Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Thomas Coughlan is the new president at St. Michael’s High School. (Courtesy of Thomas Coughlan)
A new chapter is set to begin at St. Michael’s High School.
The school’s Board of Trustees announced March 24 that Thomas Coughlan would take over as the school’s new president in July, nearly a year after his predecessor, Taylor Gantt, announced he would step down from the role. Coughlan is currently serving as Co-CEO of the Hanna Boys Center, a reform school based in Sonoma, California.
Coughlan is a newcomer to New Mexico – his on-campus interview for the position was actually his first time in Santa Fe.
However, he said he’s long thought about working in the area, which he said is perfect for his wife, a professional photographer, and four children. He often heard St. Michael’s and Santa Fe mentioned during network events of various Lasallian Catholic schools around the nation.
“There was always that draw, that connection, to work in a Lasallian school in Santa Fe,” Coughlan said.
Coughlan has spent nearly his entire career in Catholic education. It even forms the basis of the doctorate degree he is in the process of attaining from the University of San Francisco.
Much of that time has been spent in leadership roles, as well. He took over as president at a Catholic school in Petaluma, California, when the school was suffering a major enrollment crisis.
“I got a taste of what crisis leadership is like,” Coughlan said.
And with his newest post, Coughlan steps into an educational environment steeped in crisis, this time thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Private schools around the nation, especially those that are Catholic, have dealt with large enrollment losses as economic shutdowns caused by the pandemic made tuition unaffordable for many families. The National Catholic Educational Association announced in February that enrollments had declined by 6% since the start of the 2019-20 school year.
“Catholic schools in general across the country have been dealing with the shifting landscape of how Catholic schools can not only exist, but (also) survive and thrive,” Coughlan said, adding they’re forced to be more competitive as charter schools become more prevalent.
St. Michael’s High School Principal Sam Govea told the Journal before the current school year that they expected a decrease in enrollment due to the pandemic. In response, a program to help struggling families pay tuition was initiated.
Private school officials in New Mexico have also said fundraising – typically a large source of revenue – has been impacted during the pandemic for similar reasons.
Coughlan said he’s still familiarizing himself with the state of St. Michael’s fundraising efforts.
“I think that can help set any school apart, especially after a pandemic, and I think those are the things that I’ll be looking to help promote.”