New Catholic school leaders ready to hit the ground running in new school year

From left, Steve Wasko, the Archdiocese of Detroit's new assistant superintendent for strategic planning and accreditation; Laura Knaus, associate superintendent for the archdiocese's Northeast and Northwest regions; Kevin Kijewski, J.D., superintendent of Catholic schools; and May Bluestein, Ph.D., assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, form the core of the archdiocese's new Catholic schools leadership team. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

Three new assistant, associate superintendents focus on implementing vision behind 'Unleashing Our Catholic Schools'

DETROIT — As the Archdiocese of Detroit moves toward the implementation of a new vision for Catholic education, three new faces in the Office of Catholic Schools are working to make that vision a reality.

Steve Wasko, Laura Knaus and May Bluestein, Ph.D., joined the office this summer as assistant or associate superintendents, part of a restructuring of the archdiocese’s Department of Evangelization, Catechesis and Schools to better align with Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s Unleash the Gospel.

Superintendent Kevin Kijewski, J.D., announced the appointments in May and June.

Wasko will serve as assistant superintendent for strategic planning and accreditation; Bluestein will serve as assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment; and Knaus will serve as associate superintendent for the archdiocese’s Northeast and Northwest regions.

A search is still under way for an associate superintendent for the archdiocese’s Central and South regions, Kijewski said.

Announcing Wasko and Knaus’ appointments in May, Kijewski said he was “very excited” to work with the pair on implementing the new schools vision, which was introduced to the archdiocese in January.

“Through their individual experiences, they have both demonstrated a commitment, not only to Catholic education, but to the unique calling to unleash the potential of our Catholic schools,” Kijewski said.

Kijewski also called Bluestein, hired in June, an “exciting addition to our team,” with her experience as a longtime educator at Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights bringing “innovative solutions” to the archdiocese’s curriculum and assessment models.

Steve Wasko

Steve Wasko, the Archdiocese of Detroit's new assistant superintendent for strategic planning and accreditation, began in his new position on June 3.

Wasko joins the archdiocese after 10 years with the Detroit Public Schools, where he served as executive director of enrollment and assistant superintendent for community relations. Before then, he served in similar roles with West Bloomfield Public Schools.

Wasko said he was excited to join school leaders and educators during a “very special time of grace” in the archdiocese of renewing schools in the spirit of Unleash the Gospel.

A lifelong member of St. Suzanne/Our Lady Gate of Heaven Parish in Detroit, Wasko has served in a number of parish and community roles and in inner-city educational initiatives, including at the Siena Literacy Center, Christ the King Service Corps and the St. Suzanne Cody Rouge Community Resource Center, a west-side neighborhood center that “empowers children, families and youth with hope.”

Wasko holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan and a certificate in advanced educational leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He's also a member of the Knights of Columbus and is in formation as a Secular Franciscan.

With the archdiocese, Wasko will focus on unifying Catholic schools’ strategic planning and accreditation processes, working with the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools and other partners to promote healthy schools.

On the heels of a recently completed Catholic schools strategic planning process, Unleashing Our Catholic Schools, Wasko said the next steps will involve finding common threads among southeast Michigan’s Catholic schools while maintaining the focus on what makes each school unique.

“Guided by the Holy Spirit, I look forward to joining with them in creating and sustaining their unique and enduring strategy that serves their particular community and mission across the diversity of regions in the archdiocese,” he said.

Wasko added he sees the work already undergone by the region's Catholic schools “not a collection of 60 or 70 strategic plans — as important as those are — but as a group, we need to define an overall, enduring strategy. It’s about answering the question, ‘Why does this school exist at this time and place to serve this particular community?’”

Wasko added he will also focus on continuing the work begun last year on a marketing and advancement strategy for the archdiocese’s Catholic schools, with a special focus on schools within the city of Detroit.

“I believe our schools can grow in every respect with our support and service as well as assistance in communicating and sharing their successes,” he said.

May Bluestein, Ph.D., the Archdiocese of Detroit's new assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, began her new position on July 8.

May Bluestein, Ph.D.

Bluestein brings 12 years of experience as a teacher of French, English and English as a second language (ESL) at Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights to her new role as assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

Bluestein said she was blessed to join the archdiocese after “Divine Providence presented it to me.”

