The Board of Trustees of Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart is pleased to announce the selection of our next Head of School. By a unanimous vote, the Board agreed to extend the offer to Ms. Hillary Feerick-Hillenbrand, who has accepted the position.
My introduction to formal education was in first grade at St. Aloysius Catholic School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My teacher was “Miss Myrtie” Polizzotta. I vividly remember my first day of school and walking into her classroom with the desks in straight rows and stacks of books placed neatly on every desk waiting to be taken home and covered with brown paper grocery bags serving as book covers!
Miss Myrtie’s smile was bright, and her voice was very soft and gentle…in my eyes she was just perfect in every way! She had a love of poetry, and I always listened attentively to her recite poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses, my favorite being My Shadow by Robert Louis Stevenson…” I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, and what can be the use of him is more than I can see”.
My love of school started on that day, and I kept going to school, every day thereafter, even on weekends and during summer months, when I would play school with neighborhood friends and anyone that would let me be the teacher! I continued my education at St. Joseph’s Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school, followed by Louisiana State University and where to no surprise, I became a teacher. Over the past 42 years, I was given the privilege of serving as Head of School at three uniquely different schools in three uniquely different cities, the most recent being my headship at Duchesne. Each headship has been both an honor and a blessing!
In essence, I never stopped attending school since the start of first grade but now I feel the time has come to conclude my school days. I have made the heartfelt decision to retire as the Head of School at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart, effective June 30, 2023. My discernment was prayerful and with mixed emotions, and I believe it to be the right one. During my ten years at Duchesne, you afforded me the opportunity to walk with you in the mission of Catholic, Independent, Sacred Heart education, and I am so grateful for the trust you placed in me to lead this amazing school into the future. The experience has been humbling and transformative, and I am all the better for it.
I am all the better for every faithful Religious of the Sacred Heart that has offered me their love, prayers, and wisdom, and all the better for every gifted Trustee that has supported me during my day to day work life and during trying times. I am all the better for every delightful student that has greeted me in the hallways and classrooms with laughter and joy, and all the better for every caring alumna that has shared their Sacred Heart gifts with the world. I am all the better for every loving parent that has entrusted me with their most precious possessions, and I am all the better for every talented administrator, faculty and staff member that has showed me what better looks like! And for my children, Molly and Kenney, and my dear friends, I am all the better for their love! I can never thank you, the Trustees, enough for this fulfilling journey, and I am extremely grateful for the time I have spent with you!
Over the next 17 months there is still much to be accomplished, including the completion of our second strategic plan during my tenure. I promise to work tirelessly with you and with an ever so full heart to make sure the school is left in good stead so that this amazing community can proudly and graciously welcome the next leader to Duchesne.
My time here has been an exercise in loving and living in the Heart of Jesus and a beautiful capstone to my lifelong career. Thank you, “Miss Myrtie” for introducing me to my love of education and thank you, the Board of Trustees, for allowing me the joy of sharing my fulfilling life as an educator with Duchesne.
Now, what else could me and my shadow ask for at the end of this remarkable journey? “We’ll just have to wait and see”!
It is with heartfelt appreciation and gratitude that I acknowledge on behalf of the Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart Board of Trustees your decision to retire as Head of School at the end of the 2022/2023 school year.
When you came to our school a decade ago, courage and confidence were the hallmarks of your leadership. The many positive strides our school has made during your tenure reflect your vision and your commitment to our girls, and to Sacred Heart education.
Enrollment at Duchesne has increased and remains strong.
The reputation of the school has unquestionably grown during your tenure, benefitting current and future students.
Introduction of the MOD schedule has transformed how learning is delivered in Middle School and Upper School. This bold step forward in education has brought recognition to the school for its unique offering.
Educational offerings have also expanded, with addition of the Petite Hearts program and the Global and Social Awareness Institute.
Our physical campus has been transformed, first with the completion and implementation of the Reaching Up, Branching Out Capital Campaign, followed by the addition of the Agee Family Sports Complex. The current initiative to develop a comprehensive campus master plan creates the vision for how our school can continue to evolve in the future.
You led two strategic plans and the reaccreditation of Duchesne for our three accrediting bodies: SHCOG (Sacred Heart Committee on Goals), ISAS (Independent Schools of the Southwest), and TCCBED (Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops Education Department).
Duchesne is also in excellent financial health. Our endowment has grown to $8 million, and annual giving (both Annual Fund and Extravaganza/Sporting Clays) has steadily grown year by year.
As the natural turnover of faculty occurred, you recruited talented and energetic Educators of the Sacred Heart to continue the mission.
And when our beloved oak tree, the heart of our campus came down, you planted a new one assuring future generations will continue to enjoy this tradition under the shade of its branches.
