Sister Celeste Says Farewell to FSHA
By Mia Alva | The Outlook
After 54 years in education, Sister Celeste Botello will be stepping down. Botello will be finishing up her 21 yearsas principal for Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy by the end of June, her longest time in one position in her career. “I am amazed that 21 years has passed by,” said Botello, “… but I can truly, honestly say it has really energized me and I just love it.”Botello first caught the passion forteaching in 1969 when she started out at about 22 years old, instructing junior high schoolers in math. During this time, she moved from school-to-school, teaching while also obtaining her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies at San Jose State University. “I taught junior high math and science, a wonderful experience. I love school, I truly love education,” said Botello. After teaching math at three different schools, the General Council of the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose asked her to take a stab at being an elementary school principal at St. James Elementary in San Francisco. She taught there for about seven years until she was transferred to South Central Los Angeles, where she stayed 13 years, her longest standing position at the time. After transitioning from school to school, Botello didn’t expect to lead at a high school despite her love of the job.
“I was told that they wanted me to go to high school. And I said, ‘I don’t want to go to high school, they’re taller than I am,’ and they said, ‘Sister, everybody’s taller than you,’” laughed Botello. She made a deal to try it out for two years and if she didn’t like it, she could go back to elementary school. Botello was sent to her first all-girls school at San Gabriel Mission High School to be the dean of students, “and it was wonderful.” After confirming she could, indeed, handle high school, the General Council sent her to FSHA and “for the 21 years I’ve been here as principal, I’ve loved every minute of it.” There have been some hard times, Botello admitted, like the tragic death of two students and the pandemic, but “there are good times and not so good times, that’s life. But the good times outweigh the bad times.” The passage of time has clipped by over the years, she added, except for the pandemic- induced online teaching, which slowed life down to a grinding halt. She missed the connection with her students then. FSHA President Sister Carolyn McCormack, who started just a year after Botello, noted how close the two have become working side by side for 20 years. “She came ahead of me by one year, and I will leave a year after her, so we both will have 21 years at Flintridge Sacred Heart, 20 of them together. I think it’s been a collaborative, collegial, wonderful leadership experience. And I think the two of us have been able to work together as sisters, to really support and enhance the nation at Flintridge Sacred Heart,” McCormack said. She talked about Botello’s influence on the hundreds of girls over the past 21 years. “She is a very people centered, friendly, open Dominican Sister of Mission San Jose. She has a wonderful sense of humor. She has an ability to engage with students and parents and colleagues in a positive way,” said McCormack. Now, both Botello and McCormack hold on to this moment of loss, happiness and new beginnings. “The news for us is a blessing and a loss,” said McCormack. “It’s just bittersweet.
The fact that we’re sisters, and we’re so close together, it isn’t like we’re leaving each other. But the leaving of Flintridge Sacred Heart is a significant step for each of us. But we’ve been very much a team in our 20 years of leadership.” Now at 76 years old, Botello will be moving on to work in the Mission San Jose as the congregational prioress, to help older women and, “attend the soul of the congregation.” She hopes that any new student joining FSHA will “have an experience where they feel that they’re welcomed, that they’re cared for, that they’re safe and hopefully, that they’re loved.” Current Assistant Principal of Student Affairs at FSHA, Rebecca Bostic, has been slated to replace Botello as principal, and she is making history while doing so. “What’s significant about this change in leadership is that it is the first time that there will not be sisters in leadership at the school. We’ll have a new lay principle, and we will have a new lay president,” said Mc- Cormack. The change will not stop here: in just a year’s time, McCormack will be leaving her position and completing 21 years at FSHA just like Botello. “So, things have changed dramatically over 20 years. Change is a healthy thing, and I think the school will thrive under the leadership of a new president and a new principle that will take the school forward into the next millennium,” said McCormack. Bostic is excited and honored to be following in Botello’s footsteps as principal. “I feel really honored to get to follow in the footsteps of the work of the sisters.
I think that the Catholic Sisters have shaped the United States of America in their collective commitment to Catholic education,” said Bostic. Bostic also sees herself staying at FSHA as long as Botello, and maybe, even longer. “I think I could be here forever,” said Bostic. “…it’s just deeply rewarding work, especially somewhere like at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, where we have truly the most impressive faculty, who are so dedicated. So many of them have been here for decades.” There’s nothing better. I mean, this place is really a jewel on a hill. It really is a special place.” Going into her fifth year at FSHA, Bostic already has some goals in mind when she takes over the principal title. “In the long term, it’s really looking at what it means to be pushing critical thinking and community engagement in 2023,” said Bostic. “Especially with things like AI and chat GPT really coming up into the forefront, just making sure that we’re equipping our students to go out into the world and be ready to engage with the challenges that we don’t know exist yet, but we know will exist.” She is also committed to getting students back into the community to engage in service after the pandemic put that on hold. Bostic has worked in the office directly across from Botello and has cherished the time that they have shared together. She hopes that she has learned all she needs to keep FSHA a great place for students. “[Botello] is someone who works tirelessly,” said Bostic. “She’s always moving. She’s always thinking. She’s always pulling somebody into her office to talk about this or that and she always has an idea on how to advance the school. But really, she is a leader. She just loved everybody here so well, and that’s what made this place thrive. It is just that investment of time and love that she put into every faculty, staff member and then, most importantly, student. I just hope I learned from her enough to inspire my work and the rest of my career as I go forward. “So, to get to sit across the hall, from a legend in the field and just get to learn from her every single day has been really the gift of a lifetime for me.”
