Come August, students of the Schools of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau will have a new leader in Michael Baber. He steps into the role on an interim basis from a sister Sacred Heart school in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he was assistant head of school. Baber was on the Grand Coteau campus for a week in late May and returned last week to prepare for the upcoming school year. About 500 students attend classes on the single-gender campuses of Academy of the Sacred Heart (for girls) and Berchmans Academy of the Sacred Heart (for boys). Baber sat down recently to chat with The Acadiana Advocate about the upcoming year and how he’s acclimating to south Louisiana.
Should students and families expect any changes come August?
The beginning of the school year always brings new changes. We have new community members, new faculty and staff to help us implement our mission. I’ll put my fingerprint on things as much as I can. I’m very much aware, though, that the Schools of the Sacred Heart Grand Coteau has a long and vibrant history. It has continually expanded and grown like good mission-focused schools do. That really was the genesis of adding the second school, Berchmans Academy, because our mission can’t be contained. I don’t think there will be any radical changes. Academically, it’s a strong school, and I’ll just continue to build on those strengths.
Are there specific initiatives you’d like to implement?
I’m big on teamwork, collaboration and transparency. Those are the hallmarks of my leadership. I hope to forge that here. Leadership, I think, is best when it’s shared, it’s collaborative, honest and transparent. Strategic planning is one of the things I enjoy first. Where do we want to be in the fall? Where do we want to be at the end of the academic year? Two years? Three years? Advancement for fundraising. I think the board of trustees is poised to be bold about the mission and what we’re trying to do — build a boys school, an auditorium for the girls and an arts center.
Any developments with the construction of the boys school?
It’s been a priority of the board to make sure that the facilities meet our needs, and they’re looking forward to making that a reality as soon as possible.
What were your first impressions of the area?
The utter beauty of it. The rich cultural tradition that people are so proud of was palpable for me. It was easy to see it coming from the Northeast that people are proud of their traditions and love of the school. I was able to meet generations of alumnae who are dedicated to the mission of the Schools of the Sacred Heart. It’s an amazing love of school, and the faith tradition is very strong here. It’s very palpable, too, which you don’t see as clearly in other parts of the country, so I think that is a great advantage to Grand Coteau.
Anything you’re looking forward to experiencing?
I want to get a deeper sense of the culture. I understand there’s a great music tradition between here and New Orleans and the culinary traditions. I was here in May, but it was a quick trip and I was in the hotel. I want to experience more of the culinary traditions. Also, I’m working on my pronunciations of different parts and different towns. I’ve been reading billboards and saying it aloud. Atch-fa-latcha gave me the most difficulty.
That’s the one! I was good with Opelousas and Baton Rouge.
Marsha Sills covers education for The Acadiana Advocate. Follow her on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.