Mo Woltering is headmaster of Holy Family Academy in Manassas, Virginia.
Is your Catholic school independent, parochial, or diocesan?
Holy Family Academy is an independent Catholic classical school. We are not recognized by the local diocese, but we have a good relationship with our bishop and have outstanding relationships with diocesan clergy. We are also not accredited by any accrediting organization.
What grades does your school serve?
We serve grades K to 12 and we serve a multi-grade Down Syndrome class one day a week called the St. Anne's Program.
What is your vision for your school? How do you think of your mission? What do you hope to accomplish?
The mission of Holy Family Academy is: “To assist families by providing Catholic education that is faithful to the Magisterium of the Church through a classical curriculum in an environment that is thoroughly Catholic.” Every part of this mission statement is important, but the first part is often overlooked. We are serious about our partnership with parents. We welcome their participation at school, but more importantly, we want them to be active at home. We need parents to be thoughtful and intentional about the structure of their home life so that their children can thrive at school.
Classical schools should be mindful of our historical context. While no other time in history exactly compares to our time now, there is no question that we are living through societal upheaval. In some ways it is similar to the time after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. During that time, monasteries all across Europe helped to preserve the treasures of our Faith, intellectual heritage and sacred liturgy. Our vision is to help Catholic families become like the monasteries of the so-called Dark Ages where the cultural treasures of our Catholic beliefs were preserved and passed on to future generations. The anti-religion and anti-Truth agenda of our times is growing more and more hostile. However, the monastery model is still very useful. Monasteries have walls that are meant to keep certain things out. At the same time, St. Benedict instructed that the monks had an obligation to welcome anyone sincerely seeking peace and the Good.
On a practical level, we hope to produce graduates who are ready to be academic and campus leaders at various Newman Guide colleges and universities. Good Catholic colleges can and do offer so much more than what’s in the classroom. We want our students to be more than prepared for college academics and mature in their formation so that they can take full advantage of everything a dynamic Catholic campus has to offer.
How do your school’s culture and curriculum differ from government schools in your area? From other Catholic schools in your area?
We offer a curriculum that is not aligned with Common Core or standardized tests. We pull from various publishers to provide a curriculum that is Catholic, classical, and traditional. Our curriculum has been developed over 28 years and continues to be fine-tuned.
One specific difference in our curriculum is that we offer Philosophy in grades 7 to 12. It is extremely important that citizens of an ordered society be able to discuss issues intelligently and respectfully. This is impossible without a foundation in Philosophy. Our Philosophy curriculum includes: Logic, The Virtues, Euclidean Geometry, History of Philosophy, Metaphysics, and Philosophy of the Human Person.
How often do your students attend Mass?
Our students attend Mass every day. It is the centerpiece of our curriculum and formation.
How else is the Catholic faith integrated into the school program?
The best way to integrate anything is to have personnel who are committed and able to do the integrating. We are very careful about selecting teachers and staff who will integrate the Catholic faith into all aspects of their job.
Are subjects—such as mathematics, science, literature, and history—integrated in any way?
We intentionally hire teachers who not only appreciate the unity of knowledge, but are able to apply that appreciation by competently teaching a variety of subjects.
What is your school’s enrollment? Has enrollment been steady in recent years? Please explain.
240. Over the course of 28 years, our enrollment has ranged between 160 to 220. We have recently grown in size due to demand for a commonsense approach to COVID-19.
What is your school’s tuition? Do you offer a sibling discount? If you offer financial aid, how many families receive it and what is the average grant?
We are committed to families being able to send all their children to one school and we are committed to large families (6 or more) being able to send all their children to Catholic school. We offer significant discounts for multiple siblings. Because our tuition is comparatively so low for multiple children, we only rarely (8%) offer tuition assistance for families.
Are you generally satisfied with your school’s teachers? How so?
I am very satisfied with my teachers. Hiring is the most important responsibility of a head of school.
Are parents generally satisfied with the education their children receive at your school? How do you know?
I think parents are very satisfied with the education at HFA. Enrollment is obviously the chief metric for satisfaction. Having a pulse on the general morale among the students and parents is also very important.
What are you doing to intentionally build and strengthen your school community? How do you communicate with students, families, and teachers? How do members of your community connect with each other?
We mostly communicate through a weekly emailed newsletter. We have a limited number of events (fall festival, All Saints, Christmas Pageant, family picnic, etc.) throughout the year for all families to participate and we encourage parents to host their own events for families or moms (ie. morning coffee get-together).
What resources do you recommend parents use at home to deepen families’ understanding of and appreciation for the Catholic faith? For example, Word on Fire, Institute of Catholic Culture, Augustine Institute, etc.
We always promote parish life as the most important thing for families. Part of that is limiting the schedule of school activities so that families can devote time to their parish. We hope that the rhythm and emphasis of school events further encourages families to live the Church’s liturgical calendar at home and their parishes. Living a Catholic life with the rest of the Church is the best way to grow in faith and love.
What do parents value most in your school? How do you know that?
Most parents say that they value the opportunity for their children to attend Mass every day.
