One of Canada's Outstanding Principals, John Shanahan is backed up by his St. Patrick's Secondary students Joanah Nati Grade 10, Hirosh Rodrigo Grade 11, Lorena Arenas Grade 12, Armando Dix Grade 12, Juliana Chunza Grade 12, Marvin Leocavio Grade 11, Kleine Manansala Grade 12, Hannah McGroarty Grade 9. Photo by Michael Swan

St. Pat's principal among 11 Catholics honoured by Learning Partnership

  • January 28, 2012

The award is nice, but St. Patrick's Catholic Secondary School principal John Shanahan has a different measure of success.

Shanahan is one of 40 educators who will be honoured as "Canada's Outstanding Principals of 2012" by The Learning Partnership at a Feb. 28 gala dinner in Toronto's Sheraton Centre. The Learning Partnership is a charity that advocates for and supports public education. It's best known for Take Your Kids to Work day.

Shanahan is bashful, unwilling to talk about the award as a personal achievement. But he has lots to say about his school, his teachers and most of all his students.

Somebody from the east end Toronto neighbourhood surrounding St. Patrick's gave Shanahan a sure measure of success when he told the principal about a St. Pat's student he saw on the subway. That day, somebody who clearly lived on the street was riding the subway in a car with a St. Pat's student sitting on the other side of the car. As the train pulled into a stop, the neighbour witnessed the student walk over to the homeless man and whisper something in his ear. Then the student gave the man his lunch and quietly stepped off onto the platform.

"That's what this school is all about," said Shanahan. "That's what we're trying to teach the kids. We don't always know that it happens."

According to St. Pat's students it happens because of Shanahan.



John Shanahan with some of his St. Patrick's Secondary students. Shanahan is one of 11 Catholics who made the 2012 Outstanding Principal's list.

- Photo by Michael Swan

"He always wants us to be better. He expects a lot of things from us," said Grade 12 student Lorena Arenas.

The students are proud of the kind of community they have at St. Patrick's and recognize that Shanahan and his teaching staff make it happen.

"They treat you as a person and not just another student, which is very special," said Grade 9 student Hannah McGroarty.

"It's inspiring, what he tells us," said Juliana Chunza.

The school has a special focus on media studies, arts and technology and draws students from a wide area. The students also come from a range of backgrounds – immigrant kids speaking dozens of languages, well-to-do kids with two parents and a cozy home life and their polar opposite, kids who arrive at high school a little older than expected, kids with special needs.

That variety makes the well-worn talk about forming a learning community something more than talk – more like an urgent necessity, said Shanahan.

"We're very focussed on student leadership and we believe everybody can be a leader, because everybody has unique skills and talents," he said. "You're here to serve. Leadership is about service to others."

And education is about encountering the real world.

"Kids should leave our community knowing that the world is not a bubble and not everybody comes from the same financial background or comes from the same culture or the same religion," said Shanahan. "We're all here to support each other."

Shanahan is one of 11 Catholics who made the 2012 Outstanding Principal's list. From west to east the Catholic winners are:

- Daniel Danis of Bishop Carroll High School in Calgary.
- Aimée Paraschuk of Our Lady of the Evergreens Catholic School in Calgary.
- Katherine Dekker of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Elementary School in Edmonton.
- Francine Pilon of Immaculate Conception School in Formosa, Ont.
- Michelle Shypula of St. Joseph's Catholic Elementary School in Stratford, Ont.
- Peter Kislinsky of St. Ann Catholic Elementary in Hamilton, Ont.
- Ann McGee who heads up adult and continuing education for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board in Mississauga, Ont.
- Barry Keogh of St. Monica's Catholic Elementary School in Barrie, Ont.
- John Shanahan of St. Patrick's Catholic Secondary School in Toronto.
- Giancarlo Schirripa of Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic School in Sharon, Ont.
- Jennifer Oake of St. Pius X High School in Ottawa.

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