By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Visitation School principal Vince Cascone, PhD, is not patting himself on the back, although he could. He recently learned that he was receiving the Distinguished Principal Award from the National Catholic Educational Association, an award honoring one principal from each of the NCEA’s 12 regions in the country. The award will be presented to the principals at the annual convention in April.
Last fall, Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Peters sat down with Associate Superintendent Pat Burbach to nominate a principal from this diocese, and Dr. Cascone was selected.
Dr. Cascone recalled being excited that Dr. Peters thought enough of him to nominate him, but that feeling was quickly followed by the thought that there were “other principals who probably deserved it more.” This award is like grace, he said. “We may not feel that we deserve it, but we are grateful when we do and what’s important is how we use it. We should be good stewards of what we have.”
He credits the faculty and staff at Visitation as a big reason for his success as principal. “The award reflects the great job the teachers and staff do here at Visitation,” he said.
Dr. Cascone is well acquainted with the faith, philosophy and structure of Catholic education, being a product of it from grade school through his doctorate in education. He grew up in southwest Chicago, received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Education from DePaul University and his doctorate from St. Louis University.
He taught and served as a Catholic school principal back home in Chicago for a total of 10 years. He had heard about the schools in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and applied to former superintendent Judy Warren and associate superintendent Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Patty Clune, and “about a year later they called me. The position of principal at Visitation was open, ‘was I interested?’ Yes! I was interested. I came straight into the position of principal here, eight years ago.”
Dr. Cascone loves Visitation, the atmosphere, the teachers and students, and especially that his own children attend the school. “For this one year, all six of my kids are at Visitation,” he said smiling broadly. “My youngest is in kindergarten and the oldest is in 8th grade. Oh, and I have six nieces and nephews here too.”
“He’s a quality principal,” Dr. Peters said. “Dr. Cascone is an educator, he is faith-filled,” Dr. Peters said, “and he has to satisfy two bosses: me and Father Pat Rush, the pastor.”
Dr. Cascone has done his job well. “He’s the complete Catholic educator package,” Dr. Peters wrote to the NCEA in his nomination letter. “He cares about the students, the teachers and the staff; he’s knowledgeable about education, he’s involved in many functions of the school, including marketing, and fund-raising.”
Several effective, innovative programs have been established or furthered at Visitation that help assure its students excel academically and are highly Catholic. Dr. Cascone said that he has learned more about the benefits of having teachers and families take on much greater roles in the education of children.
Parents can now play a big role in their children’s education through the Volunteer Resource Program. Teachers are assisted in Differentiated Instruction implementation by parent volunteers reading to students, assisting with math problems and working with students in small groups. Along with assisting the teachers, the individual needs of each child can be met.
Visitation School provides services for several students with Down syndrome and Autism, and more with moderate to more severe learning disabilities through the Foundation for Inclusive Religious Education. F.I.R.E. helps fund a Special Education Coordinator and several paraprofessionals who help create goals for each child, work with and monitor them to reach those goals.
The Visitation Junior Board is a decade-old, student-led organization driven by sixth through eighth graders to explore and understand the basic principals of philanthropy and the non-profit world in their community. It introduces the students to the business of philanthropy through experiences and opportunities to meet people who daily commit to worthy causes, interacting with agencies, staff and clients, and teaching the students about stewardship.
Dr. Cascone established a reading lab called the Essential Learning Systems (E.L.S.) lab. E.L.S. is an individual, multi-sensory computer-based reading program to help struggling readers, using a phonics-based approach beginning with letter sounds and progressing to more complex letter groupings in words. Students with Down syndrome, dyslexia, reading struggles and other learning disabilities have all benefitted from E.L.S.
As Dr. Peters said, Dr. Cascone is “calm yet enthusiastic, knowledgeable and faith filled, and with a good sense of humor. He is loved by the students, especially his children and nieces and nephews. You can’t walk down the hall without one of them saying hi or giving him a hug. He also understands 21st century leadership — he makes what he does as a Catholic educator seem easy.”
Dr. Peters and the Visitation school secretary assembled the faculty and staff in secret to be present when Dr. Cascone was informed of the award. “They were all excited, lots of well wishes and congratulations,” the principal recalled.
The award opens doors, Dr. Cascone said. He has an idea for a book on Catholic teaching, how putting time and energy into hiring good people benefits not only the children but the school and parish, as well as the importance of the school’s atmosphere and the rapport the teachers and staff have with the students and their families. “I believe it’s important that teachers love their students,” he said. “Love helps them recognize the gifts God has given them. I have a passion for what great teachers look like in a classroom, and I hope to share that with current and future teachers.”
He plans to teach one course at Avila University in an upcoming semester, and will be talking to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., about offering a class there also.
He glanced down, grinned and smoothed his tie. “My youngest, Ally, picks out my tie every morning. She insisted I wear this one today.” Appropriately, the red tie had bands of children decorating it.
A knock and his office door opened to admit the school secretary. “Jacob (one of Dr. Cascone’s children) is sick,” she said.
“One of the advantages of being the principal at the school where your children go is I can go check on them when they’re sick,” he said, excusing himself.
Nine of Visitation’s teachers plan to accompany Dr. Cascone, his wife and Dr. Peters to the NCEA convention in Houston and cheer for their Distinguished Principal at the presentation April 2.