Over the course of the last decade, you have also deftly managed many unanticipated crises – from Hurricane Harvey to the 2021 February Freeze to the many challenges of COVID-19. As a community we are especially grateful for your leadership during the pandemic when you balanced the health and safety concerns of students, parents, and faculty with the need to continue learning. The investments made over the years in bringing the most up to date technology into the classrooms as well as faculty training allowed Duchesne to keep its doors open, and for education to continue uninterrupted both in person, in cohorts and remotely.
In closing, thank you for all you have done for our school, and our girls. We will take the opportunity in the coming months to reflect and celebrate - and we will make the most of the time we have together!
I am pleased to report to you on the early efforts of our Head of School Search Committee.
The Board of Trustees established the Search Committee to lead the process for selecting Duchesne’s next Head of School. The search committee vetted several educational search specialists to aid us in our work. All of these firms came with a strong history of working with Catholic schools and Sacred Heart schools in particular.
The Search Committee unanimously voted to select Carney Sandoe & Associates (CSA) as the School’s search firm. CSA is recognized for its international and wide-ranging experience, as well as a practice within its organization dedicated solely to Catholic schools. CSA has successfully led the search for new Heads of School at three Sacred Heart Network schools recently and is currently leading the Head search at 91st Street in New York City, another one of our sister Network schools. CSA comes highly recommended by Nat Wilburn, Head of Conference for Sacred Heart Education, and by Sr. Cooke, Head of the Provincial of the Sacred Heart, USA and Canada. The CSA search team working to support Duchesne is comprised of Robert (Bob) Vitalo and Rhonda Durham, who bring a strong record of successful Head searches and knowledge of Sacred Heart education. CSA impressed the Search Committee with its proven commitment to letting the school’s identity – Catholic-independent-Sacred Heart - set the tone for its search.
The Search Committee and CSA have outlined a search process that is both collaborative and open. We are working to schedule two full days for CSA to be on campus meeting with our various constituencies — parents, administration, faculty, staff, and alumnae — in groups and individually. Through these sessions, CSA will develop a profile of the qualities and abilities that our school community is seeking in its next leader.
While these sessions are a key component of the search, CSA and the Search Committee will engage with our community in additional ways to make sure your ideas and voices are heard. You will receive a confidential online questionnaire about priorities in selecting a new Head of School for Duchesne. Moreover, the email address, HOSsearch@duchesne.org has been created so that you can share your thoughts with us at any time during the process.
We have also established a Head of School Search page on our website, which we will update regularly with information, answers to frequently asked questions, and a calendar of important dates. On this page, you will also find information about the Search Committee and search firm, including contact information.
We will share more about the Committee’s work, and ways in which we will seek your partnership, in the coming weeks.
Finally, I want to thank the members of the Search Committee, Sr. Paula Toner, RSCJ and former Duchesne Head of School; Mrs. Carmen de Aldecoa-Baizan, alumna class of 1989 and mother of Carolina (Class of 2010) and Natalia (Class of 2013); Mr. Gerald Balboa, father of Christina (Class of 2022) and Carolina (Class of 2024) and Mr. Larry Ziemba, father of Claire (Class of 2008) and Anne (Class of 2012) and Chair of the Finance Committee.
This is an exciting period in the School’s 62-year history; it is also a very significant one. As a Search Committee, we commit to carrying out our charge in a manner that is diligent, thorough, and collaborative, and guided by our fidelity to the mission of our school and community.
Sharon Beshouri, Ph.D.
Mother of Madeleine Geno (Class of 2016) and Eleanor Geno (Class of 2019)
Chair, Head of School Search Committee
Chair, Board of Trustees
During the month of May a community survey was conducted by our Head of School search partners, Carney Sandoe and Associates. In this note I would like to share the findings from the survey, and how that feedback will inform our search.
The response to the survey was strong – there were over 400 responses from members of our community. Breaking the response into constituencies, slightly more than half of the responses came from our parent community, and a quarter of the responses from faculty, staff, and administration. The balance of responses were from alumnae, Trustees, and friends of the school.
At a high level, there were two over-arching themes. One theme is of positivity – with a deep appreciation for how the school operates, what it delivers and its commitment to the girls. The other theme is to continue to focus on Duchesne’s strengths – Sacred Heart mission, Catholic identity, outstanding faculty and staff, and academic excellence.
Going deeper into some of the questions, we learned what respondents most value about Duchesne is our Sacred Heart identity, our academic excellence and our all-girls’ environment. The top priorities for the next Head of School are maintaining our Catholic and Sacred Heart identity, especially Sacred Heart Goals and Criteria, furthering academic program excellence, and recruiting, retaining, and compensating high-quality faculty. The respondents recognize the importance of continuing to focus on these priorities in the coming 3-5 years, along with the need to focus on the emotional and developmental needs of our students. Lastly, there is a clear message about the importance of not being distracted from our identity, but rather to remain focused on our mission and the great academic institution that we are.
