Mentor principals have played a critical role in the success of the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) since the program’s inception in 2012. The experience, accountability, and personal attention that these leaders provide has been a defining characteristic of the LEI, helping Catholic school principals—and their teams— institute lasting changes.
After schools attend the LEI summer conference, mentor principals maintain regular contact with the 4-6 school leaders in their group through monthly video conference calls. These conversations, which focus on various themes related to Latino outreach, recruitment, and enrollment, are an opportunity for school leaders to learn from one another and receive real-time consultation and feedback from their mentor on some of the things that they’re doing in their school.
The LEI has been the driving force in my growth as a leader in Catholic schools. As a new LEI principal, the overwhelming support and guidance from the LEI/ACE staff and mentor principals helped me gain the confidence to recognize my own leadership qualities and how to use them to help other principals. Being chosen as an LEI mentor principal was an incredible honor that has pushed me to continue to grow in both faith and knowledge. Having the ability to touch others’ lives through my words and actions has allowed me to follow the call of my vocation.
The commitment of our LEI mentors, most of whom are still active Catholic school principals themselves, is truly the engine that drives the LEI. These Mentor Spotlight pieces are intended to be a fun way to help you get to know these incredible school leaders—both professionally and personally—who dedicate so much of their lives to this mission.
We invite you to get to know Haidee Todora, who first became involved with the LEI as a member of the third cohort in 2014. At that time, she was serving as the principal of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School in Port Arthur, Texas. Haidee was quick to implement everything she had learned at the LEI, and her passion for building relationships and serving Latino families in her community were evidenced by consecutive years of enrollment growth. And it was her desire and ability to share what she had learned through the LEI that made her a great addition to the LEI team as a mentor principal. Since becoming a mentor in 2015, Haidee has worked with dozens of schools around the country, all while navigating a number of big life changes for herself.
In 2018, Haidee and her family left Port Arthur, Texas, a place she had called home since she was a child, to embark on a new journey as Director of Rochester Catholic Schools in Rochester, Minnesota. Since then, Haidee has remained in the Midwest and now serves as the principal of St. Paul Catholic School in Highland, Illinois. She continues to be a valuable member of the LEI Leadership Team, serving as a mentor principal for five schools in the current cohort.
Read the interview below to learn a bit more about Haidee Todora, her LEI journey, and what continues to fuel her passion for Catholic education and serving Latino families.
After years of being a principal in Texas, you now find yourself in Illinois. What brought you to the Midwest and what do you enjoy most about your new job?
Spending all of my life living in one house in one town provided me with much stability and feeling of comfort through normalcy. Working as principal at St. Catherine of Siena in Port Arthur, Texas opened my eyes to the importance of compassion, understanding, and the importance of cultural diversity when it comes to learning how to build trust, understanding, and respect for others. I realized that in order to better understand how to help others I would have to leave the comfort of my hometown and start exploring other options. Moving to the Midwest has been a wonderful and eye-opening experience for both me and my family. Meeting new people, embracing new cultures, experiencing different weather, meeting new friends, participating in different activities, and practicing faith in a new faith community are experiences I would have never come to know. Facing challenges and exploring the unknown has provided me with a better understanding of God’s plan for me and how He has been preparing me for this vocation all along.
Before becoming a Catholic school principal, what was the most unusual or interesting job you had?
I have worked as a floral designer, travel agent, personal trainer, strength coach, softball coach, teacher and adjunct instructor, but the most unusual job I had was as a process server. I worked for a court reporting firm where I processed medical records which I subpoenaed for lawyers. I subpoenaed doctors, businesses, and medical examiners. I reviewed autopsies and was flown to secret areas to extract confidential records for large class action suits. It was a very interesting and unique job but I soon realized that I was personally called to a more important role in helping others.
Tell us about a key school event that involves the community.
While I was principal at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School, I had the opportunity to get to know and work with many wonderful Latino families. We worked together to organize a traditional outdoor Mexican celebration called “Kermes”. This festival or carnival unites the community with food, fun, music and games. Traditional Mexican cuisine such as corn, tortillas, gorditas, street tacos, rice water, and local sweets are served. Traditional Latino music fills the air and Mariachi dancers take over the streets. Kids are playing, families are dancing, friends are in community and the Blessed Virgin Mary is always present in a special place surrounded by flowers. This was always my favorite time of year when everyone worked together to make the event successful, enjoyed each other's company, then came together to help each other clean up.
