Bishop Kelley Academics Are #1

When I started as President of Bishop Kelley High School back in 2009, we engaged with the Littlefield Agency on a brand study that led to a new mission statement, new logos, and a renewed understanding of who we are and where we need to be. The brand study consisted of surveys and interviews with current students, parents, and teachers. It involved alumni input as well as the thoughts of future BK parents and students. It took months and led to mountains of data. What became clear about how people viewed us was a couple things:

  • People saw BK as a Catholic school with good Christian values
  • People saw BK as a well-rounded school with a niche for all students
  • People saw BK as a school with a strong athletic culture and a growing fine arts programs

And much to the chagrin of our administration, faculty, and staff, people saw Bishop Kelley as a school that was academically behind other Tulsa area schools like Holland Hall, Cascia Hall and Booker T. Washington.

I remember when I first saw the results. I didn’t like it but thought that these impressions might be permanent and thus not worth the effort to change. But when David Littlefield and his team came to BK and presented to our faculty, I knew we had to do something about it. When the results were unveiled, many on the faculty were mad. They knew that our academics were the “real deal” and on par or better than these other schools. We had not done a great job of selling it.

So over the last few years, we’ve taken on that task. We want to let people know that, yes, Bishop Kelley is a Catholic school rooted in the 2000 year history of the Catholic Church. We make the Sacraments available to our students, encourage Vocations, teach Theology, and give our students ample opportunity to put their faith in action. And yes, we do seek to be well rounded offering a place for every student. We have 40 clubs, numerous sports, and that growing fine arts program is now blossoming to include hundreds of students each year. And, yes, our academic program is a very good one.

I typically hesitate to use the word “great” lest we become complacent but through a variety of factors including an outstanding faculty, increased summer offerings, increased before and after school tutoring, an expanded iConnect program, The Brother Bernardine Scholars Program, better access to technology, a more robust library program, ACT prep classes, and much more, our academic reputation has improved. What’s important to note is that our reputation has improved because our academics have improved. AP and ACT tests scores are at all time high. This year we had 10 National Merit -Semi-Finalists and 10 Commended Scholars, more than any private school in the State of Oklahoma and 3rd only to two large public high schools, one in the Tulsa area and one near Oklahoma City.  This follows other years of similar success for National Merit recognition.

All this is to say, that Bishop Kelley Academics are the REAL DEAL. That perception, in comparison to our friends at other schools, hasn’t always been the case but our recent success is changing minds. With the recent appointment of our new Principal Jim Franz, I have no doubt that our upward trajectory will continue. With our largest freshman class ever about to start, we think the word is spreading!

God bless you!



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Bishop Kelley Goes Chrome!


It’s an exciting time to at Bishop Kelley High School! We’re about to welcome our largest freshman class ever, enrollment is up across the board, we have new buildings, new programs, and the same great education for students because of amazing and dedicated teachers. The 2017-18 school year will also bring a new innovation: Google Chromebooks in the hands of every student.

Through the generosity of a local foundation, every faculty member was given a Chromebook last October. That gave our teachers time to explore, experiment, and get used to the new technology. At orientation this year, all 930 students will be handed their very own Chromebook. This was made possible by the 2017 Bishop Kelley Auction. We are so grateful to the donors who made this possible!

One concern we’re hearing from some parents is that our students are already so tied to technology, why would we give them another device. It is a valid concern and one that we share as well. Today’s students have phone, watches, and tablets to which they are tied night and day.

In the March 2017 edition of the Journal of Catholic Education, Carol Wyatt of Jesuit High School in Portland lays out a wonderful look at technology in the classroom and offers suggestions on how to keep a classroom Christ centered while students and teachers are so plugged in.

The most important point she makes, put in the context of Bishop Kelley, is that we are NOT a “Google Chromebook School” but rather that we are a Catholic high school in the Lasallian tradition that happens to use Google Chromebooks as one of many tools to teach and engage students. The Chromebooks are just that, a tool. Our teachers see it that way and we expect that the students will as well.

The advantages this device offers are numerous (and Ms. Wyatt makes them clear):

  • Instant access to the Internet
  • Access to reliable research sources
  • Encouraging alternative points of view to a discussion
  • Utilizing different problem-solving methods
  • Access to multimedia presentations
  • Lighter backpacks due to the increase of digital books
  • Better tools for collaboration and project based learning

The downside, as Wyatt notes, is distraction. Here at BK, we’re implementing numerous safeguards to minimize this.

Ultimately, we will work to find the balance with our teachers and students to make sure these Google Chromebooks don’t dominate our lives but are seen for what they are, a tool to help students to get ready for college and to prepare for heaven. There are downsides to be sure, but through a partnership with parents and the students themselves, we see this innovation, made possible by the generosity of so many, as a positive step for our school.

God bless you!

