By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
ST. JOSEPH — Being a man of his word will make Jeff Sullivan an extremely busy person for the 2015-16 school year.
Not only has he accepted the job as the new principal of Bishop LeBlond High School, he promised the girls’ basketball team that he has coached there for three years that he will give them one more year.
He owes them, he said. The seniors he will coach this winter were the freshmen class when he took over the team three seasons ago, and they have posted records of 14-10, 18-6, and 16-8.
But the transition from coach to principal will be interesting.
“They don’t know me in the principal’s role,” Sullivan said. “They are used to calling me ‘Coach.’”
But busy has always been a way of life for Sullivan. He coached the LeBlond girls while teaching full-time at Central High School in the St. Joseph public school system, a job he held for 15 years after earning his undergraduate degree at Missouri State University, and his Master’s in education administration at Northwest Missouri State.
And on top of that, he and his wife Poppy are parents of three sons aged 12, 7 and 6, and a daughter, 11.
Sullivan said it was his goal to enter administration, and the leadership job at Bishop LeBlond is ideal for him.
“My wife graduated from LeBlond,” he said.
In fact, the former Poppy Barbosa grew up in St. Patrick Parish, and the Sullivan family still never misses the annual summer St. Patrick Parish Fiesta.
Sullivan also served on the youth ministry team at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, where he first got to know students from Bishop LeBlond by accompanying them on nine different mission trips.
When he came to the school to coach, Sullivan said his knowledge and appreciation of Bishop LeBlond High School deepened.
“I got to know the families, and I was able to see the culture of the school,” he said.
He was impressed by how the entire LeBlond community supported each other, and took pride in their accomplishments.
“It’s a small community in a large town,” he said. “People will pray with you, mourn with you and celebrate with you. And those students accept everyone. That’s part of Catholic education.”
Sullivan said that he knows he’s been handed a strong school by his predecessors Sister Corrine Connelly, Janet Wilcox and Dr. Solon Haynes, who left after six years to take an administrative position with the St. Joseph public school system.
But he intends to build on that by strengthening the already strong relationships LeBlond High School has with the three Catholic elementary schools in the city — St. James, St. Francis Xavier, and Cathedral, where he and his wife send their children.
The true foundation of Bishop LeBlond High School, he said, is an outstanding and experienced faculty and staff.
“Some of these teachers taught my wife,” he said.
“These teachers are going to expect the best out of every student, and they won’t let anyone fall through the cracks. That’s part of the family feeling,” he said.
“That staff goes way above the call of duty and beyond,” Sullivan said. “They love the school and the Catholic community of St. Joseph, and they give their time because of their calling.”
And the bottom line — Bishop LeBlond’s record for academic excellence is unquestioned.
“As far as our academics, the numbers speak for themselves,” Sullivan said.
“You look at our ACT scores, our numbers are well above the state and city average,” he said.
“All but one of our graduates this year will enroll in college this fall, and the one who didn’t enlisted in the military to get the money to go to college,” Sullivan said.
“At Bishop LeBlond, it’s not a question of if you are going to college, but where you are going,” he said.
The LeBlond secret of success?
“Every kid needs to feel important. Every kid needs to feel cared for,” he said.
Sullivan said he intends to be at Bishop LeBlond for the long haul. He noted that his youngest son will begin first grade at Cathedral School this fall.
“You can’t predict the future,” he said. “But I would like to see him graduate from Bishop LeBlond and hand him his diploma.”