Describe a powerful moment in your LEI journey.
We were so amazed by the hospitality and support that flooded in to help our little school—with many families living in poverty—get back on its feet again. Due to the generosity of so many people, including the University of Notre Dame, who donated the proceeds from one basketball game to our school, we were able to get students back into the building after only 11 days.
My most powerful moment involved my LEI cohort friend (and fellow LEI mentor) Robert LeGros. When I was principal at St. Catherine of Siena School in Port Arthur, Texas, we experienced the devastating blow of Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Harvey dumped an incredible amount of rain in our area over a very short amount of time, which led to the school taking in over a foot of flood water. The school was uninhabitable as well as all the homes in the area. Many friends came to our aid to help clear the water out of the school, pull up carpet, remove damaged materials and furniture, and get the school ready so students could return to a safe environment. Just at the time when everyone felt exhausted and forgotten, Robert showed up at the school to deliver boxes of supplies for the children who had lost everything in the storm; he was such a welcomed face and savior for us! Robert and many other champions rallied to support our school by sending aid and prayers. We were so amazed by the hospitality and support that flooded in to help our little school, with many families living in poverty, get back on its feet again. Due to the generosity of so many people, including the University of Notre Dame, who donated the proceeds from one basketball game to our school, we were able to get students back into the building after only 11 days. The support of people like Robert and other LEI mentors and friends brings witness to all the amazing gifts God gives us through people who are models of our faith.
What is one thing that you and your team accomplished during your time as principal that you are particularly proud of?
When I became principal at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School, which is where I went to elementary school, I was met by the bishop who expressed his concerns about the financial instability of the school. He challenged me and gave me specific goals in order to keep the school open. The school was in tremendous debt, enrollment was declining, there was no tuition assistance to give, and the community and its socioeconomic stability was on the decline. I worked with an enrollment management team and my staff, and we came together and developed a plan to ensure the success of the school. We welcomed everyone who wanted a Catholic education, we invited all children to come and visit, we reached out to all churches in the area and communicated our message to the greater community. We gained the trust of our Latino population and were able to increase our Latino student enrollment by 25 percent. It took us three years but we increased the enrollment, cut the school deficit in half, and had three months of reserves in the bank. Getting the school out of financial trouble was a great relief but the greatest joy were our new families and friends who we soon came to know and love.
In your opinion, why is Catholic education important?
Catholic schools form hearts, minds, and souls. Students are well prepared because of the rigorous and comprehensive education they receive. Catholic educators and mentors help awaken and affirm our vibrant Catholic faith, promote holiness of life through change and response to the Gospel, and feed souls through the celebration of the Eucharist! We open our doors for all to enter. Each and every day, students in Catholic schools have the opportunity to learn about the person of Jesus Christ, who is the source of our hope and salvation. Students are invited to know Jesus personally, to love Him intimately, and to serve Him wholeheartedly. One of my fellow principals once told me that Catholic schools help children “See Christ in others and be Christ for others”.
Who is someone who has been a hero to you and why?
Dr. Boatwright was my Exercise Physiology professor and taught Anatomy and Physiology, as well as an elective racquetball class. I knew of him and heard many rumors that he was very tough. During one of our racquetball classes he recognized that I could play and challenged me in front of the rest of the class. I accepted the challenge and beat him! He told me that no student had ever beaten him before and he congratulated me. We battled for the next few years even after I graduated. This man could have ostracized me but he didn’t. I challenged him to get better and he challenged me to get better. He encouraged me to excel academically and put forth my best effort at everything I tried. He hired me to work with him in the exercise physiology lab and nominated me to be a McNair Scholar. He convinced me to take one of the hardest performance tests to pass and become a strength coach for the National Strength and Conditioning Association, then pushed me to become a personal trainer. He coached me and worked with me on my research paper and authored the paper with me to get it published. He also set the stage for me to get my Master’s degree from the University of Houston-Clear Lake and come back to work for him as a research lab assistant and faculty personal trainer and athletic strength coach. This man saw something in me and continued to encourage me to reach higher and higher and never let anything stop me from achieving my goals. I still keep in touch with him today and he continues to challenge me to reach peak performance. And no other student ever beat him in racquetball!
