Executive Decision

To understand Timothy A. “Tad” Dickel’s approach to education, perhaps you need look no further than his name. As a boy, Dickel’s parents wanted to call him something different than Tim, also his father’s name, so they simply spelled out his initials.

As the former principal and first and current executive director at Mater Dei High School, Dickel’s outlook on maintaining academic excellence reflects his nickname’s etymology; he believes individual aspects must be representative of the bigger picture.

In the summer of 2010, the single governing body of Evansville’s two Catholic high schools, Mater Dei and Memorial, was dissolved, and a separate board of trustees was established for each school to be led by its own executive director. 2011 marks Dickel’s first full calendar year as the executive director for Mater Dei. He’ll focus on development, marketing, and the school’s business and fiscal responsibilities. Ken Schultheis — a Jasper, Ind., native — was named Memorial’s executive director, taking on similar responsibilities for the East Side school.

Almost two-thirds of all Catholic high schools in the nation have a similar model in place, and Andy Goebel, a member of the Mater Dei Board of Trustees and retired COO of Evansville-based energy company Vectren, feels it was high time for Mater Dei and Memorial to make the change. “You could almost liken today’s medium-sized Catholic high school to a small liberal arts college,” he says. “There really needs to be a president that the principal can report to and count on.”

Under the schools’ previous governance model, the principal’s duties included some of Dickel’s current responsibilities as executive director — such as fundraising and marketing the school in the community — which at times could impede the principal’s academic obligations. The new structure removes most of those non-academic areas from the principal’s role.

As the first person to hold the newly created position, Dickel stresses efficiency as a major benefit of the school’s new governance structure. “With increasing levels of academic accountability in schools, and making sure the students are being prepared for a professional workforce that has really changed, you need a principal who can be truly dedicated to the academics of the school and not be pulled away from that,” he says. Having served as the school’s principal for three years prior to becoming executive director, Dickel ought to know.

After completing an undergraduate degree in music at the University of Evansville in 2002, Dickel, who was raised and brought up through the Catholic school system in Omaha, Neb., took a job teaching choir at Kokomo High School. He subsequently returned to Evansville to take on band, choir, and drama duties at Mater Dei where Goebel observed that he “demonstrated sound leadership skills very early on.”

Dedication to education in the Catholic high school setting comes from family influence. His mother teaches art at a Catholic school, and his father is a member of the Creighton University education department faculty.

Shortly after completing a master’s degree in education during the summer of 2007, Mater Dei’s then-principal left the school, and Dickel, only 27 years old at the time, was asked to fill in one week before the academic year began. He accepted the position on an interim basis, retaining his band director duties as well.

“It was tough to leave teaching, but I wanted to help Mater Dei continue to thrive in the best way I could,” Dickel says. “I’ve always been focused on the larger scheme of things, not just what occurs in the specific classroom but throughout the school and how we can make the entire school better.” After the 2007-2008 academic year, Dickel stayed on as principal for two more years before transitioning to executive director.

The 2009-2010 school year marked the 60th anniversary of Mater Dei High School, which continues to achieve ISTEP scores near the highest in the state. The school’s graduation rate remains near 100 percent, and more than 95 percent of its graduates enroll in college or other post-secondary education.

To lead a student body with such a high achievement rate, Dickel shows the many parallels between his years of music study and his current duties keeping Mater Dei at the top of its game.

“In a band situation, you have to focus on your own performance and at the same time keep in mind what everyone else is doing, and how everything sounds as a whole,” he says. “It’s the same thing with running a successful school. Each individual area has to be functioning properly, from the teachers to the staff to the administrators.”

For more information, visit www.materdeiwildcats.com.

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