Malden Catholic High School’s new Headmaster, John Thornburg, has wasted no time ingratiating himself into the school’s culture. Over the summer before the students arrived, Thornburg was busy establishing a culture of getting to know the families of his students. From establishing weekly ‘drop-in’ hours for parents, to stopping any parent he sees in the hallways, to greeting families in front of the school in the morning when classes resumed, Thornburg is trying to reach as many families as possible.
It’s this ethos of Thornburg that led Malden Catholic to lure him away from the prestigious Summit Country Day School of Cincinnati, Ohio, the #1-rated Catholic high school in the state of Ohio. At an August reception in front of 300 parents and staff to welcome Thornburg, Malden Catholic’s Board Chairman, James Donovan, told the audience that MC was impressed with Thornburg from the beginning of their headmaster search process. Donovan said that the accomplishments of Thornburg and his preparation for the position were “extremely impressive.”
Thornburg, who is nearing his Doctorate in Education from Xavier University, grew up just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he was an avid runner for both the cross-country and track teams. He left his home state to attend the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse where he majored in biology and education. Thornburg got his first job out of college teaching biology at Saint John’s Military Academy, an all-male military academy in Wisconsin. After 19 years as a teacher and coach, Thornburg became the academic dean and ultimately, the vice president, a position he held until 2015. In 2015 Thornburg landed at The Summit Country Day School where he was the upper school director until MC came calling.
When Thornburg saw the opening at Malden Catholic, he was immediately drawn to the codivisional system of education at MC, one of the only schools in the country with this groundbreaking academic model. Codivisional means that MC has a distinct boys and girls division under one institution. After school hours are completed, boys and girls have the chance to partake in competitive athletics and a wide array of shared extracurricular and service activities. The ability to offer separate learning environments on a shared campus provides MC students with the best of both worlds: rigorous academics in a single-gender setting and collaboration in athletic, artistic, and extracurricular venues.
Having experience in both single-sex and coeducational academic models, Thornburg saw Malden Catholic as the perfect balance between male and female interaction that would not hinder the academics of each student.
“You can deliver a more effective educational process in a single-sex environment, there’s less distractions and you can better tailor your program to the needs of your students” Thornburg said.
Aside from believing in the academics, Thornburg likes the challenges that Malden Catholic faces because they resonate with who he is.
“Some of the challenges that Malden Catholic has, I think fit who I am as a leader. What brought me here was my educational journey, desire to lead a school, and the experiences I’ve had in the past match what the needs are here at Malden Catholic” Thornburg said.
Thornburg is determined to get the full potential out of the faculty and students this upcoming year by building healthy learning relationships and an effective curriculum.
To that end, Thornburg set up meetings over the summer with Malden Catholic’s Student Council for everyone to work together for a common theme for the school year. After some healthy debate, Thornburg led the students in a discussion where the students chose their theme for the school year as “United in Spirit; Intent on One Purpose.”
The purpose of this common theme is to “have our entire school community become stronger through building unity through humility” Thornburg said. “It’s acknowledging we can accomplish more together than apart” he added.
Through unifying Malden Catholic under a common theme, Thornburg is hopeful that it can bring out the very best Malden Catholic has to offer.
“We have to be the best school we are meant to be” Thornburg said.
One of Thornburg’s goals for the year is to make Malden Catholic a place where students want to stay past the dismissal bell and have them participate in one of the schools 35 clubs or 18 sports teams.
“If we are a place where students enjoy coming, and they learn, and they feel valued, and we make a difference in their lives then that’s the difference maker…we have to be an authentic Malden Catholic” he stated. “It begins with leadership setting the tone, with faculty and all of us working together to the end with the students” Thornburg said.