The Greater Good

The spirit of magis permeates each department at SI. Each year, teachers ask themselves how they can choose the greater good, how they can make choices that improve their classrooms and their departments and how they can better serve students. Each department over the past 20 years has made major strides that that are worth noting.

Campus Ministry

Campus ministry used to be the responsibility of one priest. Now, nearly half the senior class and the great majority of faculty assist a diverse campus ministry team in caring for the entire community. “It’s no longer a one-man show,” said Fr. Greg Goethals, who served as campus minister from 1997 to 2000. He credits George Horsfall ’74, a former Jesuit and campus minister, with beginning the transition, forming the first campus ministry team in the early 1990s and overseeing the remodeling of the campus ministry center.

You can see this change reflected in the senior retreat. Up until the 1970s, one priest typically led a silent retreat for a group of seniors. In the early 1970s, a few faculty started sharing their stories with students. In the late 1970s, Fr. Gordon Bennett, SJ, (now a bishop in Jamaica) created a senior retreat program that lasted for 25 years based loosely on the Spiritual Exercises. Then, in 1996, Michael Shaughnessy ’67, a member of the campus ministry team and campus minister between 2000 and 2004, went to Bellarmine to learn about the Kairos Retreat program there and found it worked because it was student-centered. In the fall of 1997, SI offered its first 3-day Kairos Retreat to seniors, and in February 2002, expanded the retreat to four days. The retreats are led by members of InSIgnis, made up of half the senior class, who also run freshman orientation and serve as leaders on the freshman, sophomore and junior retreats. Both the junior and senior retreats are optional, but 95 percent of the members of those classes choose to attend them.

“With the start of the Immersion Program,” said Shaughnessy, “we began to think of our role as walking alongside the students rather than leading them.” Most students, he added, “come to SI for the academics or co-curriculars. Many students leave saying that their most significant memories are from Campus Ministry activities. We exceed expectations for most students and families.”

Christian Service Program

As of fall 2004, seniors, juniors and sophomores at SI had accumulated nearly 100,000 hours annually of service to our local communities, helping more than 150 charities and agencies through volunteer work during the summer and after school. Of the current seniors, nearly one-third have achieved 200-Hour Service Honors, having served twice as many hours as required for graduation. Over the years, many students have gone well beyond even this generous number and have logged upwards of 1,000 hours of service to their communities.

Students also have the opportunity to participate in SI’s faith immersion trips, a program run out of the Campus Ministry office. For the summer of 2004, 64 students and 16 adults visited eight communities as part of this program — Birmingham, Costa Rica, East Los Angeles, Northern Ireland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Tacoma and Tijuana. Living in simplicity and solidarity with their hosts, these groups spend two weeks in service and prayer. Immersion has become a hallmark experience for SI students and faculty, challenging them to more deeply and intentionally learn and address social justice in our society.

Over the years, under the direction of Art Cecchin ’63, David Mezzera ’64 and now Jenny Girard, student involvement has deepened. SI graduates spend a minimum of 40 hours volunteering with one nonprofit agency working directly with marginalized communities and addressing justice issues such as homelessness, healthcare and education. Students keep a reflection journal while they service these core hours, and are asked to complete all 100 hours by the start of their senior year.

The CSP center received a name change in 2004 to the Thomas J. Reed, SJ, Christian Service Center thanks to an endowment by the Leonardini family. Each year, beginning in 2005, two seniors — male and female — will be chosen as exemplars of the ideals of the program and the values of Fr. Reed, who served as principal between 1957 and 1964. SI will give each student $1,000 that they will, in turn, donate to the organization where they served the majority of their community service hours.


SI offers a professionally trained counseling staff in a modern center that opened in the fall of 2001 after a $400,000 gift from The Carl and Celia Berta Gellert Foundation (named for them and in honor of Alberta and Peter Brusati ’43).

“When I need to gather the lower division counselors together for a quick meeting, I can do this immediately because everyone is so close,” said Counseling Department Chair Donna Murphy. “It also allows us to deal with students in crisis situations. If I need someone to stay with a student while I get a parent, that can readily happen.”

