Interview with the Headmaster, Part II
The second of a two-part interview with Peter Ohotnicky, Headmaster for Chesterton Academy of Detroit. Part I is available here.
Q: How have you been involved in the education of your children?
A: The first and most important thing has been supporting Sherry in her choice to pursue classical, Catholic education for our children. That includes making sure we are shoulder to shoulder on living our faith and deeply valuing this type of education. In the early years, it has always been my role to read bedtime stories, which is incredibly important to the development of language in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. I’ve made a point to read great literature that was beyond their current reading level, so their hearts are being drawn and minds are continually being prepared for greater and greater learning. In high school, I’ve been involved in math and science instruction. Finally, it has been my responsibility to give feedback on their essay writing; we don’t get to call essays complete until they are done to my satisfaction.
Q: But not every teacher, even a good teacher, is the right individual to run a school. Why do you think you will be a good headmaster?
A: Certainly a good headmaster needs to be a first-rate teacher. With the help of God’s grace, I’ve built a strong record as a teacher: as an instructor pilot in multiple aircraft, as a physics professor at the college level, as an AP math teacher at an elite college-prep school, as a homeschooling father, and even as a youth leader teaching young people to thrive in an outdoor environment. In the military, instructors also are responsible for running all the processes of the education and training enterprise: scheduling, facilities, grading, curriculum, instructor evaluation, budgeting, career counseling--all those types of things still exist. I have been a supervisor many times in many different locations and missions, leading both civilians and military personnel. In my last assignment in the Air Force, I was supervising 10 professors who all had at least 15 years of career experience. Finally, a headmaster needs to have a vision for the organization and the ability to implement it; I think the military is especially good at helping its officers to grow by having them study leadership, serve under great leaders, and then be in charge at implementing a vision for their own units.
Q: Vision is a good segue into the concept of Chesterton Academy. What has attracted you to this school?
A: The Chesterton Schools Network is clearly at the forefront of the classical education movement for the Catholic Church in the US. The original Chesterton Academy in Minneapolis-St. Paul has been running for over 10 years and undoubtedly is a great success. These schools are graduating outstanding Catholic young people, producing vocations...colleges are eager to admit these students because they know they are getting a serious scholar with strong character and deep spirituality. The Network is very well organized and supportive of the member schools. The curriculum is so rich, centered on the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, including daily mass. We have a great financial model which allows us to operate smartly yet keep the tuition affordable for larger Catholic families. It is an honor to be invited to be a part of a Chesterton Academy, especially in a leadership role. Even better is that I get to return to Michigan where I grew up! I honestly feel like Our Lord has prepared me my whole life for this opportunity.
One other thing I should mention about Chesterton Academy of Detroit: we have a GREAT board of directors. They are all strong Catholics of deep faith who have committed their time, talent and treasure to this project in a whole-hearted way. They have the right mix of backgrounds and expertise to provide the oversight we need. I’m especially encouraged that many have much younger children: they want to see this school flourish in both the short and long term because they want it to be here in 10 or 15 years for their kids.
Q: What type of teachers are you looking to hire for Chesterton Academy of Detroit?
A: Good question, because we hear so many stories about schools who hire teachers who live in a manner which diverges from Catholic teaching, putting the school in a difficult position. Families can have confidence that at Chesterton Academy, all teachers are required to make a profession of faith and take an oath of fidelity to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. After we confirm that the basic experience and background is present academically, the major question I want to know is: “Is this person a true role model of the Catholic faith and intellect for young people?” We want faculty members who understand how faith, reason, and academic learning for all subjects integrate to form the human person after the example of our ultimate role model: Jesus Christ. We are fortunate that our board has made the decision to open this school in the fall of 2020; it is going to give us time to make sure we are prudent and wise in selecting the right faculty members.
Q: What are you doing this summer to prepare for the school opening?
A: The first priority for me has been moving up to Michigan from Tennessee. I last month I attended the conferences for the Society of Classical Learning and next week I will be at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education National Conference; I am a member of both organizations. Next month, we have the conference for the Chesterton Schools Network. I have already been involved in a group that is evaluating a new physics curriculum for the network schools, based on the understanding of reality we have from Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. I am working to achieve another level of certification as a classical school educator. Finally, I am reading Chesterton! I have always enjoyed Chesterton’s writing, and now I have a great excuse to read even more.