GREEN BAY — Brad Norton admits that it was a strange feeling not being in the classroom at the start of the school year. For the past 16 years, he served as an English teacher in the Manitowoc Public School District. On July 1, he was appointed the headmaster of the new St. John Paul II Classical School in Green Bay, which will open in the fall of 2016.
This year will be one of preparation for Norton, including developing curriculum, hiring faculty and staff and enrolling students. The initial target was for St. John Paul II Classical School to open in 2015. A headmaster needed to be hired by December of 2014 to open this year, said Norton.
“I was privy to some of that information,” he said. “When that didn’t happen, around February, it was decided that we are going to postpone the opening of the school. At that point, I was beginning to discern very seriously about taking this position.”
A Catholic classical school in Green Bay began as a grassroots effort by parents. Norton was a part of that group. He had explored classical education methodologies for his children and then utilized them in his classroom.
“A good decade ago or more, I fell upon classical schooling,” he said. “Coming from an English major and business minor at (the University of) St. Thomas (St. Paul, Minn.), I was very steeped in the liberal arts tradition. I always had an interest in great books. As an English teacher, I discovered this tried and true methodology that I was getting really excited about.
“I was able to use some of it in AP literature courses and college level writing courses,” he added. “I started a classics program there as well. At a public school, that’s a little bit hard to do.”
The parent group took shape over a couple of years leading to a meeting with Norbertine Fr. Dane Radecki, president of GRACE (Green Bay Area Catholic Education) at that time, to see if there was an interest in the classical model. Plans for the school moved forward.
“I was happily under contract down in Manitowoc,” said Norton. “It was a sense of being pulled to this. They were looking for a headmaster and they sort of naturally looked at me because I had my principal’s license. I wanted them to explore other options, see who they could find. If they eventually came back to me, I would have to consider it.”
Norton wanted to fulfill his obligations in Manitowoc. If the position remained available, he would commit to it.
“It started to gain some momentum,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in (eucharistic) adoration and prayer. It felt like a movement of the Holy Spirit.”
Classical education consists of three stages: grammar, logic and rhetoric. The classical curriculum stresses language acquisition and logic by developing skills in phonics, reading fundamentals, mathematics, science and the arts while underlining the unity of faith and reason.
“We are trying to be a school that is part of GRACE, but really has its own origins,” said Norton. “It will be great to utilize the resources and administrative support that you get by being a part of a school system, but at that same time have that level of autonomy to be able to be true to the vision that we are looking to establish.”
Norton has connected with others involved in classical education, including Fr. Tom Pomeroy and Larry Konetzke of the Kaukauna Catholic School System and Mark Salisbury of the Diocese of Marquette.
“There are also classical schools in La Crosse and Milwaukee,” said Norton. “Even if we are not doing the same thing, there are resources and models. There is also quite a bit of information online. It’s not quite as obscure as a decade ago. We are excited to bring it here to Green Bay.”
The curriculum is for any student, added Norton, who has lived in Green Bay for the past 12 years. His own family is an example. He has a daughter with special needs.
“She is never going to get to the highest stages of the program, but in terms of maximizing her potential through the early grades, recitation, singing, all these classical methodologies in that grammar stage, that early stage, they maximize who she is. This is a good approach for anyone.”
The school will be housed at the former St. Joseph Elementary site, 936 Ninth Street, on Green Bay’s west side. Norton said that the building is in good shape. Developing a good traffic flow is among his tasks.
Enrollment will begin in January of 2016. The goal is to have 18 to 20 students per grade, pre-K through 4. The goal is to be ready to hire faculty at the time of college graduation.
They are also looking for current teachers versed in classical methodology.
Norton praises the contributions of many volunteers, “professional people who are giving their time as a labor of love.” In addition to his other tasks, he is serving as a marketer for the school, including promoting events. Fr. John Girotti was the featured speaker at a recent wine and cheese reception in support of St. John Paul II. Bishop David Ricken will be the featured presenter at a Nov. 3 gathering (see box on page 5).
“I really think this will be a blessing to the area,” said Norton. “It will be one model of the GRACE system. We like to have a variety of different options and choices. There are 10 schools now in GRACE. I think there is a good place for everyone.”