Holy Family High School principal to step down

Michelle Purghart — who as principal is credited with engineering a financial and academic turnaround at Holy Family Catholic High School — will step down at the end of the academic year.

Purghart said she made the decision because she is expecting her first child later this month.

"This is a job that requires an exceptional amount of time, and I want to make sure that everything I do is at 120%," Purghart said.

She will take several weeks' leave for the birth of her child, but intends to return in time for graduation on June 3, Purghart said. She will be replaced starting on July 1 by Nancy O'Sullivan, a vice principal at Santa Clara High School in Oxnard.

In 2005, then-pastor Rev. Joseph Shea hired Purghart to head the parish school as part of an ambitious 10-year plan to grow Holy Family from a small community operation to an elite college preparatory institution that would attract top students from across the region.

At the time, the high school was pulling students from less than two dozen local schools, Purghart said. The curriculum included two advanced placement courses, and about 60% of seniors were being accepted to four-year institutions. In addition, the school was a financial burden on Holy Family Catholic Church.

"Financially, the school was hurting," Purghart said. "The parish needed to support the school in many ways, and [Shea] wanted us to be fiscally independent and be able to run the budget on our own, free of the parish."

The principal set about attracting dollars, inviting representatives from numerous foundations on site to introduce them to the mission of the school. She also tapped students, parents, alumnae and community members through the school's annual fund campaign.

The results allowed for more than $1 million in renovations and construction projects during the last six years, including the new Performing Arts Consortium, new bathrooms and a new multi-media library. The school also now has $3 million in reserves, officials said.

"The finances are in great shape, and much of the [campus] has been spruced up," said current pastor Rev. James Bevacqua.

Purghart also reworked the school's curriculum to make Holy Family students more competitive during the college admissions process. There are now 15 advanced placement classes offered to its 240 students.

About 87% of seniors are accepted to four-year institutions, and 100% of seniors go on to college, whether a four-year school or a community college, Purghart said.

The school now draws its students from more than 40 schools from all over Southern California. Tuition for the 2010-11 school year was $7,100. Holy Family gives out $350,000 in scholarships annually, benefiting 54% of its students.

O'Sullivan comes to Holy Family with nearly two decades experience in Catholic education, including 10 years at the Notre Dame Academy, an all-girls school in West Los Angeles.

The incoming principal praised her predecessor, noting that Purghart has pulled together a strong staff and upgraded the school's technology infrastructure — all while cutting costs. She said she hopes to build on the momentum, while also strengthening the school's ties with the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Catholic religious order that founded the school.

"The energy and spirit within the parish is just fantastic," O'Sullivan said.

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