What advice do you have for school leaders hoping to invite and welcome more Latino families into their schools?
Leaders in Catholic schools should always treat everyone who walks in their school like family. People can feel if they are wanted in a place and if the person talking to them has time for them. Everyone wants to be treated like they mean something to the other person. Parents are looking for a place that will take care of their children and keep them safe from harm. Latino families have an incredible devotion to Mary and are extremely faith filled. Meet them face-to-face and have open, truthful, and transparent conversations with them - let them see your faith shine through. They have incredible stories and letting them open up to you can teach you so much about their family and their faith. Be honest and truthful and you will gain their trust and respect. I am grateful for having the opportunity to learn and grow with our Latino families.
If you won the lottery, what would be the first three things you’d do with your winnings?
If I won the lottery I would purchase gift cards and hand them out to the poor and homeless. Then I would purchase land in Florida and land in Colorado and build small beach cabins in Florida and small chalets in Colorado so my friends could come and stay, any time of year, and experience all the comforts of home, family, and friends.
Where is the best place you’ve traveled to and why?
The most exciting place I have traveled to was to Europe. I had a friend whose mother lived in Barnes, which is a district in London, England. They invited me to visit for two weeks during the summer and stay with them in their flat. My friend's cousin was getting married and he was one of the Queen’s guards. While we were there, I was able to watch the Concorde fly over while at Windsor Great Park watching a game of Cricket, experience three days at a bed and breakfast farmhouse in Plymouth, and walk the shores where the Mayflower set sail. I also visited historic castles, toured Oxford University and watched Sculling practice, attended Wimbledon and watched Michael Chang play at Centre Court while eating strawberries and cream, and boarded a hovercraft for an exhilarating ride from Dover to Calais, France. Needless to say it was quite an eventful trip, but the most impressive part of our journey was witnessing the Trooping of the Colour, which is the Queen's annual birthday parade. There was no doubt that all the Queen’s men and all the Queen’s horses were present that day. The parade started at Buckingham Palace and traveled to St. James Park overlooking the Horse Guards. It was very impressive to watch the activities and wave to the Queen of England!
Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
Most of my friends know I have played sports for most of my life. I am a career athlete who has played competitive softball, beach volleyball, and racquetball, along with being a competitive country and western dancer. Most people don’t know that while I was playing Women’s Major League Fastpitch for the Houston Comets in the 1980’s I was chosen to be in a commercial with Dan Pastorini (quarterback for the Houston Oilers) to promote Women’s Fastpitch. I was chosen for the part because I had the feminine look and personality they were looking for - wow, me?!? I continue to be an advocate for women’s and girls’ sports. I routinely mentor girls about self image and how to be self-confident and trust that God created us, loves us, and has a plan for all of us. It has taken many years to learn to be confident and trust in God’s plan for me and I want to be a person who can instill confidence in other young girls who struggle with image.
More about Haidee Todora...
Haidee is currently the principal at St. Paul Catholic School in Highland, Illinois. After serving two years as the Director of Catholic Schools in Rochester, MN, Haidee realized that she seriously missed ministering to the children in schools, and returned to the role as elementary principal. She has been in education for over 20 years, serving many years as principal of St. Catherine of Siena School in Port Arthur, TX. While at St. Catherine School, Haidee increased Latino enrollment, reduced the school deficit, and led the school through the recovery process after the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. She has a graduate certificate in Catholic School Leadership from the University of Dallas, an M.S. in Kinesiology from Lamar University, and a Master Certification in Fitness and Human Performance from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Haidee is a McNair Scholar and has Texas Teaching Certifications in Generalist EC-4 and All-Level EC-12 Physical Education and Health; she is also a certified personal trainer and a certified strength and conditioning coach. In 2017, she was awarded the 2017 NCEA Lead, Learn, and Proclaim Award. This is Haidee’s eighth year serving as a presenter and mentor for the LEI program. She and her husband Ray have one son, Collin, who is a student at Holy Cross Cross College at Notre Dame, IN.
If you're interested in learning how to recruit, enroll, and better serve Latino children in your school, as well as work with an incredible mentor like Haidee, consider joining the LEI!