St. Paul Seminary launches new Institute for Catholic School Leadership

| January 22, 2019 | 0 Comments
Merylann “Mimi” Schuttloffel will use her expertise in Catholic education in her role as founding director of the Institute for Catholic School Leadership, a new institute at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity that officially launched this month.

Merylann “Mimi” Schuttloffel will use her expertise in Catholic education in her role as founding director of the Institute for Catholic School Leadership, a new institute at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity that officially launched this month. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

When Merylann J. Schuttloffel was preparing to move her family from northwest Iowa to a small town on the Louisiana-Arkansas border, she asked her husband, who had already begun a new job there, to stop at the local Catholic school and enroll their two elementary-aged sons. When he returned to Iowa to help with the family’s move, he brought her a box packed with third-grade books — and he told her she had a new job as the school’s third-grade teacher.

“I asked him, ‘What kind of school did you enroll our kids where they don’t even interview?’” she recalled. “I was a little horrified.”

But Schuttloffel, a teacher, took the job. When she met the principal, a religious sister, the sister told Schuttloffel that she would be the only Catholic teacher at the school — and that’s why she was hired sight unseen.

That teaching experience in the small, sparsely Catholic Arkansas town piqued Schuttloffel’s interest in the idea of Catholic identity, she said, years before she became a leading researcher on questions of Catholic education leadership. She continued to teach in Catholic schools throughout the Midwest, and, after earning advanced degrees in education, spent three years as principal of a Catholic grade school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Then she spent 22 years in teaching and research at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Now Schuttloffel — known widely as “Dr. Mimi” — is applying that expertise as founding director of a new institute at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, the Institute for Catholic School Leadership. Officially launched this month, the institute will offer Catholic formation for Catholic school principals and aspiring principals.

The institute is preparing to welcome this summer its first 20-student cohort. They will work toward a 14-month Certificate in Catholic School Leadership. Its members — mostly lay men and women — will live at St. Paul Seminary during an initial four-week summer session. Then, they will receive mentoring and complete online courses remotely during the academic year before returning to SPS for a second four-week summer program.

Before joining the institute’s faculty, Schuttloffel had been a consultant on the initiative, which is a joint endeavor between SPSSOD and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Office for the Mission of Catholic Education.

Schuttloffel is “one of the foremost recognized national and international experts in Catholic school leadership today,” said Kenneth Snyder, SPSSOD’s academic dean, noting both her academic accomplishments and experience teaching in Catholic schools at every level. “She really has a very impressive background and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in the area to the program. We are delighted and really very blessed to have someone of her caliber leading the institute.”

Jason Slattery, director of the Office for the Mission of Catholic Education, called Schuttloffel taking the helm of the fledgling institute “providential.”

“There are hardly three scholars in the United States who have done so much extensive work and been so published on Catholic schools and Catholic school leadership as Dr. Mimi,” he said. “It’s a great grace for us.”

‘Contemplative leadership’

Schuttloffel grew up in Detroit Lakes and attended Holy Rosary grade school there before graduating from Mount St. Benedict Academy in Crookston in 1967. She attended the College of St. Teresa in Winona, where she earned degrees in elementary education and French. In 1989, she earned a master’s degree in school counseling from the University of Tulsa, and in 1992, she earned a doctorate in educational administration and research, also at the University of Tulsa. At CUA, she served in several roles in its Department of Education, including the director of the Catholic Educational Leadership Programs. She was also a fellow of CUA’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. She retired from CUA Dec. 31, 2018.

Schuttloffel has authored numerous journal articles and book chapters, as well as several books on Catholic education. Among the books are two reports on the future of Catholic education published by the National Catholic Educational Association.

Her first publication with the NCEA was her 1999 book “Character and the Contemplative Principal.” Its topic — what she calls “contemplative leadership” — is her core research interest and will be at the crux of the new Institute for Catholic School Leadership, she said. It is rooted in her doctoral dissertation, she said, which explored the influence of a teacher’s philosophy of education on how he or she functions in the classroom. Her interest shifted to the same question regarding principals, and how their belief systems impact decision-making and influence staff members.

Contemplative leadership is “a model of leadership that integrates reflection and decision-making specific to the Catholic context,” Schuttloffel said.

“By going through that process as a leader, then articulating that process to your teachers and your school community, you start to shape a school community that is really a witness to the Catholic faith, and the students are hopefully exposed to that,” she explained.

Schuttloffel has also done national studies on recruiting, preparing and retaining Catholic school leaders, and she’s found that there is a “need and desire for school leaders or those aspiring to become school leaders to feel more prepared and more formed for the role of spiritual leader in the Catholic school,” she said, which is the aim of the Institute for Catholic School Leadership through classroom instruction and faith formation experiences.

Principals who are contemplative leaders are better able to articulate the mission of their school and what makes it distinctive, she added, which is helpful for their teachers and families, and for establishing school priorities and culture.

“If the people inside the school have a Catholic identity, the school will have a Catholic identity,” she said. “It’s a question of forming the teachers and the principal in their Catholic identity so that they can share that in the school community.”

It’s not a stretch, she said, to see her new role with the Institute for Catholic School Leadership as the culmination of her life’s work. And while there are other university-based Catholic leadership institutes in the United States, they tend to emphasize academics over formation, Schuttloffel said. Additionally, to her knowledge, the Institute for Catholic School Leadership is the first to be housed in a seminary, and she thinks that aspect is crucial to the project.

“I have been very interested in the pastor/principal relationship, and that dynamic is so key,” she said. “We hope to have opportunities to do some work in that way to support principals and pastors through the institute.”

She added: “What’s attractive for me is that this institute is going to try to pull together the various components that I think will make for a very strong formational experience for those individuals who come on board.”

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