There’s little activity inside St. Hubert High School these days, with teachers and students still about a month away from reporting for classes.
But the light has been on in the president’s office as Frank Farrell is busy getting ready for the start of the school year.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia named Farrell the school’s new president on July 24. He’s the first male to lead the all-girls school that is known for its academics as well as its athletics.
Farrell has been at the school almost every weekday since landing the job. He’s in the middle of a weeklong vacation and will officially start on Monday. He’s enjoyed getting to know the office staff and others.
“Everyone I’ve met here has been so positive,” he said. “The best word I can use is that Hubert’s ‘permeates’ their lives.”
Word spread quickly of his hire. Annemarie Szambelak, the admissions director, updated the school’s Web site and Facebook page.
“I had fifty-six ‘likes’ in the first hour, and my inbox had over a hundred e-mails the first day,” Farrell said.
BREAKING THE MOLD
Farrell becomes the school’s fourth president since that model was introduced in archdiocese high schools in 1994. He follows Joanne Walls, Sister Alma Rose Schlosser and Sister Mary E. Smith.
The new president views St. Hubert as a “community of women,” adding that the staff’s No. 1 goal is to make the students women of faith and integrity.
Kathryn Ott Lovell, St, Hubert Class of 1992 and chairwoman of the school’s advisory board, believes it is important for the girls to have a strong female role model, but she was won over by Farrell in their discussion.
“First and foremost, he was the right person, regardless of gender,” she said.
Farrell, 51, grew up in Drexel Hill, Delaware County. He attended St. Andrew Grammar School and Monsignor Bonner High School (Class of 1979).
At La Salle University, he earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and public administration and a master’s in theological studies. He taught a year at St. Edward the Confessor, at Eighth and York streets, then spent eight years helping to oversee archdiocese youth programs.
HE MINDS HIS MANOR
He has been on the faculty at Manor College for 19 years, teaching theology and philosophy and serving as chairman of the liberal arts division since 2004.
Farrell lives in Cheltenham. He and his wife, Donna, a doctor of internal medicine and a Cardinal Dougherty High School graduate, have five children. The three-youngest kids attend Presentation BVM.
Sister Mary Smith served as principal at St. Hubert, Torresdale and Cottman avenues, for two years and was the school’s president for the last three years. She left to become principal at Immaculata High School in Somerville, N.J.
The archdiocese encouraged Farrell to apply for the vacant position.
“I was very secure at Manor. I was happy and challenged,” said Farrell, adding that enrollment was on the rise.
Farrell interviewed twice with an archdiocese team that included Richard McCarron, secretary for Catholic education, and Ed Hanway, chairman of the Faith in the Future Foundation.
Principal Gina Craig and a half-dozen members of the St. Hubert advisory board met with him at the school for almost two hours on the evening of July 18.
The archdiocese and the advisory board tried to gauge his commitment to Catholic secondary education.
Meanwhile, Farrell and his wife talked and prayed about the position. He became convinced that presiding over a Catholic high school was the right move for him.
The advisory board’s feedback helped convince the archdiocese to offer him the position. He accepted, and Manor president Sister Cecilia was happy for him, he said.
IT’S THE RIGHT FEELING
Farrell was hoping for the call following his meeting with the advisory board.
“Knowing that I have a great network of stakeholders kind of sold me that this is the right place for me,” he said. “A lot of people here have deep roots and contacts in Mayfair and the Greater Northeast.”
Lovell, a member of the Friends of St. Hubert, said she appreciated Farrell’s willingness to give up a good job at Manor to strengthen the high school.
“He’s really committed to Catholic education and how critical the school is to young people and the neighborhood,” she said. “He feels it’s a calling for him.”
St. Hubert started the year with a bombshell — the news that the archdiocese was planning to close the school. The Archdiocese announced in early January that St. Hubert would be among four high schools to shut its doors because of rising budget deficits and declining enrollment.
Immediately, the St. Hubert community went into action, raising more than $1.3 million in seven weeks.
“I thank the people of Northeast Philly for rallying,” Farrell said.
On Feb. 24, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput announced that enough cash and pledges had come in from a select few donors to save all four schools.
Farrell is confident in telling parents of eighth-grade girls that their four-year commitment to the school will be honored.
“St. Hubert is here to stay and be a vibrant part of the Northeast community. I’m going to reach out to all the stakeholders to assure them that we’ll be here in the future,” he said.
SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY
Farrell plans some changes, starting with new banners outside the school. He wants to make greater use of social media so grads don’t have to wait until the alumni newsletter is published to see what’s going on at their alma mater.
The good news is that freshmen enrollment is up 20 percent over last year’s class of 140. The school is still taking registrations and transfers.
The days are over when 95 percent of girls graduating from St. Matthew, St. Dominic, Resurrection of Our Lord and other feeder schools would automatically enroll at St. Hubert.
Today, there’s competition from other Catholic schools, along with charter schools. Farrell wants to encourage girls from local public elementary and middle schools to consider St. Hubert.
Of course, it will probably take some scholarship money to persuade a parent to choose St. Hubert — where tuition is $5,850 — over a free charter or public school.
In an e-mail to principals, presidents and other archdiocese officials, McCarron said Farrell is strong in the area of strategic planning and is aware of the challenges of enrollment management and growth.
The Friends of St. Hubert will manage the money raised last winter and continue to raise funds, but Farrell understands he will have to pound the pavement to bring in more supporters.
“I’ll be there to represent St. Hubert beyond these walls,” he said, adding that the staff will make it easier for him by offering a quality education.
Farrell is excited to be taking over at an all-girls school that is an anchor of the neighborhood.
“I’m a firm believer in single-sex education. That’s a distinctive part we as a church can offer,” he said.
In the last few years, St. Hubert sent more students to Manor than any other high school.
“I’ve always known the quality of the St. Hubert student,” Farrell said.
Farrell said he knows of St. Hubert’s strong reputation for academics and athletics. The girls win plenty of scholarship money, and he wants to help them find the right college.
The incoming president plans to “hit the ground running” on Monday. He’ll get to meet athletes and coaches once practice starts for soccer, field hockey, cross country, volleyball, tennis and golf.
Teachers report on Sept. 4, followed by freshmen the next day. Upperclassmen come in on Sept. 6, and everybody will be together for the first time on Sept. 7.
“Finally, when I see seven-hundred girls, the faculty and the administration, it will be absolutely joyful and humbling,” Farrell predicted. ••EndFragment