The results of the survey have been incorporated into a profile of Duchesne. That profile is being used in conversations with qualified and interested applicants. Several names were also suggested from the surveys and those individuals have been contacted to test their interest.
Over the summer the process of identifying top candidates will continue. By end of summer Carney Sandoe and the Search Committee will have narrowed the pool of prospects and will begin to conduct preliminary interviews, with the goal of narrowing our pool to a smaller group of final candidates. Finalists will visit campus in the fall with opportunities to meet members of our community.
The Search Committee will continue to keep you updated on our progress and timetable. Until then, best wishes for a restful and enjoyable summer.
Over the past two weeks we have hosted three finalist candidates for our Head of School position at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart. It was a pleasure to introduce our finalists to our community, and for them to experience our school, our students, our faculty, staff and administration, our Trustees, parents, and alumnae. Special thanks to those who participated in the faculty/staff and parent/alumnae sessions and provided feedback via online surveys.
The Board will now move into the decision-making phase of the search process. In the Sacred Heart tradition, decisions impacting the community are made in a multi-step way. These steps are to reflect – discern – decide – act. The Board has been reflecting on the visits and what we learned about each finalist. Our next step will be to engage in discernment before reaching a decision. Following our decision, we will act by making the offer to our selected candidate.
For those not familiar with discernment, discernment in Catholicism is a spiritual process. If you would like to know more about how discernment came to play a central role in our faith, please click here. Individuals engage in discernment, for example, when considering God’s call to vocations. Discernment may also be used by groups – called communal discernment. Communal discernment is a consensus building process. The goal is to help individuals listen for, or discern, what it is God desires from the community of participants. The process allows time and space for silent prayer to allow the Holy Spirit to dwell and guide participants.
We thank the community for their support as we make this important decision for the future of our school. We are grateful for your continued prayers on our behalf.
The Chair of the Search Committee is a Board Trustee who oversees the search process. The Chair creates a committee from among the Trustees to support the search. The Chair and Search Committee partner with an external search firm (we have selected Carney Sandoe and Associates, or CSA) in creating a profile of the school, and a profile of the Head of School position. The Chair and Search Committee together with CSA review and interview qualified candidates and select two - five finalists for the position. The Chair and Search Committee will make a recommendation on the finalist for the Head of School position to the Board of Trustees for approval.
The Head of School is the sole employee of the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees, reflecting on the recommendation of the Search Committee and through their own discernment, makes the final decision on who is offered the position of the next Head of School.
Ms. Swenson’s knowledge of our school in invaluable. We will ask Ms. Swenson to share perspectives on the school with the search consultants and with the finalist candidates. The selection of the new leader though rests solely with the Board of Trustees.
Our search consultants, Carney Sandoe and Associates, or CSA, are a resource to the Chair and the Search Committee. They partner with the Search Committee through the Head Search process – preparing a profile of the school, preparing a description of the Head of School role, using multiple avenues to promote the position identifying qualified candidates, assisting in the interview process, and assisting through the transition process.
The Search Committee will engage various constituencies to bring valuable perspectives and insights to the search process. Community engagement will include surveys, focus group discussions, an email address to send questions to the Search Committee, opportunities to meet finalist candidates for the Head of School position, and updates on the Head Search page on the website.
It is also important to bear in mind that while we in the community will be interested in meeting and evaluating candidates, our finalist candidates will also be evaluating us and our school and community. We all have the opportunity to be ambassadors for our school, our community, and our city.
The process for hiring the next Head of School can be broken down into five steps:
Discovery: the search committee is formed; a consultant search firm is engaged, and a profile of the school and the Head of School role are developed.
Recruit: the Head of School position is advertised, and candidates recruited.
Narrow Pool: top qualified candidates are identified, and their applications reviewed. The consultant search firm will conduct preliminary interviews, followed by interviews by the Search Committee.
Finalists: the search committee identifies two – five finalist candidates who are invited to campus for in person interviews and to meet with the community (faculty, staff, administration, parents, alumnae and the Board of Trustees).
Decision: the Search Committee will make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees considering input from the community. The Board will vote and render a decision.
Engagement is underway! Please feel free to use the HOS Search Committee mailbox HOSSearch@duchesne.org to send questions to the Search Committee, come to campus to meet finalist candidates for the Head of School position, and visit the Head Search page on the website for updates or answers to additional questions.
Chair, Board of Trustees, mother of Madeleine (2016) and Eleanor (2019), both Duchesne “lifers.”
Sharon Beshouri earned her undergraduate degree in Chemistry at Kalamazoo College, graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. She received her PhD in Chemistry from Purdue University, then completed a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.
