By late last week, the Jesuit Father Jim Michalski had worked his way down to his last few stacks of files.
He’s been working out of the library, having already turned over his office at Jesuit Academy to the school’s new president, the Jesuit Father Tom Neitzke.
But these few pieces of paper were it, the last of what he’s accumulated over his 15 years at the school, known until recently as Jesuit Middle School.
Michalski founded the boys school, which opened in 1996 at a renovated YMCA near 22nd and Lake Streets, after asking 115 leaders in north Omaha what the community needed. Too many young black males are being lost to the streets, they said. Education, they told him, was the answer.
But now, said Michalski, 69, it’s time for someone else to head the school, which last year enrolled 63 boys in fourth through eighth grades. He officially retired July 1 and will wrap up by the end of the week.
“Certainly I’ll miss the contact with the people,” he said. “But the day to day — it’s time.”
Looking back, Michalski and Tony Connelly, the school’s principal for six years, ticked off a list of things they’re proud of, signs that the school is working.
At the top? Ninety-eight percent of the school’s graduates finish high school on time. The past two classes, in fact, have hit 100 percent. Nationwide, 47 percent of black males graduate from high school. And all of Jesuit’s graduates have gone on to some kind of post-high school education or to the military.
“The fact that so many are finishing high school is the big thing,” said Connelly, who retired as principal a year ago. He has continued working at the school, recruiting new students and supporting graduates. He will continue in those roles as vice president of student affairs.
At the same time, students are living up to the school’s teachings about citizenship and service, as well as to its motto: “Advancing the hearts and minds of young men.”
A recently added initiative is a mentoring program that Michalski long had wanted and that Connelly started last year.
Michalski said the aim is to match incoming eighth-graders with mentors who will commit to them through high school. The school already has a full slate of mentors for next year, and some are reading books with the boys over the summer.
The program, he said, goes to the Jesuit principle of cura personalis, or working with people as individuals.
“Everybody deserves individual attention,” Michalski said, “not just those who can afford to have it.”