By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
LENEXA, Kan. — This is a lady who radiates love. It can be felt chatting with her over the phone, walking through the hallways of St. James Academy watching her interact with adults and teenagers, or sitting across a desk asking her questions for an article. Currently assistant principal of St. James, Jodie Maddox is excited about taking the reins July 1 as the first principal of St. Michael the Archangel High School. She brings a wealth of just the right kind of experiences — in teaching, in working get a new high school into high gear, in knowing what works with students, faculty and staff and, above all, in faith-filled, Catholic experiences.
Maddox grew up in the Jefferson City area, graduating from Helias Catholic High School before attending the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, graduating in 1995 with a Bachelor of Science in Education degree. That same year, she married her high school sweetheart, Steven Maddox.
Her career has been in education, especially special education. Her first job after graduating from college was as a resource teacher for a mid-Missouri school district, serving as a case manager for students in grades 1 through 8 diagnosed with emotional and learning disabilities, autism, and other special needs.
The Maddox family moved to Kansas in 1996, and Josie was hired by the Blue Valley School District to work directly with another special educator planning and actualizing an academically, socially and physically appropriate summer program for district high school students with severe special needs. She also served as a Resource Teacher for the district.
When first Grace arrived, followed by Jack, Maddox decided to stay home with her children for several years. She did work as an instructor of several adult enrichment courses at Johnson County Community College during this time. When she returned to work in 2003, it was as a Resource Teacher for Queen of the Holy Rosary School-Wea near Bucyrus, Kan.
A few years later, she first heard about St. James Academy, which was to open for the 2005-06 academic year. Maddox recalled several friends and colleagues suggesting and urging her to apply to work at the academy when it opened. She said she laughed it off at first; she had no administrative experience or training. But, she admitted, she was intrigued. Then she learned from a colleague about the Master of Arts in School Leadership program at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan.
Maddox is intentionally Catholic – living, breathing and loving her faith. Her morning prayer is always “Lord, use me where you will and give me a joyful heart.” She began to wonder if God was nudging her toward St. James. After enrolling in the School Leadership program, she completed her Master’s degree in 2008. She had applied to work at St. James and was hired as Campus minister and a little later serving as a Theology teacher, both beginning in the 2008-09 academic year.
St. James Academy opened with just a freshman class. Each succeeding year, another class was offered, so by the end of four years, the first graduation ceremony was held. Students in Lenexa, Olathe, Overland Park and other suburban cities flocked to St. James and today there are more than 900 enrolled. One student, Maddox said, drives in from Blue Springs, Mo.
In 2010, she became Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction at St. James. As a teacher and administrator, Maddox has said farewell to each graduating class and greeted each incoming class since 2008. She has applied her training and management skills to implementing new ideas, methods, programs and technology. For example, instead of textbooks and notebooks, each student is equipped with a laptop computer, and much of their learning processes are online, as is much of the business world. She has overseen the development of home communities, as opposed to homerooms, wherein each student identifies with their community ¾ each named for a saint ¾ is involved in activities, learning, mentoring, projects and more with that community.
Her work also involves oversight of teachers, counseling and curriculum development, working with paraprofessionals for students with special needs and with their parents. Much of what she does involves relationship building and nurturing.
When word got out that construction on St. Michael the Archangel High School in Lee’s Summit was at last getting underway, and that the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph was seeking a principal, again friends and colleagues brought it to her attention, encouraging her to apply. Again she laughed it off. Then she received an email, from whom, she said she didn’t know, suggesting she apply for the position. Maddox shoved the idea to the back of her mind, where it tickled and tapped until one evening about a month ago when she and her husband were seated in their living room talking and Maddox brought up St. Michael’s. “What do you think?”
With her husband’s encouragement, she pulled out her 10-year old resume, updated it quickly, added a cover letter and sent it off to Dr. Dan Peters, diocesan Superintendent of Schools, closed her computer and thought no more about it, until a week or so later, when she received an email from Dr. Peters, inviting her to be interviewed. Things went fast after that, so fast that Maddox said she “felt God’s fingerprints all over the process.”
She interviewed with Dr. Peters, with the principal selection committee, composed of about a dozen people, including Father Richard Rocha, newly named President of St. Michael the Archangel. Associate Superintendent Patricia Burbach interviewed Maddox over the phone, conducting a principal perceiver, which is a one-on-one interview designed to see how a candidate’s skills match up to what are considered good skills for a Catholic School principal.
Maddox recalled being startled and humbled a bit by some of the questions, “Do you cry?” for example. But in retrospect, that interview may have sold her on the job she was applying for at the future high school. She reflected later that it was also a good time for her to make a change. Her daughter Grace will graduate this month from St. James and begin her freshman year at Rockhurst University this fall, while son Jack will be a senior at St. James. Again, she felt God’s fingerprints in the timing.
Pat Burbach said later, “She is a great candidate for a Catholic school principal!”
In all, the hiring process lasted two weeks. Then came telling the St. James Academy administration, and saying farewell to her many friends at the school, fellow administrators and teachers, staff and students.
The new high school under construction in Lee’s Summit is a bit of a drive from her home in Olathe, but Maddox said she is not afraid of distance, budgets, crises, or other challenges she might face in her new job. She doesn’t like leaving people she loves, but she won’t be that far away, and she knows she will meet new friends among the faculty, staff and students of St. Michael the Archangel High School.
She is excited to begin working with Father Rocha July 1; the two will work out of Archbishop O’Hara High School, with Mrs. Jane Schaffer, the 2016-17 O’Hara principal, to transition O’Hara students to St. Michael’s. During the upcoming school year, Maddox and Father Rocha will develop, coordinate and plan everything necessary to open a new Catholic high school. Schaffer will focus on O’Hara students’ needs.
“I’m already excited,” Maddox said with a laugh. “My head is spinning with ideas and I’m taking notes on things I want to explore or discuss with Father Rocha. This is how organized I am.” She pointed out a row of spiral notebooks, each assigned its own year. Two notebooks sat on either side of her computer screen. She picked up one. “This is my St. James 2015-16 notebook. And this,” picking up the other notebook, “this is my St. Michael’s notebook!” Several pages are covered with neat notes.
She is familiar with the work of FIRE Foundation, especially at O’Hara, and looks forward to the program continuing at St. Michael’s. She wants all students to feel safe, safe to try new things, safe from sarcasm, and safe enough to take a risk.
Dr. Peters said that after meeting with her and talking with her, he is confident that “Jodie has everything the selection committee was looking for in a principal. She is a faith-filled woman, has the skills to be an instructional leader, and is ‘on-fire’ for Catholic schools. Even though we had several strong candidates, she and Father Rocha will make a very powerful St. Michael the Archangel administrative duo.”
As the duo begins the transitional year, Maddox expects to be very busy “plotting, planning and preparing” for the expected opening at the start of the 2017-18 school year. One very important aspect in the plotting, planning and preparing is “the building on great traditions and a beautiful community. I am not looking to tear down a school, I’m looking to build a school that has great traditions, the traditions and heritages of Archbishop O’Hara and St. Mary’s high schools, and utilizing their best practices, things that have proven results.”
She’s been a part of new things before. “God’s fingerprints are all over this,” she said. “This is doable.”