How do you recruit new families to your school? What resources do you use to tell your school’s story and connect with likeminded families? What insights can you share about what parents are seeking for their children and what your school offers that others don’t.
Over the years, we have found that word of mouth referrals is the most effective form of marketing.
We are just reaching the point where graduates and former grade school students are having families and starting to send their children. It is extremely gratifying that former students want to send their children to their alma mater. In addition, alumni families are able to uniquely enrich the ethos of the school community since they were partially formed by it.
How much have you needed to sell your community of parents on the value of the education and formation your school offers? How many parents seek out what your school offers vs. how many need to be convinced? What messaging resonates with parents?
Parents generally seek the religious part of what we offer. Selling and educating them on the classical part of what we offer is a perennial task. I think classical education resonates with parents when they start to understand that this approach is important for: (1) Truly understanding our Faith and where It came from and (2) Navigating our world which is now so decisively anti-Truth.
How do you determine whether a prospective family will be a good fit for your school community? What steps are included in your application process? What shared values do current families expect you to protect as you add new families to your school community?
I personally interview or meet with every prospective family. On a basic level, their #1 priority should be getting their kids to heaven and understanding that this requires opting out of mainstream culture to a large extent.
What do you look for when hiring teachers?
We are looking for faithful, hard-working individuals who are steeped in the Catholic tradition.
How do you recruit new teachers? What resources do you use to tell your school’s story and connect with qualified teachers outside of your school community? What insights can you share about what teachers are seeking in a school community and what your school offers that others don’t.
Daily Mass is a big bonus for teachers too.
How do you determine whether a teacher you are considering hiring will be a good fit for your school community? What steps are included in your interview process? What shared values do current teachers and families expect you to protect as you add new teachers to your school community?
Interviewing is an art, not a science. Sometimes you swing and miss. Commitment to the Faith is the most important trait to identify. Willingness to work in and be a part of an imperfect Catholic community is another important trait.
How do you train teachers and what have you learned about teacher training?
Our teacher training is mostly informal. Teachers share information and advice daily during recess and lunch.
We do offer Professional Development during quarterly faculty meetings, summer workshops, and back to school meetings. In addition, we help teachers attend their own Professional Development if requested.
Teachers who have a zest for the treasures of our Catholic heritage make the best classroom instructors.
What percentage of your school’s budget is covered by tuition revenue? How important is fundraising to the continued operation of your school? What works best to inspire families and community members to support your school? What doesn’t work? How have you created momentum in your fundraising efforts and what plans do you have to strengthen your fundraising program in the years ahead?
It varies. Ideally when our enrollment is at or above 200, tuition and fees cover the general operating budget. Then we can apply fundraising revenue to improvements and capital campaigns. We run an extremely lean administrative staff and we are very cost-conscious when it comes to monthly expenses and other expenditures.
All the standard components of a fundraising program are important to us (ie. annual campaign, events, major donors, etc.). It's important to develop them into standard components of the school year.
One effort that has been helpful is our annual letter-writing campaign. Families are asked to submit one to three names of family members and friends to receive a handwritten letter from the student, a picture of the student on campus, and a letter from me providing an update on the school. It's been a great way to invite new people to participate in the life of the school.
Are you the primary fundraiser for your school? How many hours do you spend on fundraising every week? How many hours does other staff spend on fundraising?
I am the chief fundraiser. It varies according to the time of year, but I probably spend 20% to 40% of my time every week on fundraising, networking, or PR. I also teach 2 classes.
What have you learned about relationships with those who oversee your school? What are common challenges for schools operating under your model and what is your school doing well that would be helpful for other schools to know about? What advice are you willing to share about how to navigate important and/or challenging relationships?
Our model is very unique. One family has operated the school throughout its 28 years of existence. We are committed to remaining a mission-driven school as opposed to a market-driven school. So far we have endured some ups and downs that inevitably come to all human institutions. It's important to stay faithful. If God wants it, He'll make it happen.
What is your school known for in your area?
What is your school’s greatest challenge?
Remaining faithful amidst the pressures and challenges from secular society and mainstream culture.
Share one custom that is unique to your school.
One could easily say that January 22, 1973 was the most significant day in our nation's history. About 63 million Americans have been killed by surgical abortions since Roe v Wade. There is, of course, so much more damage caused by abortion.
Every January, the whole school focuses on the dignity of the human person and right to life. This begins with the spiritual component of the ongoing tragedy. At Mass and other times, we pray for an end to legalized abortion. More specifically, we try to make reparations for the sin of abortion and the Culture of Death.
In addition, each student writes a pro-life report and class winners present their reports in front of the whole school. We also make posters and banners to carry at the annual March for Life in DC.
Share one resource that strengthens your school.
Share one tool—online or otherwise—that increases the efficiency or professionalism of your work.
FACTS—Online tuition and fees collections is extremely helpful.
Share one activity you do regularly that makes you a more effective leader.
My wife and I share most of the decision-making. So far it's worked pretty well and we're still together.
Parent Interview: Tom and Nicole Santschi