When Dr. Melinda Skrade applied to be the president of Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, the interview committee didn’t disclose the name of the institution until the final day in the process, so she remained in the dark that she was up for a job at the San Francisco Catholic high school where her sister had taught for a decade. “I felt like the universe was gracing me with an opportunity that I did not yet fully understand,” she recalls. “When we make big decisions in life, we think we make them. I look back now and I understand that it wasn’t just that I felt called; I was graced with an opportunity to join the Sacred Heart Cathedral community.”
John Gumina, vice president for advancement and enrollment at Sacred Heart, was born and raised in San Francisco and attended Catholic schools in the City his entire life. His parents are both Catholic educators, and his four brothers and sisters also workin education and social service. When the opportunity to join his alma mater arose 17 years ago, it was a no-brainer for him: “It’s been such a gift to me, and working in advancement and enrollment gives me an opportunity to help others get that gift as well.” Skrade and Gumina shed light on what sets Sacred Heart apart and why it’s so much more than just an academic program.
What is Sacred Heart’s competitive advantage?
Gumina: At Sacred Heart Cathedral, we’re blessed with two founding orders, the De La Salle Christian Brothers and the Daughters of Charity. The Brothers said that teachers should be like a big brother or sister to the students entrusted in their care. That plays out on a daily basis. To me, that’s the secret sauce. The kids are getting everything they need. They have all of the AP classes and opportunities; they’re going on to great colleges; there are co-curricular programs that match or exceed other schools’. But to be able to do it in a caring community is what sets us apart.
How does Sacred Heart Cathedral serve San Francisco?
Skrade: Whether it’s St. Anthony’s Food Pantry or working in conjunction with De Marillac Academy — which is one of our hardworking feeder schools and outstanding in its own right — it’s really important to us that we be good partners in the community. For example, when California Pacific Medical Center relocated up the block, they had to move patients to the hospital in an expeditious but service-oriented way. We had 100 people step forward and said, “I’m in. How can I help?” Just putting someone in front of every patient who came in on a very stressful day made a difference. We seek out these efforts to be good neighbors. It’s a privilege to serve the community, and I believe it strengthens the community that we’re in as well.
“SERVICE GOES TO THE CORE OF BOTH OF OUR FOUNDING ORDERS.”— John Gumina
In a city where the wealthy have the best access to top-tier education, what are you doing for students at the poverty line?
Gumina: In Catholic education, accessibility is a really big deal. We’re trying to serve all types of families, and with financial aid, there’s a great range of students that can access Catholic schools in San Francisco at the high school level. De Marillac Academy is our sister school. It’s a free Catholic school in the Tenderloin that is also run by the Christian Brothers and Daughters of Charity. We work very closely with them to keep those families [involved], from fourth grade all the way through high school.
What is a misconception about Catholic education?
Gumina: Catholic education has gotten quite expensive, so I’m not trying to diminish the price tag. But if you look at the landscape of education in the City, private school tuitions are practically double that of the Catholic high schools. I think there is a misconception that because you’re paying $45,000 at a private school, you’re getting more. I would contend that’s not true and that there is more opportunity at Catholic high schools, especially because there’s a larger range of co-curricular opportunities, there’s more community to be built, and the curriculum is more layered to serve students of all academic ranges. … We’re about two-thirds Catholic at our school and are very inclusive to many other faith traditions. I feel like we do a really good job of teaching the Catholic faith, but also allowing for discussion and discovery. I think that might be a misconception of Catholic schools — that it’s so traditional and people are nervous to go because they think, “They’re going to try to convert me.”