by Lisa Moody Breslin | Photography by Kelly Heck
Richard V. LaRocca took the reins as principal of Delone Catholic High School in July 2017. He succeeded Dr. Maureen Thiec, who retired after serving as principal for 25 years. LaRocca brings impressive credentials to the job.
He earned a B.A. in history and Spanish from Cornell University, a Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, a master’s degree in Spanish from Catholic University of America, and a Licentiate of Sacred Theology from the University of Navarre in Spain. Most recently, he was an assistant principal at Poolesville High School in Montgomery County, Md. He and his wife of 32 years have five children and four grandchildren.
What leader inspires you the most? The leader who inspires me most is Pope St. John Paul II. His papacy defined most of my adult life, and his body of great philosophical and theological reflections will guide the Catholic Church for the next 500 years. At the heart of his work, however, are his own personal and pastoral experiences, his interaction with people, and a very, very profound prayer life.
When you first walked into the halls of Delone and met members of the Delone family, what were your first impressions? At one point after my initial interviews, I was given a tour of the building by two of our current seniors and two of our present faculty members. Apart from the fantastic condition of the building, I was so impressed with the poise of the students who conducted the tour, their knowledge of the programs offered, and their general upbeat attitude. It was very clear from the way they spoke that they truly loved Delone Catholic, the education they were receiving, and that they felt like they were an integral part of a very vibrant community. I got the same feeling from the teachers, who were very excited to be working at Delone, and it was obvious that they cared very deeply about their students and their commitment to education.
What have been your top goals this first year? Like any administrator who is new to an institution, one of my goals has been to get to know the community, the parents, the students, the staff and the alumni, to get a sense of their concerns and the direction in which they would like to see Delone headed. As such, my top goal has been to observe and to listen. Previously to coming to Delone Catholic, I had been in very large public education system for the past 30 years, in which the decision makers in very real ways were far removed from the people who had to implement and live their decisions; not so in a non-public Catholic school. Since my arrival, I have been hearing a lot about STREAM curricula and project-based learning, so I am anxious to learn more about them and the ways in which we can expand them at DCHS. Another major goal has been to increase enrollment.
Have your goals changed as other needs became clear? Over the past eight months, I would say that my priorities have certainly been clarified by what I have seen and heard. At the beginning of the year, I asked the teachers where they felt that they needed professional development, and they indicated that their top areas of interest were in the realms of differentiated instruction and alternative assessments. As such, I have been seeking out different avenues to bring this training to them in an expedient and cost-effective manner. We are also in the midst of our Middle States re-accreditation process, and this is our self-evaluation year. So in many ways, that process will support us in achieving those ends. On the student side, I have conducted a series of “Chat and Chews,” where we sit and discuss their views on the strengths that Delone Catholic has to offer and where they feel improvements need to be made.
What are some specific details about this change in goals? Time and time again I hear that they essentially want more exposure to various career opportunities, ranging from enrollment in career-tech programs and internships to the possibility of participating in college-level programs. Ultimately, making those accommodations will result in creating some form of hybrid schedule that will allow our students to actually leave campus to dual-enroll. We are just beginning to examine that process. Key to making changes in that area, however, is for the students themselves to have greater access to the range of possibilities out there and, for that reason, we have acquired Naviance, a self-described “comprehensive college-and career-readiness solution that helps districts and schools align student strengths and interests to postsecondary goals, improving student outcomes and connecting learning to life.” We are very excited about implementing this program this spring as it will allow our students to take multiple interest inventory assessments and apply their personal results to career and college exploration, accessing information that is literally right at their fingertips!
In her 25 years, Dr. Maureen Thiec certainly left her mark at Delone. What elements of her legacy do you notice the most? Without a doubt, Dr. Thiec lived and breathed Delone Catholic High School and was a tremendous financial steward of the school’s resources. She successfully brought together a vast array of key stakeholders to carry out an almost complete renovation of the building, converting it into a state-of-the-art educational facility. She also possessed a deep love for the arts and, where many institutions have cut offerings in these areas, Dr. Thiec made sure that our fine arts and music programs stayed vibrant and visible. Finally, I would add that she did all this while maintaining the very strong Catholic identity of our school. In the long term, this may in fact be her greatest legacy.
How did your experiences at Poolesville High School help you as a leader now? During that time, I wore a variety of “hats,” the most important of which included master scheduler, grade-level student disciplinarian, departmental supervisor, and testing coordinator for a school of about 1,200 students. I was one of only three administrators in charge of running a very complex educational program but, in spite of the many challenges, I felt and still feel blessed in that all those opportunities molded me into the educational leader I am today, applying all those skills in the context of a new and exciting educational environment. While employed by [Montgomery County Public Schools], I received top-of-the-line training at every turn, and my greatest “take-away” was that student engagement and rigor, relevance and relationships have to be at the heart of every educator’s list of concerns in order to convert our students into lifelong learners.
What is the biggest challenge (or challenges) you face as a principal? The biggest challenge is trying to determine which instructional programs or classes will best support our students in providing them with the skills and knowledge necessary to prepare them for careers and vocational opportunities that may or may not exist yet, and how to develop my staff professionally in meeting those challenges. On another level, a greater challenge is to strive to see the face of God in everyone I meet, no matter what the circumstances of our encounter.
What is your favorite way to unwind after a long day? Since coming to Delone Catholic, my work day has been extended considerably, and so I am cherishing more and more the time I spend with my wife, my own children and my grandchildren. When I am not with them, I like to watch a good old-fashioned sci-fi or action movie.
Your favorite book or movie right now? Favorite book: Perfectly Yourself by Matthew Kelly and favorite movie: A Man for All Seasons (a timeless classic).
Your favorite food? Spanish paella
In 10 years, what do you hope Delone Catholic High School will have to offer? I attended Cornell University, and its founder, Ezra Cornell, hoped to have “laid the foundation of an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” Similarly, I hope that within 10 years, Delone Catholic will be graduating students with critical-thinking skills, adaptability, and a passion for learning to engage the world as “Doers of the Word,” understanding their great commission to place their skills and talents at the service of their fellow men and women. In doing so, they will carry on Delone Catholic’s mission of educating and challenging students “spiritually, academically, physically, socially and aesthetically within the traditions and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.”