Kathy House has found a vocation that is a perfect fit for her.
She attended Catholic schools growing up, had two aunts who were Catholic school teachers and once she graduated from college she went immediately into teaching in a parochial school.
For her 36 years of leadership in Catholic schools, House, principal of Christ the King School in Little Rock, will be awarded a Lead Learn Proclaim Award from the National Catholic Educational Association March 30. The new award will be handed out to House and 31 other teachers, principals and superintendents around the country.
House was nominated by superintendent Vernell Bowen.
“I didn’t expect to win,” she said. “It was a surprise.”
Growing up in Iowa, House knew early on that she wanted to be a Catholic school teacher.
“My mom has two sisters who were Catholic school teachers,” she said. “They were my heroes growing up. I can remember going to my grandmother’s house and they were single ladies. They would give me their old teachers’ guides to play school with. I am the oldest of seven. My mom says I was a teacher my whole life … I really wanted to be a Catholic school teacher … We were really a Catholic school family.”
When her family moved to Little Rock after her high school graduation, House decided to follow them and enrolled at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to study elementary education. When she graduated in 1979 she sent her resume to then-superintendent Sister Henrietta Hockle, OSB, for her to share with the Catholic school principals. The first school to call was St. Patrick School in North Little Rock. She taught first grade for three years before transferring to Our Lady of the Holy Souls School in Little Rock where she could get discounted day care through the school.
During her first NCEA conventions, she remembers all the religious sisters who were attending.
“There were nuns of every color habit,” she said. “Nuns in black habits, navy, white, brown and even light blue and pink.”
When Christ the King School opened in 1986, House was tapped to become one of the first kindergarten teachers in the diocesan school system. While kindergartens were popular in public schools, Catholic schools started in the first grade. House and the other kindergarten teacher had to scramble to make that first year appropriate for little 5 year olds.
“We walked in the first day and they ordered desks and textbooks,” said House, who knew the youngsters needed tables and toys. “We started hitting up garage sales. I had this station wagon with tubs in the back with Lego tubs, Lincoln Log tubs. … We finally figured it out. (The principal and pastor) didn’t know what we needed.”
In 1991 House was selected as the school’s assistant principal and promoted to principal in 1994. She is only the second principal for the school’s 30 years.
With her volunteer work through the NCEA, House, 58, said she loves to help train other new principals.
“You need someone to talk to who isn’t your boss,” she said.
House said one thing that sets the school apart from other Catholic schools is that only practicing Catholics are hired as teachers.
“Our staff is very mission driven,” she said. “My pastor (Msgr. Francis I. Malone) and I interview each potential applicant, and together we look for the best teacher with academic skills as well as the best role model for our Catholic faith for our children.”
House credits Msgr. Malone for spearheading the school expansion in 2014-2015, including adding a safe room for 800 people that can withstand a F5 tornado. Msgr. Malone was given a similar NCEA award in 2015.
As much as she loved the classroom, House said she knows now that she could never go back to teaching. Especially with the high energy required to teach 5 year olds.
“I loved being in the classroom with the kids, but honestly I think it would be hard to go back,” she said.
House said she also could never see herself becoming a superintendent. She said her days would be too quiet.
Retirement is not something House is looking toward either.
“I love the school,” she said. “It’s my parish, it’s my school. It’s kind of my life. I always wanted to be in Catholic education. On the national level, I could see that Catholic education was going away a little and that fired me up even more to try to make our school great. I think kids attending Catholic schools totally supports their parents to pass on the faith. I truly think the future of our Church is in these schools …. That is why the parents send their kids here. Jesus is the difference. Our job is to make disciples of Jesus to go out into the world and spread his love and we do that every day by modeling that for the kids.”
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