Taking the reins

James White is the new principal of Lake Michigan Catholic’s high school and middle school.

ST. JOSEPH — James White is excited to be a Laker.

White was named principal for the Lake Michigan Catholic high school and middle school and has taken a liking to the community.

White grew up in a Chicago suburb and lived there until 1994, when he and his family moved to Long Beach, Ind. He makes the 40-minute commute to St. Joseph every day.

Since 2008, White led Marquette Catholic High School in Michigan City, Ind., as the principal and later as president/CEO.

Among his 25 years in education, White implemented international boarding school and study abroad programs and saw an increase in student enrollment, all while maintaining 100 percent graduation and college acceptance rates.

He earned a bachelor of arts in journalism/teaching of English from the University of Illinois, and a master’s in Secondary Leadership Instruction and Foundations from Indiana State University.

White sat down with Herald-Palladium Staff Writer Tony Wittkowski to talk education and how he found himself at Lake Michigan Catholic.

How did you get into teaching?

My first teaching job was teaching journalism. I worked for about seven years as a teacher and I worked in a 6-12 building. Then I became a team leader in a multi-age, technology-based community. We were very successful there and I was asked to lead that team. From there I was asked to get into a program at ISU.

When I came back up, I became the assistant principal at the school I was the dean at in Hammond (Ind). That's when the principal was grooming me. He retired and let me take the reins.

Did you go to Marquette after that?

Yeah. I had an offer to go to Marquette. That was the last place I was at.

So what encouraged you to become a Laker?

A lot of different things. I was looking to do what I had done originally, which was to enter a smaller Catholic school and elevate the programming and enrollment.

Excellence has always been here. Of course enrollment tends to decline now, so we want to offer something that's attractive to the community here. The surrounding area will be explored a little deeper. International studies programs are my forte.

We have to look for what makes us different from a public school that has a lot of resources.

What's a big difference you've seen in teaching over the years?

To do the work that any state or diocese or agency is asking you, and that is to work in a world of data and structure. What I need to do here is take the time to look at the data, gather the data, talk to kids, talk to teachers, and find out the direction they all want to go.

You don't come in and bring in programs just because they were successful elsewhere. You want to find out who it is you're serving and build the programs around them.

Since you worked at another Catholic school prior to this, it probably isn't much of a transition.

It's really no transition. As I tell people, it's like Rocky going back to his first gym.

We touched base on how you got into teaching. But I'm curious as to why.

I think like most great teachers, I think it's another teacher that influenced you. I had wandered through college and five or six different majors and nine years in an undergrad program. I was an OK student. Then I got into a classroom and I was so turned on by the professor and his enthusiasm and positivity with kids.

That's when I got it together and never looked back. I never had another grade lower than an A, which to me was unfathomable because I hated school as a kid.

If this article were to serve as your introduction to parents and teachers, what would you want them to know?

I want them to know that I have been brought here to build relationships and make the connections they've always had here stronger. This was a very unique posting that came at a very unique time for me.