Chandler’s Head of School Leaving a Legacy
After an illustrious career spanning over two decades, Head of School John Finch will retire in June from Chandler School, leaving behind a remarkable legacy of dedication and achievement. Under Finch’s leadership, Chandler School embarked on a continuous journey of growth and transformation with the shared mission of positively impacting the school and the Pasadena community. Recognizing the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Finch spearheaded the evolution of Chandler’s traditions, ensuring that the school remained a place where differences were embraced and celebrated. By prioritizing the recruitment of talented and diverse faculty, Finch created an educational environment that thrived on inclusivity and nurtured the potential of each student. One of Finch’s notable achievements was implementing a groundbreaking 1:1 laptop program in 2008. Chandler School revolutionized teaching and learning, empowering teachers to integrate technology into their lessons seamlessly. This initiative enhanced student engagement as students were able to conduct research, collaborate with peers on projects, and create multimedia presentations, acquiring essential digital literacy and citizenship skills for the future. Finch ensured that Chandler School provided cutting-edge resources and facilities for students to explore technology, engineering and design. Through the creation of the Center for Innovation and the incorporation of STEAM activities into the curriculum, students developed critical thinking skills, creativity and a growth mindset.
These invaluable skills prepared them for success in the 21st century and equipped them to excel in any path they choose. Finch’s impact extended beyond academics. He spearheaded the South Campus Campaign, a fundraising effort that brought together nearly 500 donor families who contributed a remarkable $17 million. This campaign led to the construction of the middle school, providing teachers with dedicated classrooms, science labs equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, and specialized spaces for art and music. The campaign also showcased Chandler School’s commitment to eco-friendly design, featuring a low-impact parking structure and electric-vehicle charging stations. As Finch bids farewell to Chandler School, the community reflects on his remarkable contributions and the indelible impact he leaves behind. “His dedication to creating a nurturing environment and his ability to foster community have positioned Chandler School for continued success in the future,” according to the school. “The legacy of John Finch will forever be cherished, and his vision will guide Chandler School in its pursuit of excellence for generations to come.”
Pasadena Christian School Leader Retires After 30 Years
By Madeleine Berger | The Outlook
When his 30th year as head of Pasadena Christian School comes to an end this month, Steven Gray will retire after a lifelong devotion to education. Born in Pasadena and raised in El Sereno, Gray remembers his mother, a factory worker, always pushing him to keep studying and pursuing education. He went on to receive his undergraduate degree from USC, his master’s and teaching credential from Cal State Los Angeles and his doctorate from UCLA. These educational experiences “really opened a lot of opportunities for me, and I wanted to be able to do that for the next generation. I wanted to show them that if they can gain those skills that they will have a chance to contribute in meaningful ways to society,” Gray said. In realizing the power of his own education, Gray knew he wanted to aid in the education of others. He was drawn to PCS as a faith-based school for children, currently offering preschool through 8th grade. He considers early childhood schooling to have an often overlooked yet significant value, as this is when children develop their character. “If you can shape their hearts through faith and shape their minds through education and academics, then you can give them the best chance to succeed in life,” Gray said. The most rewarding part of being head of school has been seeing the students grow. “To see our kids really excited about learning, to see them ask questions and to be interested, and to laugh, to see them do artwork and to play musical instruments and to study mathematics and learn foreign languages,” Gray said. “I can’t say enough about Dr. Gray. He’s just a wonderful, wonderful guy,” said Steve Lazarian, a Pasadena Christian School alumnus, former chairman of the Board of Directors, president of the PCS endowment fund and son of the school’s founder. When Lazarian served on the board, he and Gray grew close, forming a duo that other board members called “The Steves.” Lazarian admired Gray’s effective leadership style, characterized by his good ideas, spiritual values and overall vision for the school.
Everyone respected Gray, but they also adored him, according to Lazarian “He served selflessly and steadfastly with love and compassion for so many years,” Lazarian said, noting how Gray would often attend every school event. “Dr. Gray’s impact on so many staff, teachers, parents and PCS children is impossible to calculate. “Sometimes you have a leader that’s good at technical and administrative stuff, maybe good at raising money, maybe good at the spiritual side of things. But I think it’s hard to find somebody that has all of that. And he certainly did. It’s just a real gift. The school is going to miss him,” Lazarian said. Just as the PCS community will miss Gray, Gray will miss the school as well. “It’s almost impossible to stay someplace for 30 years and not feel that a part of your heart belongs there. So, probably for the rest of my life, I’ll be as involved and supportive as I can be to the new head of school, to the teachers, to our board of directors. In any way that I can help them, I will certainly do my best,” Gray said. The new head of school will be Hovel Babikian, who officially assumes the role on July 1. As a parting message to PCS, Gray said, “Sometimes we as individuals feel very helpless. We feel we can’t make the world a better place. We can’t stop the war in Ukraine. We can’t stop hunger across the world. We can’t stop pandemics. We can start to feel really powerless. We can’t change the world. “But what we can do every day is we can change our own world — with our loved ones, our children, our friends, our family, the people we meet on the street — by our acts of kindness and generosity. “That’s what I’ve tried to do for the last 30 years here — to try to make our world as meaningful and as blessed as it can be.”
