By Tony DeGol
Like many families throughout the diocese, the Aaron and Stacy Lieb family beautifully represents the past, present, and future of Catholic education in Altoona-Johnstown.
Aaron graduated from Northern Cambria Catholic School in Nicktown and Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Ebensburg, and he and Stacy’s four children attend NCCS. Their oldest daughter, Madelyn, will be in eighth grade in the fall, and she and her siblings look forward to following in their dad’s footsteps at BCCHS.
“It’s our first and most important thing to give our kids that they will have for the rest of their lives,” stressed Stacy about the blessing of Catholic education.
“We’re excited to have a place for our kids to carry on our Catholic education and our Catholic faith,” added Aaron.
The Liebs are among many people who are thrilled about a newly-announced collaboration that is expected to strengthen both Carroll and Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown.
To be clear – the two schools are not merging, and each will maintain their identity.
Rather, both institutions are engaging in a strategic partnership in areas such as professional development for teachers and enhanced academic programming for students.
A key player in this new era for the two Cambria County schools is Stephen Cotchen, who will join Bishop Carroll as Head of School beginning July 1. He succeeds long-time Carroll principal Lorie Ratchford who is retiring on June 30.
Cotchen is currently the assistant principal at Bishop McCort. His accomplishments there include attracting new students, managing campus facilities, and working with faculty members on various professional development programs and activities.
During a news conference on June 16, Cotchen committed himself to building on the tradition of Huskie excellence.
“Bishop Carroll Catholic High School is bursting with great potential to meet and exceed already high expectations and to produce learners who are persistent and demonstrate that they are college- and career-ready,” he stated. “As we begin to travel on this new path, please know that I desire the input of all the stakeholders as we continue toward becoming a premier educational institution. Together we can and will continue to strive for excellence because of our commitment to join forces as a united school community.”
Carroll leaders also announced the addition of Richard Denhard as the school’s first-ever Career and College Readiness Coordinator.
“Among other key responsibilities, Rich will work directly with students to help them identify their career interests and goals,” explained BCCHS CEO Lynn Webber. “He will also help them map out a four year plan that will enable them to achieve their dreams.”
Denhard is currently a guidance and career counselor at McCort and will also provide expanded college and career services to the Crusher community.
McCort principal and CAO Tom Smith hailed the partnership between the two schools as a way to expand Catholic education in Cambria County.
“We’re going to be able to share resources and when you share resources, you become stronger,” he said. “We’re not shrinking, we’re growing and we’re becoming stronger. Often times in today’s smaller school systems, they’re dwindling down. We are doing just the opposite of that. We are growing and becoming stronger because of the educational resources we’re going to be able to offer the kids.”
To fill the void left by Cotchen’s departure at McCort, the school created two positions – a Dean of Students and a Dean of Instruction, both of which will be filled by current staff.
Diocesan Director of Education Jo-Ann Semko was instrumental in nurturing the collaboration between the two schools, and she believes this type of outside-of-the-box thinking is necessary.
“I see it as a way to grow Catholic education in Cambria County, strengthen what we already have, and continue into the future,” she said.
And that future is looking bright for Madelyn Lieb, who seems to be counting the days until her arrival on Huskie Hill.
“I’m really excited to come here,” she said. “The staff is great here. Coming to high school with my friends from NCCS will be really fun.”
A junior high basketball player, Madelyn is also looking forward to playing hoops at Carroll.
Her parents will surely being cheering her on and celebrating the solid foundation Catholic education is giving their children – the same foundation Aaron enjoys today.
“It has helped me become a better parent to the four children God has given us and to guide them through the path of life,” he said.
[Photos: (Top) The Aaron and Stacy Lieb family show their support for Catholic education; (Inset) New BCCHS Head of School Stephen Cotchen at the podium as families and others look on during a June 16 news conference.]