Brendan P. Kennealey began his tenure as Salesianum School’s new president this past July. He is a 1994 graduate of the school and attended Boston College and Harvard Business School. At a ceremony on Thursday, he will be formally installed as the school’s fourth president.
BRENDAN KENNEALEY: Despite living in Boston for the better part of the last 16 years, I’ve never really been out of touch with the school. My father was a board member and several years back I actually spent 15 months here at Salesianum working to open Nativity Prep, the Oblates-sponsored school in Wilmington.
It is actually not that unusual for the head of a Catholic school to be a lay person – many schools have gone that route with frankly fewer and fewer religious faculty to draw from. The Salesianum board made the decision that this was the right time. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to lead this great institution.
TSD: Tell us a little more about your background.
BK: I grew up here in Wilmington, attended Immaculate Heart of Mary parochial school, then Sallies, then I was a psychology major at Boston College. My entire career has been spent in education – I was a volunteer teacher at the Jesuit-run Nativity Prep in Boston and helped start and was principal for another Nativity school in Massachusetts. As mentioned, along the way I came down here to help start the Nativity Prep in Wilmington -15 months from conception to opening the doors. I’ve worked in Africa starting educational organizations there and most recently was an area superintendent for the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston.
TSD: As you say, you’ve spent your career in education – from starting schools in New England to Africa. What are the things that all great schools do well?
BK: Great schools have great leaders – at every level. That is one constant. We do have a great leadership team here at Salesianum, from the principal across the organization. Leadership is so very important in schools for setting high expectations for the students. At Nativity Prep, for example, the full expectation was that all students would go on to college. That was not a common thing in that demographic where so many kids would never have dreamed to go on to higher education.
At Salesianum, however, where 98% of our students go on to college, the expectation needs to be higher. To reach beyond what they might be comfortable doing. Opening their eyes to the world around them and challenging them. That’s the job of leadership and that’s what makes a difference from a good school to a great one. At Salesianum, the school leadership – Oblate and lay faculty alike – must all take on the responsibility of living the example of the Salesian ideal, an example of integrity and courage and kindness.
TSD: Salesianum has a unique and proud 108-year heritage as the only all-boys preparatory school in Delaware. What are the advantages of a school for young men only?
BK: There are a number of advantages – being an all-male institution helps us to focus on what the students are here to do. And also to grow and feel comfortable expressing themselves more than perhaps in a co-ed environment. Importantly, there is a special bond that’s formed … the “brotherhood” – a critical and central tradition at Salesianum.
We know that there is a special and important place for this approach. So many families are looking for an all-male education and a Catholic one and academic strength. That combination is the unique value of Salesianum. Parents see what happens to students over four years at the school, the outstanding young men they become – that’s something very apparent for anyone who has attended a Salesianum graduation
TSD: You’re taking on this job at an exciting time – with many challenges and opportunities. What are the near-term goals for your tenure?
BK: Financial aid is huge. We have to do more with financial aid. For generations Sallies has been serving families from across the financial spectrum – in this economy more and more people are feeling the pinch – they want to send their sons here and we need to make sure families can still access a Salesianum education. So I’d like to see financial aid grow significantly over the next three to five years.
We also have plans for a major renovation and addition to our athletic center. The facility has been largely untouched since the school was built in 1957, and construction begins in March 2012. This work will complement the science center, upgrades to the dining facility and many other improvements to the physical campus.
TSD: What are you reading these days?
BK: I just finished The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba – a book everyone at the school read. It’s about a boy in Malawi who stops going to school for financial reasons. He finds a text book on how to build a windmill to power electricity in his village. It is an excellent story – it was really great for the purposes of opening students’ eyes to a different part of the world and someone who desperately wanted education and couldn’t get it – something so precious many of us take for granted. Very inspirational. I’ve also just begun reading Middlemarch, by George Eliot.
TSD: Just last week, Officer Joseph Szczerba, Salesianum Class of ’85 was killed in the line of duty – our condolences to the Szczerbas and the entire school community.
BK: It was devastating news. The Szczerba family has been so close to the school including a family member currently serving on our staff. So it is particularly sad – it really shook the community. But this tragedy also rallied the Salesianum community. We had the opportunity on Friday afternoon – we planned a small ceremony to express our grief and commemorate his life of service – as it turns out the police and fire and EMS community came out in huge numbers, totally unexpected and unplanned – to be able to do that it was truly an honor, to hopefully offer a little bit of comfort.