KCHS president receives national education award

NCEA names Notre Dame High School grad a top U.S. school leader

By Gabrielle Nolan

The National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) announced 11 winners of its “Lead. Learn. Proclaim. Award” at its annual convention, which was held in Pittsburgh April 2-4.

Representing Knoxville Catholic High School was award-winner Dickie Sompayrac, who serves as president of the diocesan school.

(Photo courtesy Knoxville Catholic High School)

Mr. Sompayrac is the first educator from the Diocese of Knoxville to receive the award.

“I was surprised but honored, touched,” Mr. Sompayrac said. “When I got the phone call that I had received the award, the lady from NCEA mentioned that I had been nominated by several folks at Knoxville Catholic, and I think that was the part that meant the most to me, was just that somebody that I worked with took time to nominate me for that award. I felt very honored and touched and humbled by it.”

According to the NCEA’s website, the “Lead. Learn. Proclaim. Award” recognizes the “outstanding efforts, contributions, and achievements on behalf of Catholic school education.”

Criteria for the award insists that school leaders actively model service to others within the community, support rigorous academic programs that integrate the faith across subject areas, and embrace Catholic identity, among other principles.

Mr. Sompayrac has worked in Catholic education for 32 years, and he has served at Knoxville Catholic High School for 19 years.

He began his teaching career as director of admissions at Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga and taught chemistry at all grade levels. Afterward, he joined Bishop England High School in Charleston, S.C., and taught chemistry before becoming dean of faculty and co-disciplinarian. He has been the president of Knoxville Catholic High School since 2005.

Mr. Sompayrac is inspired in his work by the teachers from his upbringing as well as the relationships he holds today.

“I was blessed to have some really good teachers from grade school all the way up through college who I felt like inspired me, one, to want to be a teacher, but two, just that I saw how much they were doing for me, and I’ve always wanted to have that same impact on people who I serve and who I work with,” he said.

“I just think that being a Catholic educator is truly a gift; I do think it’s a calling. Just seeing kids that you taught go on to do great things, and whether it’s in married life or a religious vocation or regardless, I think just the relationships that you build with kids and colleagues, that’s what inspires me to keep doing it,” he added.

“I would like to mention some teachers that I had growing up,” he continued. “Sister Elizabeth Anne Allen, she’s probably been the most influential teacher in my life. She taught me seventh- and eighth-grade religion at St. Jude School. But I also had some awesome teachers at St. Jude, from Mary Jenkins to Anne Rendleman to Ann Greaver to Joanne Bollman. And then in high school I also had some outstanding teachers that influenced me: David Held, John Mullin, Martha Boehm, George Valadie, Mike Zimmerman, and of course I would also have to mention Jim Phifer, who was a longtime principal at Notre Dame High School.”

Mr. Sompayrac is a graduate of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga, in the class of 1988.

“And then at Catholic High … there’s so many people that I’ve worked so closely with. I want to mention Jane Walker, my longtime academic dean, Joni Punch, Ore Pumariega, Sedonna Prater, and Jason Surlas. And then also Father Chris Michelson. … He’s been someone I’ve worked closely with, and I’m grateful for our relationship,” he noted.

Mr. Sompayrac said that he views his NCEA award as “an award for our administrative team” at Knoxville Catholic.

“They have all played a significant role in the leadership of our school,” he shared. “I think you have to surround yourself with good people, and I think I’ve been blessed that God has put so many good people around me. It’s been huge for me.”

The feeling is mutual for Mr. Sompayrac’s faculty and staff at KCHS.

“He (Mr. Sompayrac) is just the epitome of what it means to be a Catholic educator; he shares Jesus’s love with every person in the KCHS community, student, teacher, parent, every staff member, priest, or prospective family. He constantly strives to provide the best experiences and environment for students to learn so that they can realize their God given talents,” Dr. Prater said.

“He does this by witnessing every day and living as a true disciple of Christ. He has vision and works tirelessly to serve as a genuine servant leader. He secures resources to make this vision a reality, whether building an auditorium, a STEM lab, or sending the KCHS singers to Italy to sing at the Vatican. He leads a rosary every Thursday with students and faculty and participates in faculty prayer groups,” Dr. Prater added.

“And when he is not working here or being with his family, he volunteers once a week at a juvenile detention facility to mentor young men who are in trouble for juvenile crimes. So, it is hard to capture in a few sentences the gift this man is to our Catholic community. He does none of these things for glory or recognition, but because he wants to serve and love others as Jesus loves us. I just thought someone should know this and recognize him to let Dickie know that we have noticed how special and blessed we are to have him leading Knoxville Catholic High School,” she shared.

To learn more about the NCEA or to nominate a school leader for an award, visit ncea.org.

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