Going One-On-One with Villa Duchesne Oak Hill Head of School, Part I

Sister Lucie Nordmann talks about what it means to be a Sacred Heart School while holding a position of leadership in the community.

Sister Lucie Nordmann is head of school at Villa Duchesne Oak Hill in Frontenac. She is a former teacher and administrator at the school. She was head of school at two other Sacred Heart Schools, one in Grand Coteau, LA and one in Albany, NY. She also served at St. Luke’s Hospital as a chaplain and patient-family advocate.

Ladue-Frontenac Patch: Villa Duchense is part of the Sacred Heart network. What does that mean exactly, and what are the stated values of your school?

Sister Lucie Nordmann: One is to be part of the order and carry on the legacy of the religious order of the Sacred Heart established for all the schools around the world at one time.

The values in this country and now beyond this country we now articulate as the criteria, we now say is the mission of the school. The mission flows from the Society of the Sacred Heart.  In a nutshell, mission is to discover and maintain a love of God, and that is done through education in this case.

Goals were re-established in 1975 recognizing the order was not going to be as big, as large a group as it used to be for the next 50 years as we were the last 50 years, and we wanted to make sure we could articulate what the school is about.

The values are articulated in the five parts of education. What makes us unique is the criteria. Goals have been revised two times since then (1975), and the criteria has changed but not the goals. When the world changes, when education changes, then the criteria needs to change.

The values are crucial to who we are as a school. There is also a process by which we are held accountable, and I have a strong conviction to maintain accountability in any organization but especially in this school in particular. There is a cycle by which we reflect on our lives, and all the constituents in the school reflect on how we are living the goals and criteria. Recently, an outside group evaluated our reflections, and we had a very positive report back.

They highlighted a number of positives of our school. No. 1, they highlighted was our incredible faculty that we have here, especially because of their individual attention to our students.

Patch: Villa Duchesne has been in operation for many years. Has the approach to teaching these young ladies changed throughout the years?

Nordmann: Yes and no. The teaching values are still the same, but we’ve always promoted here at Villa Duchesne and in our Sacred Heart schools a rigorous education, which means the curriculum. It's the college counseling, the types of programs we have. Last year, I presented my visions for the schools (Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill), and one of the components is teaching and innovative learning.

We are steeped in all kinds of traditions, in teaching and programs, but we also note that we have to educate differently today then we did 100 years ago, and that is why we are having a focus on innovation.

Part of that innovation includes things like more hands-on learning and more experiential learning, awareness in global learning. So there are pieces to it that are the same and pieces to it that are no longer the same.

I remind people that Villa and Oak Hill are not just one little tiny school in St. Louis. We are part of a national network and also an international network.

We have the opportunities, even with our little ones, to do Skyping with fourth-graders in France. So, global education is important to us because it is part of our religious order.

Patch: How do you instill values with your student leaders?

Nordmann: We do a great job, to be honest. I am thinking of the Oak Hill student council where they were very representative of the school.

Just last week, we had a student council thank you dinner, and it started with a student council president and vice president greeting, the opening prayer for the evening. Anything they do shows the poise and self-confidence to do that, that’s a win-win that we believe in.

Students here at Villa will share in the liturgies and sing or will cantor a piece of music. There are many clubs at both schools that are student-run. They will have an adult moderator, but they are student led. Building of community is one of the five criteria we believe in. It's all about knowing their strengths and abilities, but knowing their limitations as well. Developing leaders is a key component of who we are.

Patch: Has athletics taken on a more prominent role in recent years?

Nordmann: Athletics has always been important here, but the changes come in adding more team sports. We didn’t used to have lacrosse teams or racquetball teams. Historically, we’ve been the state champs in field hockey for a number of years.

We’ve added many more team sports at the elementary over the years. Our athletic director, Dory Smith has done a phenomenal job. It's not just about playing the game. Its about character formation, which is part of the history and tradition of Sacred Heart education.

Our state volleyball championship recently demonstrated that it was a team. I told the team they reminded me so much of the Cardinals who became world champs, not so much because they won, but because they talked about themselves so much as a team. And that’s developed through the coaches.

Thursday, the second part of the interview looks into the physical makeup of the campus, the leadership role of the faculty, and the importance of the board of directors for this private, independent school.


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