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Private Schools and Middle Class America

Just this morning, I came upon an article from Bloomberg Business entitled “Private School Is Becoming Out of Reach for Middle-Class Americans.” I read a  lot of articles, especially about education. This one is different. It lays out as clear as can be not only what is happening across the United States, but also right here in the Diocese of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma. I certainly can’t speak for the larger private school community of Eastern Oklahoma but for the Catholic schools, this is a growing problem.

Increasingly, middle-income families are having trouble affording Tulsa Catholic schools. Go ahead and ask them. The Bishop Kelley Business Office has daily conversations with these families as they try to work out payments plans and make it all work. Many of these families are heroic. These parents have a deep love for their children and see a Bishop Kelley education as the best thing for them (I happen to agree!). Many of these parents sacrifice, cut back, drive older cars, and go without a vacation to make it work. The students themselves often have jobs and contribute to the payments for their education. Some families pay in cash, brought in from tips from their job at a restaurant or nail salon. There are choices to be made and these families are making them.

Now I only read this article 30 minutes ago, but it’s made clear that several initiatives we have underway need to be accelerated:

  1. Keeping Costs Down (a major initiative by our Business Office)
  2. Taking Advantage of Oklahoma’s Tuition Tax Credit Law (In Eastern Oklahoma that’s GO for Catholic Schools)- We are leaving money on the table every year
  3. Growing the Bishop Kelley Endowment 
  4. Raising Money for Direct Tuition Assistance.
  5. Supporting the St. Francis of Assisi Tuition Assistance Trust. This year’s dinner is on Thursday, October 5th.
  6. Working Individually With Families To Make It Work. If a family is willing to work with us, we can’t wait to work with them to see if we can do it.

We have a lot of work to do.

Just a few thoughts on a Thursday morning. God bless you!



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Schools Are Closing, We Are Thriving

I do my best to keep up with state and national trends in Catholic schools. There are many exciting initiatives in the Catholic school world including the Alliance for Catholic Education (of which I’m an alumnus) and the Cristo Rey model of education which brings an innovative way to fund a Catholic high school education for the poor. Innovation is helping schools stay open and it’s helping schools to begin. Alongside that, however, is a growing trend of schools closing.

In 1960, there were 12,893 Catholic schools in the United States. In 2010, there were 7,000. Just in the past seven years, 664 Catholic schools have closed including 96 in the last year. This is the result of poor management of resources but also the result of shifting demographics and rising costs. For more data see the NCEA stats.

Here at Bishop Kelley, we are about to welcome our largest freshman class ever. We are more financially secure than ever but we have a campus needs list a mile long and we are not able to offer as much tuition assistance as is needed. That being said, through the generosity of many, through sound fiscal practices, and by offering a great education for our students, the future is bright at 41st and Hudson!


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2017 Bishop Kelley Graduation- Bishop’s Medal and De La Salle Faculty Award

Below are the speeches I gave at the 2017 graduation of Bishop Kelley High School. It took place on May 20, 2017 at the Donald W. Reynolds Center at the University of Tulsa.


Each year the Bishop’s Medal is given to one Bishop Kelley senior who exemplifies the following qualities:

-They contribute to the life and the spirit of the school

-They share their gifts and talents with other members of the Bishop Kelley community

-They represent the ideals and goals of Bishop Kelley High School

-They show genuine concern for others

-They witnesses to Gospel values and exemplify excellence in academic performance

Out of an extraordinarily talented group of students, this year’s recipient represents the best of Bishop Kelley High School both on and off campus. In the spiritual life of the school, in athletics, and in many other activities, he gives his all when people are watching and when they are not. An Eagle Scout, Boys State representative, Link Crew leader, Search retreat Co-Director, a leader on Kairos and member of the basketball and track teams, this young man has high ideals and strives to live them out every day.

One of his teachers described him as having “incredible perseverance, a calm presence and a quiet intensity.” I saw that first hand one Friday night at a basketball game in Owasso. On a strong drive to the basket, he was hit hard and went to the floor, banging his head on the hard court surface. He was temporarily knocked out and hand to be transported by ambulance to a local hospital. After getting stitched up and being cleared to go home, he asked the doctor if he could go back and watch the game. The doctor said “yes” and he headed back to watch his teammates defeat Owasso in double overtime. Although he wasn’t on the floor, it didn’t diminish his happiness for his teammates on a great win.

He is hardworking and polite. He is a positive and conscientious student. He is passionate and deeply spiritual confiding to friends that he has a desire to serve humanity, perhaps as a priest or as a member of the state highway patrol. Throughout his junior and senior year, he took seriously his role as a mentor of younger students, not to build his resume but because he genuinely cared and wanted everyone to be as passionate about his high school as he is.