SI boasts one of the best student-to-counselor ratios in the state, with 130–1 for upper division students and 188–1 for lower division students. Each counselor has certification or a Master’s degree, and some have specialized training, such as Phyllis Molinelli and Mike Thomas, who are licensed marriage-family-child counselors, and Cally Salzman, the learning specialist and Academic Support Service Coordinator, who works with 100 students with documented learning differences.

Students, rather than changing counselors each year, stay with one counselor for the freshman and sophomore years and then switch to another person, specially trained in college counseling, for their junior and senior years. Counselors offer help with scholarships and college applications and train students to use a subscription web site called that helps them decide which college to attend and prepares them for the application process.

Mike Thomas serves as the department’s health education coordinator and runs the Drug and Alcohol Taskforce. He works with students in the Peer Assistance Center and with C Is For Cookie as they help their classmates with issues ranging from stress and eating disorders to peer pressure. He also works with the Northern California Community of Concern — a consortium of 43 high schools that share resources in dealing with issues common to all students.


If you look at the reading list from the English Department in the 1980s, you will find books tailored to adolescent boys, from Lord of the Flies to A Separate Peace. With the advent of coeducation, much about the department changed, from the reading list (which now includes books by and about women and people of color) to the ratio of men and women faculty, with greater gender parity than ever before.

In the 1980s, under the leadership of Fr. John Murphy, SJ ’59, the department made huge strides. The curriculum continued to develop during his tenure with a heavy emphasis on the classics, solid writing and reading skills and active learning. Under his watch the school adopted the Junior Writing Exam, which identifies juniors who have yet to master composition skills and to teach them those skills by the time they graduate.

Jim Bjorkquist ’65 further developed the curriculum with the establishment of one-semester senior electives such as Fiction into Film, Short Fiction, Shakespeare and Poetry. He tied American Literature to American History in the junior year, and he also encouraged teachers to teach upper and lower division so that teachers would experience students on both levels. Department Chairs Matt Barmore ’76, Elizabeth Purcell and Bobby Gavin continued the work of their predecessors, making the department a hallmark of collaboration among its members and between departments. English teachers worked with colleagues in the Religious Studies and Social Science Departments to prepare interdisciplinary curriculum when the junior class attended the play Miss Saigon in 2000 andRagtime in 2001 and 2002. The department also launched a speakers’ series to bring authors and college professors to SI. In the 1990s, the department resurrected The Quill, the student literary magazine, and faculty moderators help student editors select poems, short stories and illustrations for publication in the annual magazine.

While the English Department has had success helping students pass the AP English Language exam in their junior year and the AP English Literature exam in their senior years, teachers measure their success by the passion engendered in students for great literature and its ability to shape lives.

Fine Arts

Since the 1970s, the SI Fine Arts Department has expanded from its long tradition of excellent theatre, dance and music offerings to include a full complement of visual arts ranging from art and architecture to photography and sculpture. Ignatians can also learn about making buildings and art objects in a wilderness environment through an Art in Nature seminar. In 2002, students took part in an artist-in-residency program at the San Francisco Transfer Station where they gave new life to cast-offs by turning trash into innovative sculptures.

The fine arts faculty, by teaching creative expression, is furthering the Jesuit mission and vision by educating the whole person. “We are grateful to SI for giving us this opportunity and for supporting us,” said Katie Wolf, who heads the department. “SI allows us to give our students the experience of discovering and sharing their own creativity. They become aware that they are the shining reflection of the Creator.”


With the new millennium came a new name for the Foreign Language Department, which now calls itself the Language Department. “There’s nothing foreign about us,” notes Department Chairwoman Theresa Tai.

For Tai, the department’s success can be measured both in its remarkable AP scores (with several 100 percent pass rates over the years) and by the extent that teachers collaborate on grade level exams, semester exams and projects. The department was in the forefront of collaboration, Tai added, before it became the norm.

