Steve Phelps, who came to SI in 1972, accepted the first sabbatical the school ever offered in 1994. He taught halftime and spent the remaining time visiting high schools around the country looking for examples of programs and practices that would support the SI faculty in meeting the needs of a new generation of students.
He discovered a rich depository of literature and coursework in the area of professional development, and he brought back to SI the idea of starting a professional development office. In 1995 Steve Nejasmich asked him to do just that and continue to teach two psychology classes to seniors.
“We weren’t a school in crisis,” said Phelps. “We were an excellent school that could be better.” He first determined what sorts of credentials and degrees the faculty had, and he then encouraged young teachers to earn credentials and advanced degrees that would deepen their expertise in curriculum and instruction. He worked with USF and San Francisco State University to offer a number of credential and Master’s classes at SI, and many teachers — from SI and other Catholic high schools — enrolled and went on to earn advanced degrees thanks to those evening and Saturday classes.
He also set up workshops to train SI faculty in the best ways to use technology in their classrooms, and, along with Charlie Dullea, Kate Kodros and Fr. Ed Fassett, SJ, he helped develop the Excellence in Teaching program. He organized Skillful Teacher classes and, with the Board of Regents, established a summer grant program for teachers working collaboratively to develop new and relevant curriculum.
In 1999 he and Kate Kodros (SI's assistant principal for academics then) helped Principal Charlie Dullea put into place the Five to Four program, lessening the teaching load by asking faculty to teach four, rather than five, classes, and to use their time for continually improving curriculum and instruction and for collaborative and interdepartmental projects. Because of the cost to the school, that program was phased in over four years, beginning with the English and Language departments.
He also worked with representatives from the Jesuit Secondary Education Association to bring leadership training seminars and academies to SI, and he has arranged for dozens of professional workshops for teachers to attend both on and off campus. In short, he has supported the SI teachers in their quest to learn more about their craft and to excel. And it has worked.
“All of this has contributed to a culture at SI where people are eager to learn, from the president to the youngest teacher,” said Phelps, who currently serves as President of Bishop O'Dowd High School. “In years past, some teachers may have thought they knew it all. Now we’re learning so much that we don’t even question the process. It’s part of the culture. The process has both improved our relationship with other schools and given SI a national reputation for excellence. Administrators from all over the country come here because we have become a school that seeks both to learn from others and to share freely.”
SI also has been rewarded for these efforts. Today’s Catholic Teacher magazine named SI as one of 12 schools nationwide honored for excellence and innovation in education. The magazine praised SI for “embarking on a unique approach to forming a school that learns,” for “rooting professional growth in every aspect of school culture,” and for “learning from the best models available, both locally and nationally.” Phelps was also individually honored by the National Catholic Educational Association, which gave him its Secondary School Department Award, citing his “significant contribution to American Catholic secondary education.”
Paul Molinelli ’78 succeeded Phelps as director of professional development at SI, and he carries on the tradition of helping our teachers continue to grow and develop so they can best serve their students. Go to the Faculty Landing page to learn more about his efforts.