In an effort to make all its students feel they belong, Sacred Heart Schools has created a new position dedicated to understanding and fulfilling the “diverse needs” of its student body.
Mia Cooper, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, took the helm as Sacred Heart Schools’ new director of equity and community on July 1. Cooper comes to SHS from the local non-profit Community Coordinated Child Care, where she served as director of the Head Start program. She previously served as diversity, equity and inclusion senior manager at Metro United Way.
In the short time she’s been on the Sacred Heart Schools campus, Cooper said she’s been listening and reflecting on what she’s heard — looking for ways to find success in her new role. Cooper will be addressing a variety of needs across campus, including racial diversity, socio-economic disparities and learning styles.
She’ll be considering, “How are we applying an equity lens” to different situations across campus?
“It may look different in each school, but we need to be intentional about being diverse and inclusive in each space,” said Cooper during a recent interview in the Motherhouse building on the schools’ Lexington Road campus.
She noted that her faith and her experiences as a Black Catholic will guide her in this new role. “In using the lens of my faith, I’m grounded in what that calls me to do,” she said.
Cooper said she wants to connect with school families “on a human level,” where she can understand the “barriers and challenges” they face.
Once she has an understanding of the needs, she can then look to the community for resources, she said.
“Who else in the community can we connect with to help families in need? I’ll be tapping on the shoulders of the community to help us help them,” she said.
Dr. Karen McNay, president of SHS, said she’s “thrilled” to welcome Cooper and looking forward to seeing how the new role evolves.
“She has a true, strong Catholic faith she can bring to this campus and she brings connections to her church and the greater Louisville community,” said McNay.
McNay said she wants students to feel they belong and feel like they are supported at Sacred Heart Schools.
She noted that the schools’ strategic plan states, “we want every student to thrive,” and added, “there are many components to that. It’s not all academics.”
That was the impetus for creating this new role and hiring Cooper. In order for each student to thrive, their needs must be met, said McNay.
“We’re called more as a Catholic school to meet those diverse needs,” said McNay. The students on SHS’ campus come from different areas of the city and “we want them all to feel like they belong here,” she said. “Community is our core value. After the pandemic and being isolated, we have a new outlook as to why community is so important. We are following the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Mary Beth Bowling, who has served as superintendent of Catholic schools since July 1, said Catholic schools are founded upon the idea of community and so all people must be made to feel welcome.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from — your background or the color of your skin. It’s what our church teaches and we want to make sure that is being modeled in our schools,” said Bowling. “We’re here to serve and there’s nothing in our faith that says we’re here to serve a particular group of students or only students from a particular type of family. As a result, whoever walks in our door we should treat fairly and equitably. It’s what our faith calls us to do.”
Bowling, who succeeds Leisa Schulz as superintendent, noted that schools in the archdiocese are working to better understand diversity and inclusion.
Annette Mandley-Turner, executive director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry, has been working with the Office of Catholic Schools to hold conversations with educators around the topic of race and diversity.
The office has offered resources related to understanding and fostering diversity and met with parents and students to talk about their concerns and desires surrounding diversity, said Mandley-Turner.
What she’s seen in the schools is a “desire to welcome diversity on many levels, which includes faculty, staff and student body. They recognize the need,” she said.
Mandley-Turner said she hopes all Catholic schools will eventually have someone on staff serving in Cooper’s capacity.