Over the past several years, the department has worked to incorporate technology into the classroom, with students learning grammar and conversation using a host of software products and making movies of themselves speaking their language in a variety of contexts. For a few years the department staged its own Oscar awards for the best of those movies.

The languages offered in the 2004–05 academic year included Spanish, French, Latin, Japanese and German. A survey of recent SI grads revealed that 80 percent would make the same choice of language that they made as incoming freshmen and that they felt cared for and challenged by their teachers.

Tai credits the department’s success to the colleagueship of her professional staff, which now includes four men in what had been an all-female department. “We all really like each other, and everyone acts with superb professionalism. Each member offers his or her unique sets of skills and resources, from planning curriculum to teaching to working with cutting edge technology that enhances student learning.”


The growth of the Internet hasn’t made SI’s library (or any library for that matter) obsolete. If you visit the Alfred S. Wilsey library before, during and after school, you will find it packed with students searching for and reading books as well as doing Internet searches or writing papers.

The three librarians — Richard Raiter, Virtudes Gomez and Renate Morlock — have become expert at helping students narrow Internet searches, judge the information they find and use it for their homework assignments. Raiter, the department chairman, teaches every freshman that the best onramp onto the information superhighway is not always Google but the SI library web page, which offers free to students a number of subscription-based resources as well as a handy collection of search engines and links to local libraries, newspapers and books by SI alumni authors.

Students also learn how to use the online catalog to search for books by title, author or subject and how to access that catalog from home. Students may also take advantage of the library’s expanded hours, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The library offers wireless Internet access to students and faculty and soon hopes to offer laptop computer loaners to students.

The library boasts a wonderful collection of books, adding several hundred new titles each year that include recreational novels and college-level texts. Helping the staff are 30 volunteer parents who assist students at lunch and after school, work on special projects and decorate the display cases each month. In addition, 10 student helpers restock and check out books before and after school each day.


In 1988, only two teachers out of 11 in the math department had tenure. The department was young and relatively inexperienced. As of 2004, all but two of the 14 math teachers have tenure in what has become an excellent department.

“When I first came to SI, our Math Analysis (main senior) course was not really prepping anyone for college calculus,” said department chairman Kevin Quattrin ’78. When the first coed class became seniors, Assistant Principal for Academics Tom Murphy ’76 asked him to beef up the department offerings.

The department sent out the first Math Alumni Survey to SI students in their freshman year of college, a practice the department has continued to this day. “We found that the honors kids who had gotten to AP Calculus were well prepared and happy, but few others felt as satisfied.” The department responded by offering its own PreCalculus textbook in 1997 and a 2004 textbook on trigonometry, authored by Quattrin. In 2005, the department hopes to offer a third textbook, this one for honors geometry students.

With the Class of 2000, the department reinstituted AP Calculus BC, which it had dropped after 1990. The AP pass rate has gone up over the years, with 47 of 48 passing it in 2004, 21 with a top score of 5.

The department’s college survey now includes questions about technology use and cooperative learning experiences in college. “We are being proactive to stay ahead of the curve,” Quattrin added.

The department stresses consistency among classes by offering common final exams at all levels. “We were also the first department to establish formal level coordinators who are responsible for monthly meetings among teachers of the same course to fix pacing and curriculum issues, as well as formalizing the textbook selection process,” said Quattrin. “We also reinstituted the use of the UC Diagnostic test at the beginning of each year to check retention and establish baseline competencies across the student body.”

In the late 1990s, the department started offering a summer Advanced Algebra class for sophomores entering their junior year to help them move into and stay in honors-level courses. “This class is, in part, responsible for a jump in the retention rate (of students staying in the honors track) from 30 percent to 92 percent over the past six years, and we hope next year to turn this into an online course.”

The department has also responded to the Archdiocesan mandate that all grammar schools teach Algebra 1 to eighth graders. At the request of Steve Phelps, the SI math department designed and presented two summer workshops for eighth grade teachers. Schools that sent their teachers to SI have had a significant increase in placement of their students into SI’s honors class over those schools that did not.

