With a Mac and a prayer

Thomas Moran has been the principal at St. Francis High School in La Cañada for the last 18 years. Still, he can't help but get excited when the new school year arrives.

"The last couple days [before school starts] are quiet, kind of like the calm before the storm," Moran said. "It's energizing to have more people here, especially when the students come back."

St. Francis, founded by the Capuchin Franciscan Friars in 1946, began classes Thursday for the 2010-11 school year looking to carry on a 64-year tradition.

This year, St. Francis has a few new tools to assist them. For example, every teacher will be equipped with a MacBook this year.

"We have primarily been a PC school, but long term we saw there were going to be more educational benefits to use with the Mac platform," Moran said.

Plans are for teachers to integrate technology more effectively in their classes once they get accustomed with the new computers.

Teachers will also be creating professional portfolios over the next few years, which will be one of the means through which they are evaluated, Moran said.

Last year, St. Francis used a pilot program of seven to eight teachers to experiment with the program. Administration liked the results so two academic departments a year will have each of their teachers develop a portfolio. This will continue for three years until each teacher has created their own portfolio.

This will allow the administration to see the broader view of the teacher instead of the narrow glimpse available through a classroom visitation, Moran said.

"We intend to use this not only as a professional tool to make teachers more aware and deliberate about their teaching but also as part of a teacher's professional growth," Moran said.

The Franciscan virtues of prayer, peace and justice, simplicity and compassion will be highlighted for the students in the 2010-11 school year. Several years ago, a group of the school's faculty, friars and staff got together to decide on what it is that makes Franciscans unique in their approach to education. They left with 16 characteristics in place. Each year, four of them are emphasized throughout the school year, one per quarter.

"We ask the teachers at the beginning of class to say a prayer connected to that specific virtue or tell a story that emphasizes it," said Fr. Tony Marti, president of the school. "We do it because we are a Franciscan school and we want to highlight the virtues of St. Francis and what they signify for all of us."

At the end of the day, Moran said he hopes each student leaves St. Francis with a connection to the school and the people there. Marti agrees.

"We tell each other to think of brotherhood and to be brothers to one another," Marti said. "People who leave St. Francis remember that word forever."

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