In her 32-year career with Royal Dutch Shell, Sharon held positions of global leadership in technology, strategy, finance and commercial. She was active in industry associations as well as internal mentoring programs focused on supporting and developing the next generation of leaders.
Sharon and her husband, Kirk Geno are the proud parents of Duchesne alumna – Madeleine (2016) and Eleanor (2019), both Duchesne “lifers.” During their time as school parents Kirk and Sharon served on the leadership of the 2009 Capital Campaign and were class representatives for Annual Fund. A lifelong Catholic, Sharon is proud to serve on the Duchesne Board of Trustees, supporting Catholic, Sacred Heart education in the formation of the next generation of women leaders.
Father of Christina (Class of 2022) and Carolina (Class of 2024)
Gerardo E. ("Gerald") Balboa is currently a parent of two Duchesne students: Christina (Class of 2022) and Carolina (Class of 2024). Both girls began their education at Duchesne in the pre-K program and, except for two years when the family moved cities to accommodate his work commitments, have been at the school for most of their educational career. Olga and Gerald also have two younger children Jacob (4th grade - Regis School) and Laura (3rd grade - Parish School).
Gerald and his wife Olga have been longtime supporters and contributors of both time and resources to Duchesne. Most recently they chaired Extravaganza 2021 which broke records in attendance and fundraising despite difficult circumstances due to the pandemic. Gerald currently serves on Duchesne's Advancement Committee and is a consistent donor to the school's Annual Fund. He and Olga have also contributed resources to advance Duchesne community building events such as Mother-Daughter Luncheon, Father-Daughter Dance, and Fine Arts programming. The Balboas are registered parishioners at St. Michael Catholic Church where Gerald serves as a Lector volunteer.
Professionally, Gerald is the Chief Operating Officer at Skylar Capital Management LP, an energy focused hedge fund. He sits on several professional and voluntary/advisory boards for organizations including Career Spring, University of Houston (Honors College), Tau Kappa Epsilon (National Business Council), and serves as volunteer and past-Vice Chair for the Houston Rodeo (Go Tejano Committee). Gerald is a member of the State Bar of Texas, having graduated from the University of Houston with degrees in finance and law.
Alumna class of 1989 and mother of Carolina (Class of 2010) and Natalia (Class of 2013)
Carmen De Aldecoa-Baizan (Class of 1989) is a businesswoman with over 30 years of experience in the coffee industry. She began her career in the family business as the Sales and Marketing Manager for Coffee Process Tech Corp where she served as a liaison between green coffee producers and Roasting facilities across the US.
In 2003, she moved to Eximius Coffee LLC where she currently works as a general manager. Her responsibilities include sourcing green coffee and taking it through the production process, managing every aspect of the daily operation of the company, supervising sales both within the US and overseas, and marketing for Eximius and its three sister companies.
In 2007, Carmen joined the East End Management District Board where she served for 2 two years. The main focus of the Board was to help the community needs inside the East End with business development as well as allocating tax revenue to different programs
She has served on strategic planning committees and led capital campaigns for various schools in the Houston area including Duchesne, Regis School of the Sacred Heart, and St. Catherine's Montessori.
Carmen is happily married and is the proud mother of two daughters who attended Duchesne Carolina (Class of 2010) and Natalia (Class of 2013), as well as two sons who graduated from Regis in 2012. In Her free time, she can be found decorating, cooking, and needlepointing.
Sr. Toner earned a BA from Manhattanville College and a MEd in Administration from U. Mass. She has spent the majority of her career in Middle School teaching and administration at four Sacred Heart schools, and two urban parochial schools including 11 years as Headmistress of Duchesne Academy. Sr. Toner served three years as Head of the Network of Sacred Heart Schools, 28 years as a SHCOG member and three years as Head of SHCOG, and as a Trustee of 6 Sacred Heart schools. Sr. Toner also served in Province leadership for 13 years.
Sr. Toner was at Duchesne from 1981 to 1996. During her tenure here she served as a former Middle School faculty, former Middle School Head as Headmistress. She has been a Trustee since 2015.
Chair of the Finance Committee and father of Claire (Class of 2008) and Anne (Class of 2012)
Larry Ziemba holds a BS in Mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana; and an MBA from the University of Chicago.
He has over 40 years of experience in the Energy sector, with senior positions in Unocal, Tosco, ConocoPhillips and Phillips 66. Larry recently retired as Executive Vice President of Phillips 66. He has also held several leadership positions in industry trade associations including API and AFPM.
"Catholic education has been very important to our family. It was also a source of continuity and as we relocated frequently due to my career requirements. We were fortunate that our two daughters could complete Middle School and Upper School at Duchesne in 2008 and 2012."