Administrative changes shake up Tolton High School

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COLUMBIA- Back-to-back administrative changes have shaken things up at Fr. Tolton Catholic High School.

Just yesterday, principal Gwenn Roche announced in an email that she would not be returning for the 2020-2021 school year.

She's the second Tolton leader to leave the school. Back in October, it was announced that the school's president, Doug Callahan, had left his position less than two months after he was appointed to the job.

It might sound like the school is experiencing instability, but Helen Osman, the director of diocesan communications for the Diocese of Jefferson City, said she doesn't see it that way.

"We are committed to having a vibrant Catholic community in Columbia," she said. "While leadership is key, that's one part of it."

Osman said Bishop Shawn McKnight and the rest of the diocese recognizes that Tolton has challenges. She named debt from the initial mortgage taken out on the school when it opened in 2011 as just one such problem.

Osman said if the debt can be reduced significantly, other efforts can be made towards endowments and moving the school forward. She said it's important to have leadership that can take those steps towards growth.

"There needs to be leadership that is able to take the school forward into the next stage," she said.

Bishop McKnight has already created a strategic plan to find new leadership. Osman said the school has joined with a company called Partners in Mission to launch a national search for a new executive team.

They're also looking into what kind of leadership model is best for the school, whether that is one individual serving as the head of school, or two people serving as principal and president.

Osman said she's not worried about these changes affecting enrollment at the school. If anything, she said, it will show that the diocese is invested in Tolton.

"This is a school that's going to thrive and will provide great environment for children to grow and to learn," she said. "I think it will be a positive sign for families who are looking at Tolton."

Both Bishop McKnight and the school superintendent were unavailable for comment.