St. Xavier High School has new president at helm

Paul Colistra, a native of Philadelphia, Pa., was selected as St. Xavier High School’s new president. He assumed the role July 1, 2020. (Photo Special to The Record)

Paul D. Colistra, St. Xavier High School’s new president, said his primary responsibility is to make sure the school keeps producing men of character, high integrity and leadership.

Colistra, who has a long history with Catholic boys’ high schools, took the helm at the 156-year-old school on July 1, 2020.

“I feel I’m accepting the role to lead one of the finest Catholic schools in the country,” he said. Colistra is a native of Philadelphia, Pa., and grew up the son of a “lifelong” Catholic high school teacher. His father taught and coached football at La Salle College High School in Wyndmoor, Pa. Colistra not only attended La Salle, but grew up to become one of the school’s administrators, he said in a recent interview. He served in multiple roles between 2005 and 2012.

Colistra comes to St. Xavier after eight years at West Catholic Preparatory High School in Philadelphia, where he served as the school’s first lay president.

“I have the good fortune of stepping into an already highly successful and highly productive school,” said Colistra of St. X. “The school is on such sound footing academically and financially. I have respect for those on whose shoulders I stand, including Dr. Perry Sangalli.” Sangalli served at St. Xavier for 38 years, including as its president until his death in May of 2019.

Because he took the helm during a pandemic, Colistra began with “short-term practicality,” he said.

“My vision for the school needs to start with working through the pandemic,” Colistra said. Despite the challenges of the time, he believes St. Xavier can “build trust and confidence in the way we deliver education through the pandemic.”

Things at the school are moving along well and he’s noticed that though teachers are stressed they are happy. The students and parents seem to be happy, too, he said.

Colistra earned a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology from Ithaca College and a master’s degree in educational leadership from St. Joseph’s University.

He describes himself as a “people-first style of leader” and his efforts began with making sure he has the “finest” people leading the school — from school board to teachers. His goal, he said, is to continue the school’s legacy while navigating the transitions St. Xavier is going through — some veteran teachers have retired recently and the school is in the process of naming a new principal. Amy Sample, an English teacher at the school, was named interim principal in April after Francisco Espinosa Jr., who served as principal for eight years, resigned in March.

Colistra said the school is proud of the “academic integrity” it earned over the past 156 years and “academic excellence must always remain at the center,” he said.

St. Xavier will also continue to reach outward to the community, he said.

“We need to understand what the needs of the community and city are. We’re a major leader in the city. We need to first understand what’s happening and the role St. Xavier will play in the future of the city. In responding to the needs of the city and community and the dynamic needs of today’s students, we’ll challenge the institution to be creative and innovative,” he said.

Making sure St. Xavier is shaping the students’ character, however, is what he believes his “primary responsibility” to be.

“I believe my primary responsibility is to make sure we’re producing men of character, high integrity and leadership. It’s important to be strong in the classroom and on the playing fields, but we’ll make sure we’re creating leaders in the community … good St . X men,” said Colistra. “That’s one of St. X’s unique propositions. That’s why the school is so well-respected, because of the caliber of the men they’re putting out into the world.”

Colistra, his wife Colleen and their children Ryan, a third-grader, and Luca, a first-grader, are settling into their new life in Louisville, he said. Colleen works in the healthcare industry and the family attends Holy Trinity Church.

Colistra said he spent the past few months getting to know and learning from alumni, board and community members.

“It’s been challenging (to meet under circumstances created by the pandemic) but people have been receptive to getting to know me and my vision. I respect St. Xavier’s legacy. It’s like a relay race. I have been handed the baton and it’s my responsibility now to protect the integrity of the institution and grow it to make sure those who come after have an institution in just as good a shape as we found it in. I’m honored to be here and to serve. And I’m excited about the future,” said Colistra.

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