“When you’re sure of that, the only right answer is fiat,” Bluestein told Detroit Catholic. “Catholic schools are near and dear to my heart especially due to my firsthand experiences with them.”

A graduate of Bishop Foley, Bluestein also attended St. Vincent Ferrer School in Madison Heights until eighth grade. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in French, a master’s in secondary teaching, an educational specialist in ESL and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Wayne State University, where she was named a Rumble Fellow.

“We are not just physical bodies, but body and soul, and Catholic schools provide that opportunity for our students to grow, not only academically or intellectually, but most importantly, spiritually,” Bluestein said. “This attention to the whole person is why I believe so strongly in Catholic schools and I am both humbled and honored to work toward their improvement.”

Bluestein and her husband, Nathan, have three children and attend Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Grotto) in Detroit and Our Lady of the Lakes in Waterford, where the family lives.

The Bluesteins made headlines in 2012 when they became stranded on an island in Lake Huron after Nathan proposed to May on a canoe in the middle of the lake. When strong currents pushed their canoe off course, they were rescued by the Coast Guard.

“Believe it or not, this made headlines,” Bluestein said. “Thanks be to God, it ended well.”

In her new role with the archdiocese, Bluestein will focus on enhancing professional development opportunities for Catholic school teachers and principals, while ensuring educators meet academic and Catholic identity standards defined in the new Catholic schools vision.

Bluestein also is focusing on the rollout of a new computer-adaptive assessment platform for tracking student achievement. In the next school year, 15 schools will onboard the new platform, Renaissance Star, which will help monitor student achievement by providing real-time, actionable feedback.

The new platform focuses especially on math and literacy skills, Bluestein said, with three-times-per-year assessments to track students’ growth.

“It provides the data we need to see where the gaps are and how we can fill those gaps in learning,” Bluestein said.

The new platform will be used in K-8 schools, with the goal of introducing the model to all of the archdiocese’s schools in 2020-21.

Laura Knaus, the Archdiocese of Detroit's new associate superintendent for the Northeast and Northwest Regions, started her new position on July 25.

Laura Knaus

Knaus served for eight years as principal of Sacred Heart School in Lincoln, Neb., before arriving at the Archdiocese of Detroit. Before then, she taught for five years in Catholic schools in the Diocese of Lincoln and in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Nebraska, a master’s in elementary education from Loyola University of Chicago, and a master’s in educational administration from the University of Notre Dame’s Remick Leadership Program.

Knaus said she read and was inspired by Archbishop Vigneron’s vision for Catholic education in Unleash the Gospel.

“I firmly believe that our Catholic schools are ‘at the heart of the Church,’” Knaus said. “They bring life and vigor to the Church. They can and should provide opportunities for students to know and love Jesus, to grow in that love, and share it with their families and society.”

In addition to her work teaching in Catholic schools, Knaus also taught in experimental outdoor education programs in Wisconsin and California.

Though her parents and family are still in Nebraska, she said she felt called by the Lord to take up the mission to evangelize through Catholic education in Detroit.

“I began my career as a teacher hoping to serve others and do some good, and now I see the privileged place that our Catholic schools hold in having the opportunity to form children in the faith and help them know and love Jesus,” Knaus said.

In addition to Unleash the Gospel, Knaus said she takes inspiration from St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and Bishop Robert Barron’s “Word on Fire” ministry as examples of modern-day evangelization.

As associate superintendent for the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Northeast and Northwest Regions, Knaus will be involved in the day-to-day work of collaborating with principals and educators.

Knaus will focus especially on the New Principals Academy, an initiative launched this year that will provide mentorship and training for new Catholic school leadership, as well as the Principal Formation Institute, which gives educators interested in leadership roles a taste of life in Catholic school administration.

“As a former elementary school principal, I think about how that would have been helpful to me in my first years, and I’m excited to provide that support for new principals,” Knaus said.

Knaus said there are already a few new principals who have benefitted from participation in the Principal Formation Institute, which launched in the last academic year.

The Principal Formation Institute is “both theoretical and practical,” Knaus said, providing a broad overview of the role, while the New Principal Academy is more about on-the-ground situations and real-life mentoring.

“With the very practical challenges that new principals face, how can we support and walk with them?” Knaus said. “It’s very exciting.”