As a result, the number of freshmen testing into honors algebra has jumped from 100 in 1998 to 200 in 2004. “This increase has ballooned our calculus classes from 90 students to 170 in six sections,” said Quattrin. “Several of our teachers had to retrain to move up into higher-level classes than they were used to teaching. They have done so admirably. Nearly a third of the Class of 2004 passed an AP Calculus test, thanks to four years of solid math education.”

Physical Education

Those who attended SI in the early 1970s recall rudimentary PE classes that involved basic physical fitness activities. That changed in the late 1970s when Michael Thomas ’71 became department chairman. Later department chairmen, from Rob Hickox ’72 to Jan Mullen, improved the department further.

Thomas adopted the textbook Fitness for Life and stressed that philosophy to the students. He felt that PE classes should do two things: help students understand the need for physical fitness and give them exposure to activities that they could do on their own throughout their lives. Towards that end, he stressed running, tennis and golf. Later, when SI built its pool, the PE department began teaching swimming and diving and trained students to become lifeguards. With the addition of a modern weight room, the program added weight training to its regimen, with classes taught both by Steve Bluford ’84 and Tony Calvello ’84.

The addition of the pool and weight room weren’t the only physical changes to the school that aided the department. The second gym and new tennis courts, coupled with the two fields covered in all-weather FieldTurf, gave the department the ability to teach classes come rain or shine. Those facilities also allowed for a variety of electives that include weight training, beginning and advanced aquatics, recreational and competitive sports (where students learn to run all sorts of games and team sports), and a women’s fitness class.

PE 1, which all freshmen take, and each of the electives offer information on nutrition, drugs and alcohol and other health issues. Students take midterm and final exams that include academic components and do oral presentations on health issues related to physical activity. Students also receive certification in CPR or first aid or the equivalency (such as becoming a lifeguard) in each of the electives.

The instructors don’t measure success by how many pounds students can benchpress. “We want students to improve from whatever point they enter the class,” said Hickox. The department uses a point system that allows any student to earn an A no matter his or her ability. The department also teaches students to evaluate their level of fitness and to determine their individual threshold and target zones. “These courses are more important than ever given how many kids have sedentary lifestyles,” said Thomas. “Once they get in shape, they realize how much better they can feel.”

Religious Studies

The consistency in curriculum in the math department is echoed in the religious studies department, where curriculum for classes is the same across the board for each of the first three years, regardless of the teacher, thanks to improved collaboration among department members.

Mary Ahlbach, a recent department chairwoman, praised religious studies teachers for their professionalism and for keeping themselves up-to-date by taking classes that have helped them improve as both teachers and scholars. “Teaching religion is more challenging than other subjects,” Ahlbach said. “What we teach isn’t as black and white as other disciplines. Our curriculum involves the heart and soul and the personal journey of faith, which is impossible to grade.”

Ahlbach is also proud of the addition of social justice and service components to most classes. Each class performs some direct service, from assisting the Comfort Run, which provides juice and sandwiches each Thursday morning to people waiting in line at St. Anthony’s, to working at St. Anthony’s kitchen during the day. Students each year also take part in a Holocaust speaker series instituted by Jim McGarry in the 1990s.

The department uses textbooks “that go beyond the basic information offered by so many other books,” said Ahlbach. “We have created our own readers, use college-level textbooks and include literature such as The Chosen, Inherit the Wind and City of Joy.”

Students also learn how to pray using meditation and contemplation — hallmarks of the Spiritual Exercises. “We aren’t afraid to take time to do this because we realize how much our students hunger for this experience. We used to be embarrassed to take academic time to pray, and that has changed.” The department also teaches students about the life of Christ, as evidenced in the Gospels, and the lives of saints, such as St. Ignatius of Loyola, “so that when they leave SI, they know Ignatius’ spirituality, mentality and charism.”

Ahlbach points to the school’s graduates as evidence of the department’s success. “We sow seeds that may not sprout and bear fruit until years after graduation. Many students attend Jesuit universities and then join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Some return to host Immersion trips for SI students. At the School of the Americas protest, we often meet many SI alumni, and some graduates major in peace studies in college inspired by their junior year social justice course.”


