"We Love the God We Cannot See by Loving the Neighbor We Can"
By: Lauren Kloser
For Steve Dole, becoming principal at Lourdes Academy meant an opportunity to truly embody the core values of a Notre Dame ACE Academy. As a member of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, Steve had talked with his instructors about his desire to take on a leadership position in a school where his new knowledge could have the greatest impact. When the position at Lourdes Academy opened, Steve decided that moving from New York to Daytona Beach would be the first step in living out one of the NDAA’s core values – service to others. In his first year as principal, Steve has looked for new and innovative ways to help Lourdes Academy not only serve others, but also to show how God’s love is inspiring his students to seek, persist, excel, and love.
Each day, Steve leads the effort to transform Notre Dame ACE Academies’ beliefs about academic excellence into a school culture for Lourdes Academy that utilizes the talents of its community to promote student growth. When he arrived at Lourdes, he learned from the test scores and teacher reports that the students needed a lot of work with their reading skills. In the middle school, only 40 percent of students were at or above grade level for reading, which made it clear that interventions were needed immediately. Steve looked to the guiding belief that “Our gifts and talents are given to share,” and realized that he could mobilize the skills and knowledge of his community to help create the inventions needed for his students. He called on his fellow parishioners and asked retired teachers to create a weekly reading club for students who needed the extra help. By creating literature groups with students of all ability levels, Steve and his teachers asked students to share their reading talents and skills with others, creating an opportunity to be inspired by each other. The school reached out to its parents, working with them to create action plans from assessment data that could pinpoint where students could improve and how parents could help them. So far, students have improved 13 percent from August 2016 to January 2017, with 53 percent of students now at or above grade level, and Steve has high hopes that he will see continued improvement through the end of the school year. Two of his teachers will join the new Program for Inclusive Education at Notre Dame, and Steve believes that his faculty will continue to use new techniques to improve upon the gains of this year.
Steve also has made sure that his students seek out and share their gifts in different ways. They created a new STEM club at Lourdes, are offering new summer camps in the STEM and arts fields, and expanded the athletic program. The basketball, soccer, and track programs now include students at every grade, and the PE department will integrate archery as part of its curriculum. As Steve says, “It is important that we give our students something new to try so that each one can find a way to shine.”
With the belief that “We love the God we cannot see by loving the neighbor we can,” Steve also asks his students to create community through the love they show to others. The school has students from all socio-economic levels, with some students receiving scholarships and others who come from some of the wealthiest parts of Volusia County. Steve calls it “a complex dynamic, but we are a big family that feeds off the strengths of one another and works to share that love with others.” That love was on display this Veterans Day as eighth-grade students visited veterans in the waiting room of the local veterans’ hospital, and the rest of the school assembled care packages for the veterans. During Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the school and diocese of Orlando rallied around the loss of a fourth-grade student, with every school in the diocese raising money for the family. Though he was just in the first few weeks of his new job as principal, Steve worked to become the anchor point for the community by finding ways for people to gather, grieve, and pray for this student together.
For Steve, the best part of his work comes from translating Lourdes’ guiding beliefs into the relationships he builds with the students, faculty, and staff at the school. Every day, Steve can walk into a classroom and help someone, whether by talking with a student or offering resources to a teacher. He loves how creating community means that he gets to help the students in all aspects of their lives, from the smaller worries about the next day’s quiz to the big anxieties about their place in the world. With each new day, new opportunity to learn, or new chance to share a gift, it becomes clearer to Steve that God is truly in all things at Lourdes Academy.
Interested in working with the Notre Dame ACE Academies? Visit the ACE Job Board or contact Erica Vesnaver () for more information.