An Inclusive Vision of Catholic Education

Kate Orizotti was drawn to Our Lady of the Lake because she can relate to the small, close-knit community, though her own grade school experience was even smaller. Growing up in Butte Montana, she went to the same school Kindergarten through high school – Butte Central. It was the only Catholic school in town and boasted about 50 students in the senior graduating class (compared to the 400 in the public school).

“They are still my very best friends to this day,” said Kate. “Being in a small community was wonderful. We were like a family similar to OLL. It has its challenges too, like a family, but you feel really safe with each other, and you are able to take academic risks you might not otherwise take.”

Jesuits Influence Vision of Leadership
While those early years were foundational – it was the influence of the Jesuits in her higher education that inspired the type of leader Kate works to show up as every day. “I latched onto the Jesuit leading-through-service [model] and being a servant leader,” she said. Kate attended Gonzaga University for her undergraduate and her Master’s in Teaching, Elementary Education, and Seattle University for her Master’s in Educational Leadership and Administration with a Principal Certification.

When asked to describe what being a “servant leader” means to her she talked about being empathetic. “We are all human beings, and we bring a lot with us every day – teachers and students – so I believe in leading with grace.” She described a scenario of encountering a tardy student in the halls and being sure to say to them ‘I’m glad you are here – you made it.’ “Because you don’t know what that kid may have gone through to even get there that morning.”

Kate also sees “adaptive” as another characteristic important in the servant-leader model. “No leader has all the answers. It is about looking at the collective strengths of your team and knowing where people shine and letting them do so. We all have areas of strength and growth. That is why having grace and empathy is so important. We are all doing the best we can and if we fall short, we can build an action plan. We are not all perfect all the time and that is ok. This is the only way we can show up and be there for our students,” said Kate. She described how it is important for teachers and students and herself as a leader to have a growth mindset to succeed.

Inspired to Serve All Students
And making sure all kids can succeed in Catholic school if that is where they want to be is Kate’s vision of the future of Catholic education. “I really believe in broadening Catholic education to be more inclusive. It is my firm belief that every family that desires it should have access for their child to Catholic education,” she said. OLL is already on this journey with the latest project in the works – our Learning resource Center. But as Kate pointed out, historically in Catholic schools, “that has not always been the case, some schools have been limited in who they serve and often teach to the middle. Students who need more support and students who need enrichment are left behind and do not get the resources they need. We need to build out systems for all students.”

To push this vision forward she sees two elements being central. First, “making sure teachers are well equipped and empowered to create differentiated learning,” said Kate. Differentiated learning means building a curriculum that has multiple entry points so students performing below level, at level and above level all have a place to engage, improve and grow. And the second thing according to Kate is, “the systems of the school. To make sure we are centering diverse learners in our decision-making – in the budget, curriculum and other choices.”

Set Up for Success
She has experience expanding this vision from her current role as Director of Educational Support for O’Dea High School. This was a new position for the school that she started in 2019. “I came onboard to build out their ed support program and serve diverse learners. I learned a ton,” she admits. She described how she partnered with counselors and teachers to figure out how to provide wrap around support for students. “I would collaborate with a counselor to determine if there were things happening outside of school – socially, emotionally, mentally – and if we could partner with parents to talk about what is happening and chart a path forward.”

Since this was a new position for O’Dea, Kate grew the program and set it up for success. Under her direction it expanded from one part-time specialist to three full time staff. “We created the guiding documents. We have the foundation, and I am excited to see who they bring in and where they take it next,” she said. Next for Kate is to take these lessons learned into her new job at OLL. She saw how partnerships could help students find the support needed to move forward. “The job was about problem solving and centering the student,” she said.

Interests Outside of School
The center of Kate’s world outside of school is her family. “If I’m not working then I’m with my family,” said Kate. She jokes that she facetimes with her three siblings and her parents three times a day. Otherwise, she is spending time together with her husband and infant son going on walks. She also supports her husband’s baking and cooking pursuits, “I love to cook with my husband and be part of that experience with him. We love to make everything on the Traeger - meat, ribs and more. My husband also loves to bake; cakes and cookies which is a very fun family affair. During the pandemic, like many others, we got very into baking breads,” she said. She also describes herself as an avid reader; something she shares in common with our own Fr. Tim Clark.

Life-Long Learner as Model for Teachers and Students
Reading connects to Kate’s pursuit of being a life-long learner. “I went into education because I really love children and I believe in investing in them. That moved into a passion for supporting the adults who support the children and working with them to achieve their goals,” said Kate. “We are all life-long learners and a model for our students.” She described her approach for partnering with teachers. “I ask them what do you want to work towards and how can I support you? It is so important that we all set goals.”

Excited About the Future
And Kate is excited to work with the fantastic faculty and staff at OLL. “I have always heard good things about OLL. It has a rich history in the archdiocese, a fabulous reputation,” she said. “I’ve met people who attended the school and they have always raved about it. I knew any principalship I considered I wanted to go to a school that had this type of community.”

Throughout the interview process and since formally signing on as principal, Kate describes everyone she has met as involved and welcoming. She said she could really see herself here because “it is so important to me to see that kindness is at the forefront. I do not need to make huge culture shifts – I get to come in and affirm all the good work and then drive a vision going forward - what is the next vision for the school.”

By Lauren Penning, OLL Alumni coordinator and OLL parent/parishioner