For Science Department Chairman Deirdre McGovern, the strength of her department lies in its young, vibrant faculty, made up of six women and eight men, with six of the teachers also serving as coaches. All but one of the faculty have a Master’s degree, two hold doctoral degrees and one is a dissertation away from her Ph.D. “When I started working at SI 16 years ago, I was the first woman in the department,” McGovern noted. “Now there’s far better gender parity.”

In 2003, the department radically altered the way it structured its courses. In past years, most freshmen would take an Introduction to Science course, with a handful of their classmates taking biology. Now, all freshmen take biology, sophomores take chemistry and juniors study physics. As seniors, students may choose to take an Advanced Placement science course or one of several electives, such as Marine Biology, Anatomy/Physiology, Astronomy and Science Research. As a result of these changes, students now take four full years of science.

Students also have the option of studying biology or chemistry in summer school, giving them more options to enroll in Advanced Placement courses during the school year. For instance, a student who signs up for chemistry during the summer could choose to take AP Chemistry during the year. Students in calculus-based AP Physics also have the advantage of taking two separate AP tests: Mechanics and Electricity & Magnetism.

“The department does so well because our teachers thrive on collaboration,” added McGovern, pointing to the restructured biology program pioneered by Ryan O’Malley and Patricia Kennedy and the physics text authored by Byron Philhour, James Dann and Dann’s father (a physics teacher for 30 years). “These teachers have devised creative and innovative projects that teach lessons in engaging ways.” For example, students in physics build catapults to hurl tennis balls across the football field and devise weather-balloon experiments to make more concrete the abstract concepts in their texts. Chemistry students build hot-air balloons and explore alternative energy sources.

McGovern also pointed to the quality of the lab facilities, which went from three to six after the 1994 school remodel. The labs offer a greater opportunity for cooperative learning, as the lab stations are located on the periphery of the classroom, so teachers can go from lecture to lab by moving a few feet.

Social Science

Years ago, history was taught by lecture, using a chronological approach, and focusing primarily on America and Europe. Today, the department teaches according to major themes, from ecology to economics. Students also explore the world outside Europe and now learn the history of the Middle East, Far East, South America and Africa, studying how their history relates to the history of the world and to current events.

Freshmen take a full year and sophomores have one semester of world history. Juniors study American history, and seniors have the option of taking government or psychology for one or two semesters or a one-semester European History Seminar for college credit taught by John Stiegeler ’74. Students who earn a B or higher earn three college units from USF.

No other AP exam draws as many students as the AP U.S. History test. Last year, for instance, 280 juniors took the exam. Seniors may take the AP Government or AP Psychology test and generally achieve high pass rates.

The department has sponsored a speakers’ program for several years and has hosted U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, KGO talk-show host Bernie Ward ’69 and Assemblyman Leland Yee. It has also worked with the English and religious studies departments on interdisciplinary projects

Technology Education

When SI purchased its first computer back in the 1970s, it became the center of attention, as did the first computer lab set up by William Love ’59. Technology at SI has advanced far from those days, evidenced by the fact that computers are everywhere yet no one gives them a second look. They have become as ubiquitous and as useful as pencils, and students and teachers use them as naturally as they would their No. 2 graphite. In short, students see and use the computer for what it is — a tool that can enhance the learning experience without taking the focus away from the subject.

The change came incrementally. After the first two computer labs were set up, the tech team worked to network them and then network the entire school. SI teachers were the first to receive e-mail accounts, with students receiving their “” accounts in 2002. By 2004, most teachers had web pages, and students could check grades and homework assignments online. With the wireless network, established in 2003, teachers and students could use the equipment more easily than ever before. The tech team now comprises four highly-skilled computer experts, aided by a talented group of students who install software, train faculty and solve problems. The technology department, which offers courses from web design to multimedia, also oversees a student computer club. To see for yourself the advances SI has made, go to and explore the virtual SI community.