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Monday, August 16, 2021

New Newport Central Catholic Principal Sets a Growth Mindset

Newport Central Catholic High School alum Kenny Collopy is the new principal of the school.

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by Robin Gee

Kenny Collopy has returned to his alma mater Newport Central Catholic (NCC) High School to serve as principal. A former teacher, coach and administrator at the school, he replaces longtime educator Ron Dawn who announced his retirement earlier this year. Both men have also served as varsity basketball coach at the school, and Collopy considers Dawn a mentor and important influence in his life.

Collopy and his family have a deep history with the school. Both his grandfathers and all of his siblings have attended NCC. In fact, in the four years he taught English at the school, he taught three of his younger siblings. His youngest brother is an incoming NCC freshman.

After a year in his first teaching job at Holy Cross in Covington, Collopy returned to NCC to teach and later to serve a year as the dean of discipline and two years as advancement director. While there, he was assistant basketball coach under Dawn, taking over the head coach job when Dawn became principal. As his career progressed, Collopy moved onto become principal at St. Cecilia school in Independence but has returned once again to his home at NCC to follow Dawn in the principal position.

Digging in and facing challenges

Collopy said he is excited to dig into the position and is eager to bring in some new ideas and goals for the future. One of the most important is to leverage the school’s many assets — strong academics, stellar athletics and drama program, a stunning campus location, a diverse and dedicated student body, and an active and supportive community of educators, parents and alumni — to tackle challenges head-on and to foster a culture of growth at the school.

Of course, he comes in after a school year like no other, and NCC will face the same immediate challenges posed by the pandemic as other schools. He is looking to the local Diocese to guide his school’s response, as well as the CDC and state resources, he said.

The school has faced other pressing challenges in recent years, and these are the ones Collopy hopes to address directly. Enrollment at the school has dropped some in recent years, and Collopy sees one of his biggest challenges as one of perception, of getting the word out about all NCC has to offer. The school is known regionally for its strong athletics program, but there is so much more, he said.

"Athletics certainly are a tradition here, and we take a lot of pride in that...It brings people together, provides a sense of community and accomplishment, but I do want us to do a more intentional job of marketing all that we have to offer here. We have some great academics. We’ve got Governor’s Scholar students, kids scoring over 30 on the ACT. I think some of that gets lost sometimes," he said.

In fact, the school has lots of bragging rights when it comes to academics. According to the latest school report, between 90 and 95 percent of NCC grads plan to attend college upon graduation, of that 85 percent go on to four-year colleges, and five to 10 percent attend two-year institutions. A small portion enter the armed forces or the seminary. For the class of 2020, 96 percent earned Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarships, and 75 percent earned a host of other college scholarships totaling more than $5.3 million.

Students at NCC have opportunities for Advanced Placement and Dual Credit courses, Collopy said. Some attend Northern Kentucky University, Thomas More University and Gateway Community and Technical College classes online.

A well-rounded, diverse experience

Collopy also said he wants to ensure the community knows that his school offers a "well-rounded, diverse experience. We have something to offer almost everybody," he said. 

In 2020 NCC had 239 students and pulled from a large area including Newport, Bellevue, Dayton, Fort Thomas, Cold Spring, Wilder, Silver Grove, Alexandria and even from the east side of Cincinnati.

He said he wanted to bust through any myths about who goes to NCC. "We have a very diverse socio-economic demographic here. We have some families who are very well off who are able to support our kids financially, not just their own but other kids who come through our scholarships and through donations. We rely heavily on our alumni who support our scholarships. On the other hand, we have kids who come from a less privileged background who are concerned with just getting through the day," he said.

Indeed, tuition and fees at the school can range from $8,000 to $9,000 per year, depending on whether students belong to a parish or not. Yet, the school offers discounts for payment plans, a work-study option for students and close to 20 needs-based scholarships as well as another 15 or so additional opportunities based on achievement.

"Because of the alumni that we have and support we have, we are able to tell everyone if you want to go to NCC, we are going to find a way to be able help you afford it."

Many of the scholarships are set up by alumni to memorialize a loved one or to honor the school they hold dear. Supporters can also donate to the school through fundraising events such as the annual "Winners Circle" gala and the school’s spring musical performance.

Collopy was quick to note that the school has an excellent drama program, and the spring performance brings people from all over the community and raises nearly $100,000 a year to support school needs.

The growth mindset

One of Collopy’s goals is to push his students and staff to change the way they think about achievement and growth. Over the summer he asked his teaching staff to read Mindset, by Carol Dweck. The book talks about a "growth mindset" versus a "fixed mindset." Basically, with a growth mindset, taking on challenges is seen as a way to learn and grow. The emphasis is not so much on "winning" or overcoming a particular challenge but an appreciation of the process of learning from difficulty and moving ahead as each challenge unfolds.

"There are going to be challenges," he explained. "But it’s about how you react to those challenges. How are you going to better yourself by embracing those challenges? When you do that you grow... looking at challenges as an opportunity to get better."

The English Department with his guidance introduced the concept to students as well over the summer. Instead of reading novels from the "canon" he assigned sophomores, juniors and seniors, the book The Other Wes Moore, a book about two boys who happen to have the same name and who grow up with similar backgrounds. One becomes a Rhodes Scholar and successful author, the other ends up in prison. The book looks at accountability and decision making — and how one deals with challenges.

Freshmen were assigned a workbook called The Great Guide for Teens that gives students various scenarios and asks them to reflect on how challenges are handled.

Collopy hopes to continue this more holistic approach during the school year. He has started with a program in which students in each class level participate in a different activity designed to provide experiences that support emotional and social learning.

For example, he said, freshmen might attend mass, while sophomores meet with him to discuss a topic such as developing good habits. Juniors might meet with a counselor to discuss how to deal with anxiety, while seniors might meet with their counselor to talk about college applications.

"I’m very excited about this because it’s adding more to the traditional academics, a well-rounded experience for the kids," he said.

While the students are having their special sessions on Wednesdays, the faculty will be in professional learning communities, or PLCs, that bring teachers together based on academic disciplines. They will work in small groups to discuss and share best practices and dig into data supplied by ACT and related tests, Collopy explained.

A capital campaign coming soon

Newport Central Catholic will begin a feasibility study for a capital campaign later this year.

On the horizon, said Collopy, is a capital campaign. Still in the very preliminary stages, some ideas and renderings have been shared and approved by the Diocese to move forward on a feasibility study. The plan is to begin that study, reaching out to potential donors, near the end of this calendar year.

"Within this campaign there might be multiple tiers or phases, but within the campaign we want support five different areas, what we call our five pillars," he said. The five pillars are faith, family, academic ecellence, character development and community stewardship.

For example, he said, athletics fall under the character development pillar. Right now the school’s football and baseball teams use the fields at Newport High School. A goal will be to have a football field on campus. Another plan is to provide an event and performance space to feature the spring musical and other community events.

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NCC sits high on a hill overlooking the Ohio River. "The view is absolutely spectacular. We’re known for our view...We want to utilize the space we have here to the max. We want to be a beacon for the area."

As part of the academic pillar, the upper floor will feature a glass wall overlooking the river and classrooms equipped for STEM study and collaborative spaces.

Overall, Collopy said, he is looking forward to the challenges ahead. "I think we have something to offer here that will draw a lot of students, and that excites me...I think I can bring some new ideas, thinking outside the box, to get us moving in the right direction, especially with the capital campaign on the horizon. There’s a lot to build here. I’m looking forward to being a part of that."


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