GARDEN GROVE — After two academic years of changes in both name and location, with attendant uncertainties and identity issues, Christ Cathedral Academy is preparing to begin its third year with what its Senior Administrator calls “open arms and open hearts.”
“It’s just such an exciting place to be now,” says Debbie Vallas. “Two years have gone by with the questions and the what-ifs and now we’re into this new growth and this new journey we’re on. One day we hope to be the flagship of the diocese.”
The K-8 school, says Vallas, is about to emerge with a pair of strong legs beneath it after two years as a kind of fledgling institution. When the Christ Cathedral campus was purchased by the Diocese of Orange nearly two years ago, and the nearby St. Callistus Church moved its congregation in to the Arboretum on the cathedral campus, St. Callistus School also moved, taking over the existing school facilities in a large portion of what is now known as the diocesan Pastoral Center building.
“Two years ago,” says Vallas, “we were setting everything up here as a school, and it was a big transition, and it was difficult, but everybody did a great job.”
The departure of a small number of teachers and administrators in the school’s second year contributed to “some challenges in terms of the community and the spirit of the community, and that seemed to affect the overall energy of the campus,” adds Vallas. “The honeymoon was over and here we were in this new place, and we needed to get grounded in it. A lot revolved around what was going to be the vision and the mission for the school.”
Vallas was hired as interim principal. “We started really giving the administration and the teachers time to breathe,” she says, “and the focus was put back to the kids and not on what the administration wants or what the parents want or what the teachers want. It’s been a very positive reception, and the parents have been very resilient and trusting and wonderful, and we’re all on a very positive note moving forward.”
It was not Vallas’ first experience with a new school’s growing pains. “You never know when you begin a new school, and I speak from experience, because I was the founding principal of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School [in Yorba Linda],” she says. “And in the beginning we were just dirt. The first year, there was doubt: are we really going to be a school, a real school? Are we going to last? But all of that happened and we did become a real school, and that was 17 years ago. And this year, we have that feeling here.”
What’s new for year three at Christ Cathedral Academy?
“Community, I think,” says Vallas. “Community building. The energy of the school, the positive spirit of the parents who are coming back to us. You can feel the energy that is here. All of our parents are out biggest cheerleaders. They’ll see a new first grade teacher and a new science/PE teacher.” An already-established after-school program and a flourishing choral and instrumental music program will continue and a new parent guild will make its appearance, as will family mentors and student mentors—part of a hospitality package for new families.
There are 200 students currently enrolled at the academy, but Vallas says the school, with its extensive facilities and multiple classrooms, can accommodate about 500—two classes for each grade level—and she says she believes that number is achievable in five years.
“I think we’re the diocese’s best kept secret,” she says. “Certainly the Holy Spirit is walking on this campus, and we’re over the moon about it.”
For information about Christ Cathedral Academy, or to arrange a tour of the school, call the school office at (714) 663-2330 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org.