All Souls School is ‘huge turnaround’ story for Catholic education

October 30th, 2013    By Valerie Schmalz  Catholic San Francisco

Principal Vince Riener is lauded by parents for his hands-on style at All Souls School in South San Francisco.  Photo: Valerie Schmalz

Principal Vince Riener is lauded by parents for his hands-on style at All Souls School in South San Francisco.
Photo: Valerie Schmalz

All Souls School in South Francisco has emerged as one of the archdiocese’s Catholic education success stories, in a financial and enrollment turnaround that began seven years ago when pastor Father Agnel De Heredia hired Australian educator Vince Riener as principal.
Riener recalled that the K-8 school was running a deficit when he arrived in 2007. Enrollment was 248.
What’s more, some of those working a block away on Grand Avenue had no idea All Souls School existed. And the school had a poor reputation for teaching math, he said.
Today, All Souls has 298 students plus 33 in its new preschool, which opened a year ago. Math scores are up. The school is a leader in the use and instruction of technology, with a school information system, Smart Boards in every classroom, Kindle Fire tablets in the lower grades and Google Chromebooks in the upper grades.
All Souls has a computer lab and a working cafeteria. Parents are involved, and the pastor and parochial vicar are hands-on at the school.
Riener has done “a great job,” said archdiocesan schools Superintendent Maureen Huntington. “There’s been a huge turnaround in the last 10 years in enrollment, and the academic performance of the school.”
She said the school has a lot of Genentech parents who would not be there “if it wasn’t an academically excellent education.”
“It’s an amazing school,” said May Gutierrez, who has a son in first grade and a daughter in fifth grade. “I highly recommend it to anyone, friends, family – I always recommend All Souls.”
Riener said technology is one of the school’s big attractions. He was hired partly because of his strong background in technology as vice principal of a large high school in Australia.
“When a family wishes to enroll, there is no paper at all,” he said. “They do it online.”
Riener and the school board set up a five-year plan shortly after his arrival. He stressed that the generosity and involvement of parents and teachers were critical from the beginning.
“The families came together over that first Christmas and painted the kindergarten room, and re-carpeted it,” he said, adding that another donation paid for new furniture to attract new families.
Teachers go the extra mile, staying after school if necessary, Gutierrez said.
Father De Heredia and parochial vicar Father Paul O’Dell are very involved, with Father O’Dell often seen at CYO games.“He’s shouting and telling the girls ‘come on, come on.’ He’s like their best cheerleader,” eighth grade parent Frances Guevara said.
All Souls draws students from families whose parents commute from the East Bay and Marin County to work in the biotech and computer industry, but 70 percent are from the parish, said vice principal Karen Johanson. Johanson is in her 34th year at the school, most of those as a kindergarten teacher.
“We still have some very hard-working blue-collar families that work two and three jobs just because they want to make sure their children have a Catholic school education,” Johanson said.
Johanson was at All Souls when enrollment fell, partly a casualty of lost employment at San Francisco International Airport following 9/11 and the dot-com bust. “The lean years, I knew them,” Johanson said. “When Vince came, it was like this new burst of energy that came into the school. It was a good kind of shake-up.”

From November 1, 2013 issue of Catholic San Francisco.

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