A graduate of All Saints Catholic School in Broken Arrow and a future OSU Cowboy, he is a gentlemen in every sense of the word. He is a young man who is proud to be a Comet, it gives me great joy to present the 2017 Bishop’s Medal to Mr. Ryan Roy.


Alongside honoring a student who embodies the spirit of Bishop Kelley High School, we also take time to honor a faculty member who lives out in their daily life the spirit of the founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, St. John Baptist De La Salle. De La Salle was a 17th century French priest who loved to teach. He loved Jesus Christ and that love of Jesus inspired him to teach young people and to encourage others to do the same. The Lasallian charism founded by St. John Baptist De La Salle is now in 82 countries educating over a one million students a year.

The De La Salle award goes to a faculty member who:

-witnesses to Gospel principles and values

-who is dedicated to the moral, spiritual, physical, and emotional development of the student

-who is actively involved with students

-who contributes to the educational growth and development of Bishop Kelley High School and

-who exemplifies a spirit of faith and zeal characterized in the life of St. John Baptist De La Salle

This year’s recipient has the respect of her peers and students alike. She brings a personal touch to her teaching allowing students to not just tolerate Math but to embrace it and to love it. She knows that math isn’t everyone’s favorite subject and that it often comes with difficulty but she works hard, meeting every student where they are to give them that boost of confidence they need. She is kind hearted, compassionate, and helpful to students and colleagues alike.

As Chair of the Math Department she has shepherded her faculty to strive for excellence leading to higher test scores and more diverse offerings across the curriculum meeting the needs of a diverse group of learners. This includes including our new concurrent enrollment initiative and increased summer offerings for students who struggle or who want to get ahead.

Now finishing her 13th year of teaching at BK, she’s also the loving mother of two BK grads and one current student. She dedicates herself to her craft, she loves her students, her colleagues, her subject and our school. She is the kind of educator that St. John Baptist de La Salle would observe and say “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” It’s my distinct privilege to present the 2017 De La Salle Award to Mrs. Susan Edmonson.


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What’s the Difference Between a President and a Principal?

FOB and Jim

It’s been a big week at Bishop Kelley High School! We’ve celebrated Easter, had success on the athletic fields and at State choir competition. We took the ACT and our Class of 2017 began their end of the year activities with the Senior Mass of Thanksgiving. It’s also Auction Week, our biggest event of the year. Oh by the way, we also announced the hiring of a new principal. Mr. Jim Franz will begin July 1st as Bishop Kelley’s academic leader. For more information on Mr. Franz check out our website and watch the press conference.
When the news went out that we had hired Jim, a few people called or texted and said “I thought you were the principal!” Well I’m not. Since June of 2009, I’ve had the privilege of serving as the President of Bishop Kelley High School.
So what’s the difference between a president and a principal? Why the need for both?
The simplest way to put it is that the president’s focus is outward and the principal’s focus is inward. Here at Bishop Kelley, it’s not always as clean as outward/inward as I try to take a genuine interest in the life of the school, especially the spiritual well being of our 904 students but generally speaking that’s the way it works. The President/Principal model has been around for two decades originating in Jesuit run schools. Of the 1200 Catholic high schools in the United States, about 56% operate using this model of school leadership.
As president, I am to focus on the spiritual life of the school, fundraising, admissions, strategic planning, alumni relations, and building projects. That requires being off campus quite a bit promoting the school and our mission. The principal focuses on the day to day operations including curriculum, technology, and teacher coaching and evaluation. This is done, for both of us, with a lot of help. Here at BK, our administrative team is an experienced and talented group. It includes CFO Rick Musto and Director of Advancement Doug Thomas. Both report to me directly. We also have Dean of Students Jeff Pratt, Vice-Principal for Academics Judith McMasters, Director of Student Activities Gary Oberste, and Athletic Director Lance Parks all who will report to Mr. Franz.
I hope this brief explanation helps everyone understand how the it works here at BK. As the 2017-18 school year gets underway in August, you’ll hear more about our model of leadership and how it will help us have even greater success in our preparing our students for college, for life, and for heaven.
Happy Easter!
Fr. O’Brien
For a more detailed look at the President/Principal model follow this link.
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Catholic Schools: Faith and Academics

It’s Catholic Schools Week! It happens every year and is always an opportunity to celebrate the amazing work being done at Bishop Kelley and at Catholic schools around the country. I am particularly proud to work with exceptional educational leaders in the Diocese of Tulsa.

I want to draw your attention to a recent talk given by Bishop George Murry of the Diocese of Youngstown, OH. Bishop Murry is the Chair of the NCEA and is heading up the US Bishops’ effort to promote Catholic schools.

He is campaigning in his diocese and around the country to not only emphasize that Catholic schools help promote the Catholic faith (and they do!) but also that they are doing great work academically too. Here’s a summary of a June 2016 talk Bishop Murry gave at Fordham University.

Happy Catholic Schools Week!

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