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Alum takes helm at Bell-Jeff

Incoming Bellarmine-Jefferson High School Principal John Matheus has a long to-do list ready for when he takes over on July 1 — increase enrollment, foster a faith-based environment and champion the school’s athletic teams.

But one priority surpasses the rest.

“Visibility will be at the forefront of what we do here,” Matheus, 57, said.

He plans to have a marketing director in place by July 20, the first step in raising the profile of the school in Burbank and surrounding communities, he said. Additional efforts will include advertising, reconnecting with alums and building strong relationships with feeder schools.


“We feel that we have a program here that could be expanded,” Matheus said. “The biggest opportunity here is marketing and advertising what a Catholic high school in the Burbank-Glendale area is about.”

Matheus returns to his alma mater — he graduated from Bell-Jeff in 1972 — at a critical juncture. Founded in 1944, the school has struggled in recent years to fill its classrooms. Last month, Bell-Jeff graduated 60 seniors. The incoming freshman class is even smaller.

But the new principal said that the challenge is exactly what he was seeking after 31 years at La Salle High School in Pasadena.

“I was looking for an opportunity to lead…and at this point in my career, I wanted to get the right fit,” Matheus said. “I believe coming back to my alma mater is not just very good for me, but for the school here too.”


Raised in Burbank, Matheus attended St. Finbar School before enrolling at Bell-Jeff, where he was a three-sport athlete. He went on to earn a degree in political science at Cal State Northridge, and then teaching and administrative credentials at Cal State Los Angeles, before accepting a position at La Salle in 1979.

There, he taught and coached, eventually moving into administrative positions, including athletic director and assistant principal.

In 1991, he and his colleagues transitioned the school from all-boys to coed. They also inaugurated La Salle’s football program. Both moves served to bolster the school, Matheus said, which now has a highly competitive entrance process and a healthy enrollment of about 700.

“Mr. Matheus’ years of experience as vice principal at La Salle High School in Pasadena will be a great asset in his leading Bellarmine-Jefferson High School into the future,” said Msgr. Sabato Pilato, superintendent of secondary schools with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

At Bell-Jeff, where he takes over for long-time Principal Sr. Cheryl Milner, Matheus said he hopes to attack the enrollment issue aggressively while simultaneously nurturing the school’s other signature offerings, including a rigorous college prep curriculum.

“Bell-Jeff is a very caring, family-oriented school,” Matheus said. “It is a small school and we value that a great deal here. I think the students can sit one-on-one with teachers and get almost independent study that is needed.”

Bell-Jeff has consistently produced successful athletic teams, a trend he hopes to continue.

“One thing I stress, and will stress as principal, is we are going to have what we call student athletes here,” he said. “It is not just athletics. Students don’t go to Bell-Jeff just to play athletics; they come to Bell-Jeff to get a good education.”


And building on the school’s Catholic identity will be crucial, he added.

“We feel it builds character,” Matheus said. “It builds a solid base for decisions and judgments that people make in their lives. Those are the results that are much longer lasting than grades or athletics or things like that — you carrying those values in everyday life.”