When Gonzaga Preparatory School opens its doors to students today, it also introduces its new principal. Cindy Reopelle is the school’s 19th principal. She takes over for the Rev. Kevin Connell, who left in July for a post at Jesuit High School in Portland. She’s also the first lay woman to fill that role, although she quickly dismisses the importance of that.
“There are other women who are principals so I’m not that unusual,” Reopelle said. “When you work in Catholic education there are a lot of men simply because priests have to be men.”
Reopelle grew up in Tacoma and went to a Jesuit high school.
“It’s perhaps rare to find women of my age who went to a Jesuit high school because few of the schools were co-ed,” Reopelle said.
She went to Gonzaga University and landed her first teaching job at Gonzaga Prep in 1980; she taught theology and later served as admission director and academic vice principal until 2004.
Reopelle spent the past eight years working for the Society of Jesus-Oregon Province curia, coordinating and representing the five schools in the province as well as serving on the Jesuit Secondary Education Association’s national board.
“That was a great job. It allowed me to travel a lot,” Reopelle said. “but I love school life, so I’m very grateful for the incredible opportunity I’ve been given here at Gonzaga Prep.”
There are about 870 students at Gonzaga Prep and Reopelle said she’s looking forward to getting to know everyone at the school and in Spokane again.
“I would like for the community to know and understand Gonzaga Prep better than they do,” said Reopelle, explaining that many mistakenly believe only affluent, well-adjusted kids are welcome at the school.
“About 30 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch programs and we deal with exactly the same issues and challenges as any other school.” Gonzaga Prep’s Fair Share tuition program makes it possible for low-income families to pay whatever they can afford toward tuition.
Reflecting on her 24 years of Jesuit education experience Roepelle said many things have changed, including family structure and, of course, technology.
“We are trying to find out how to appropriately use the technology that’s now available to us,” said Reopelle, explaining that email and other online messaging tools make people expect an instantaneous reply even to simple questions. “You can’t drop everything you are doing and respond to a text or an email when you are teaching a class.”
Reopelle added that Gonzaga Prep also has more students with mental health issues than it used to, but does its best to accommodate the changing needs of its student population. She said a Jesuit education is very powerful.
“I believe it’s transformative,” Reopelle said. “It gives any student the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.”
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