Northwest Arkansas Catholic High School planning board hires Head of School
Fayetteville, Arkansas (August 16, 2016) - John E. Rocha will be the founding head of school for Northwest Arkansas’ first Catholic high school. Rocha was selected for the position after an extensive national search and interview process.
Rocha helped found Western Academy, an independent, Catholic, liberal-arts school in Houston, Texas and has served as the Director of Development at the school for boys since 2009. In his tenure at Western Academy, he implemented capital campaign initiatives and raised over nine million dollars, as well as recruiting teachers and managing daily operations and communications at the school.
Prior to his time at Western, Rocha also served as the Academic Director for the Center for the American Idea, developing and initiating educational programs for teacher professional development. Additionally, Rocha has the background of over 20 years of teaching experience in lower, middle and high school classrooms.
“John is a true visionary,” said Ashley Menendez, president of the NWACHS planning board. “He brings with him a life-long commitment to Catholic education and invaluable experience having previously opened a Catholic independent school in Houston.”
Rocha’s vision to fulfill a lifelong dream of founding a Catholic high school has dovetailed with the dreams of countless others in the northwest Arkansas area that have long campaigned and worked for Catholic secondary education.
“When I was in high school I felt a calling to be a teacher,” said Rocha. “That calling has blossomed, and over the years, my exposure to the Catholic faith and education through my learning career has been formative and pivotal. I have continued to grow intellectually and faith wise in appreciation of the Catholic intellectual tradition.”
Members of the selection committee were unanimously impressed with Rocha’s credentials, including planning board member Paul Antony, parishioner of St. Raphael Catholic Church in Springdale, “I am very pleased with our decision. John’s past experience has been amazing in starting a new Catholic high school,” he said.
“But what I love about John,” added Antony, brother of Father John Antony who attended University of Dallas with Rocha in the 1990’s, “has been his passion for Catholic education and his deep commitment to the Catholic faith.”
The idea of establishing a Catholic high school in Northwest Arkansas has been a work in progress for over two decades, but the project really gained traction when Ashley Menendez, an attorney, and Dr. Adriana Stacey, spearheaded the effort.
Since July of 2014, following the approval of Bishop Anthony Taylor, the two women, who are also sisters, were given permission to establish a Catholic high school that would operate independently of the Diocese of Little Rock.
Since then, a planning board has sought to raise funds, secure land and to seek out qualified candidates to kick-start the project. In early 2016, they focused their efforts on finding a head of school to help facilitate the management of the project.
Last spring, the board voted to reach out to school families at both elementary schools, St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Fayetteville and St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School in Rogers, and ask for pledges that would be earmarked for a head of school. School families and community members made pledges of $275,000 in support of the Catholic High School.
Since then, the project has continued to gain momentum with the announcement of the initial phase of collaboration with the De LaSalle Christian Brothers, Midwest Province to partner with the proposed independent Catholic high school. “Our guidance will be to help anchor the school in Catholicity through consultation and formation of administrators and board members in the spirit of the LaSallian charism,” said Brother Mike Fehrenbach of the Midwest Province. “We anticipate that this relationship will help us enliven the spirit of faith, a deep sense of community and a commitment to service.”
“We are excited for John to fulfill his personal dream of leading a Catholic high school while continuing our community's decades-long work toward Catholic secondary education for our children,” added Menendez.
A father of 10 children, ages 21 to three-years-old, Rocha and his wife, Donna, are fully immersed in the spectrum of education. Their oldest son attends the University of Notre Dame in Indiana while the other nine children attend several Catholic high schools and elementary schools in the Houston area.
One monumental task will be to move his family that has resided in the Houston area for over 15 years from Texas to northwest Arkansas. Fortunately, Razorback country will not be completely unfamiliar as Rocha’s wife grew up attending Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in North Little Rock.
Rocha plans to travel to the area for introduction meetings with parents, parishioners and the deanery as early as the end of August. Plans are scheduled to open the school doors in the fall of 2018 with grades 9 and 10.