Building a culture of success

All St. Joseph’s staff returned to campus today to begin a week of orientation. Homes and classroom are being prepared in anticipation of our students arrival on August 12. Some folks we’ve not seen since graduation in May, while many others have worked day in and day out over the summer. There were lots of hugs and catching up.

Energy filled the Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel as people streamed in for the opening prayer service. Our theme this year is Creating a Culture of Success: Mind, Body, Heart and Spirit. After a spirit-filled time of prayer, one of the houseparents said to me,

“This was great, now while we’re all rested and excited to be back – but could we do this again in the middle of February when we’re frazzled and weary?!”

We gathered in the dining hall for a review of the strategic plan, and the required Human Resources announcements and reminders. “Play nice” is our standard speech about avoiding any hints of workplace harassment and cooperating with others. When we entered the dining hall, HR had loud, peppy music blaring, and before we started they led us in a few exercise/dance moves that woke people up and got their blood pumping. It helped create more of a fun, engaging atmosphere, which people appreciated. It also made us more attentive to the information that followed. Taking short breaks for fun and exercise are not a waste of time at all, but contribute to building a culture of success.

Our two SCJ novices-to-be, James and Juan,  arrived on campus last night. They will be making their retreat here this week. While the staff is lively, and lots of work and activity is going on around campus, there are still plenty of quiet spaces to be reflective. I had individual meetings with each young man, and in the evening they gathered with Fr. Anthony, Fr. Bernie and I. We shared our vocation stories, about how we came to understand God’s call to religious life, and what has brought us here to this place and time. Even though I’ve known Fr. Bernie and Fr. Anthony since I was in the minor seminary at the age of 14, I still learned many new insights from what they shared. I also appreciated what our newest members had to share from their faith experience.

Pride and accomplishments at St. Joseph’s Indian School

Our Board of Directors meeting is over. Most of the meeting was taken with budget issues. The Board voted to accept the budget as it was presented. Besides keeping on what we’re already doing, it will allow us to move ahead with the Strategic Plan that we laid the groundwork for. While the Board meetings generally go well, with good feedback, evaluation and challenge, it feels good to have them finished. I always feel a bit tired and drained when they are over. But I also had feelings of pride when my staff presented what each of the departments has accomplished this past year.

One benchmark we’ve been working hard at is high school retention. The efforts seem to be paying off. While nearby schools fight a nearly 50% drop out rate, we still have 38 of the 40 high school students who started the year. The two who left St. Joseph’s Indian School are currently enrolled in high schools back home, and hopefully will be part of a generation that completes school and sets their sights higher.

Talking through joys and stresses

We’re continuing to meet with different departments to discuss the new Strategic Plan. While the first couple of groups were large, 20 – 30 people, today’s meeting with the Rec Center staff meant that three of us were listening to the ideas and feedback of a group of four. I quite preferred that because we had some interesting ideas and back and forth dialogue and the staff came away with a much better understanding of the difference they can make in the plan, and some opportunities the plan can open up for them. We have lots of good ideas for wellness and new activities for staff and Native American students alike. Like life in general, we’ll have to choose a few and let some go. There’s neither time nor staff nor facilities to do everything we’d like.

Shelly, who is a relatively new staff member, appreciated being asked her opinion. “You really want to know what we employees think!” she remarked to me. We sure do. It’s from our staff that we get most of our best ideas.

I ate supper with the Sheehy Home (boys high school). Half the guys were still at basketball practice when I arrived, and the other half were playing NBA basketball video games. I wonder what the favorite spot around here is?!  After supper the high school students who are applying for our June exchange program with our sister school in Handrup Germany gathered. One of the duties of those chosen will to give a series of presentations to the classrooms overseas. Maija, who trains houseparents, gave the American Indian students some pointers on how to prepare. In a couple of weeks, their power point presentations of “Life at St. Joseph’s” will be used to help select which students will represent our school.

The high schoolers ended the evening with their Sons and Daughters of Tradition session, which included a talking circle to help process joys and stresses that occurred in their lives over the holidays.