group of veteran administrators and District leadership team members gave participants an opportunity to “compare notes” on the common elements and experiences of administrating Lasallian middle and secondary schools. As discussion facilitator Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory president Melinda Skrade shared, “It was inspiring to be with colleagues and leaders in our gathering who have experienced the challenges themselves.”
By the following afternoon, the full complement of DCAA attendees had arrived. After dinner, members of LWOB provided an orientation to the gathering’s scheduled activities. Speaking to the group were Kenenna Amuzie, Brother Chris Patiño, FSC, Savannah Mattox, Sister Jodi Min, OP, and Andres Lopez.
Morning sessions on the 24th featured a selection of area site visits intended to provide formative and informative experiences for the chief administrators. They included a U.S. Border Patrol field office; Southwest Key shelter for unaccompanied immigrant minors; Border Angels immigrant rescue and outreach services; and a meeting with Diocese of San Diego Associate Director of Immigration Issues David DeMers.
Through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching, these experiences and the group processing that followed them would challenge the administrators to consider their roles as “Lasallians beyond borders” in both the Church and the world. It was an approach that many found helpful.
“Because of the politics,” observed Mullen High School president Raul Cardenas, “discussions like these can be very polarizing. Taking a page from what I heard here, I will make sure we use the teachings of the Church to guide all of our discussions/teachings.”
If participants’ comments at the gathering’s conclusion are an indication, this first-of-its-kind DCAA was both substantive and inspiring for many.
“I appreciated seeing the border very much,” reflected Saint Mary’s College High School principal Pete Imperial, “and discussing the issues with border patrol agents was especially interesting. Demonization and polarization solve nothing.”
Added Cristo Rey De La Salle East Bay High School principal Ana Hernandez. “I walked away with such a rich experience and a call to do more. We often function out of a deficit vision. The challenges we are facing as a nation are opportunities to be the change, to do better, to serve, to lead by example. It is not enough to simply learn or hear about the many issues impacting our world and our students. DCAA provided an initial first step and an open invitation to action. I am eager to see how and what we all do at our sites.”
While the 2019 DCAA gathering formally ended on the morning of the 25th, a group of participants extended the experience that afternoon with a trip to Centro de Formación Integral La Salle in Tijuana, Mexico. For many, it was their first opportunity to visit the learning center begun in 1982 as a joint ministry of the District of North Mexico and the former District of San Francisco. It was also a chance to return to their ministerial roots.
“Being at Centro allowed them to step away from their administrative roles,” observed SFNO Leadership Formation Director Janell Kloosterman, “and reconnect with the service experiences that brought many of them to the Lasallian mission in the first place. It was a reminder of why we Lasallian educators do what we do everyday.”
Taken as a whole, DCAA’s four days in San Diego was a valuable step in the District’s efforts to respond to the Institute’s call for all Lasallians to discover more and different ways to take the mission beyond boundaries, as well as to the exhortations of Pope Francis for a Church that embraces and promotes a culture of encounter in today’s world.
“Deepening our understanding of the complexities and opportunities at our southern border,” reflected Daniels, “informs our ministry in our schools and fosters our appreciation for the transformative work being done by Centro La Salle and also our El Otro Lado programs in El Paso and Tucson. These are powerful ways in which we engage with our neighbors in need on the border and at home. Our Lasallian Catholic call to leadership invites us beyond our comfort zones and into the sacred space of meeting young people where they are, of meeting the world where it is.”
All photos SFNO Communications except where indicated.