St. Francis Principal Retiring After 45 years
By Madeleine Berger | The Outlook
After serving the St. Francis High School community for nearly half a century, Principal Tom Moran will be retiring this month. Moran first joined St. Francis as an English teacher in 1975, and later served as dean of studies, vice principal of academics and baseball coach, where two of his star players reached the major leagues. In 1990, Moran briefly left St. Francis to become principal of Chaminade High School in West Hills. But by 1993, he was back at St. Francis, beginning his principal role that would last the final 30 years of his 45-year career on the school’s campus. “When St. Francis invited me to come back, I jumped. I just felt like this was home,” Moran said. Reflecting on his tenure at St. Francis, Moran highlights the relationships: “I’ve met so many incredible people — teachers that I worked with and Franciscans and coaches and parents and young men.” Some of his most cherished relationships have been with former students, and it is especially meaningful when Moran receives books authored by students he previously taught in English class. Whether it be going to alumni weddings or funerals, Moran remains a supportive figure for past, present and future St. Francis students. “The kids are at the center,” he emphasized. Moran also admires the schoolwide growth of St. Francis since 1975, noting its expanded opportunities in student leadership, fine arts, athletics and community service, which have “really developed to a point where this is a more comprehensive place for kids, and where everyone who comes to school here can find a place to belong,” he said. At the core of these extracurricular programs is spirituality, which is important to Moran on an individual level as a devoted Catholic, and also on an institutional level.
He has enjoyed overseeing the development of the school’s spirituality program into a “more compassionate place” where students of all religions can develop their spirituality and leadership. (St. Francis admits students of different faiths, not exclusively Roman Catholic.) “One of the things I admire about Tom is that the values we profess here at St. Francis – the Franciscan virtues – Tom respects them and he lives them. He doesn’t just talk about them. … He’s a renowned Catholic, but he doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeve. He is very respectful of everyone,” said Father Tony Marti, president of St. Francis. As principal, Moran has formed close relationships with Marti and his predecessor, Father Matt Elshoff. Moran joked that the school’s president-principal leadership dynamic is “very similar to a marriage partnership,” as they are always a united voice for the St. Francis community, even if they have debated over an issue in private. However, any differences of opinion are few and far between: “I used to kid Father Matt that we ‘timeshare’ a brain. And often with Father Tony, I will say something, and he’ll say, ‘That’s exactly what I was thinking.’” “We communicate very well. We support each other,” Marti confirmed. He praised Moran’s fairness in the classroom, objectivity in decision-making, compassion for students, unparalleled memory of St. Francis’ history and courage in overcoming personal battles, among other attributes. When asked how he hopes for St. Francis to remember him, Moran said, “Oh, it doesn’t matter if it remembers me. I’m blessed because I got to stand on the shoulders of other great men who preceded me … But how will I remember the school? This place is really hard to get out of your blood. I don’t plan on going too far.” “I’m just so grateful for the opportunity to be here, to work with really good people. I am so blessed, and I don’t know that anybody deserves that kind of good fortune, but I have been very lucky,” said Moran, who was honored at the school’s recent POSH fundraiser. Despite his accomplishments, Moran is a very humble man, according to Mark Heydorff, chairman of the SFHS Board of Directors, who has worked closely with Moran for decades: “He doesn’t have to be the smartest man in the room, but he usually is. He’s a big idea guy, so he has the ability to make decisions based on what’s best for the future of school. “There’s nobody I can even think of that has done so much for St. Francis that wasn’t a friar,” Heydorff continued. “In my opinion, he’s the best principal in Southern California.” In recent weeks, Moran has been preparing his speech for St. Francis’ class of 2023 commencement, which is being held this Saturday at 10 a.m. Moran’s speeches are “absolutely amazing” and always leave the crowd inspired, Marti said. Moran, exemplifying humility, said, “Graduation is about the graduates. It’s not about me. I just want to leave them with something to think about.” Once his retirement officially begins, Moran looks forward to reading the stack of books at home that he never had time to read during his tenure as school principal. Moran’s official last day is June 30. On July 1, Tracy Traver, St. Francis’ current dean of studies and English instructor, will succeed Moran as the next principal.) “This is a hard job, but it’s also a hard job to leave,” Moran said. “I know this will always feel like home. It should be like that for graduates and people who work here. It will always be like that for me.”
First published in the June 1 print issue of the Pasadena Outlook.