How important is education to St. Thomas More Parish? The answer is found at the very beginning of the parish’s history. On Christmas Eve 1967, when ground was broken to begin construction for the parish, it was not only a church that was being built. The school and convent were part of that initial building campaign. The first Masses in what is now the parish complex were celebrated not in the church but in a nearly completed school gym. Thus the story of St. Thomas More school began to be written as the parish was being formed.
The STM School Campus
The school officially opened its doors in September 1969 when the church was still a structural steel shell. In just 20 months, St. Thomas More School was transformed from a vision and construction blueprints into a visible and functioning symbol of the parish’s commitment to its children and education. A total of 480 students were enrolled in grades one through eight. Again, the parish shunned the conservative approach of starting a school with grades one through four and then expanding. On opening day, there were eight grades at the school.
The original school building was a contemporary two-story brick structure containing 16 classrooms, a few administrative offices, a library and a gym/auditorium. In 1977, the Arts and Science wing was constructed providing laboratory space, a music/art room and CCD offices. The addition of the school’s Arts and Science wing signaled the end of school related construction in the Monsignor Coll years. With the advent of the Monsignor Murphy years in October 1980, new programs were in the offing. By September 1981, the school had its first kindergarten class and plans were being made for the construction of a Family Center that would serve as a social hall for the parish as well as a cafeteria for the school.
Other school expansions include the conversion of the convent to the Primary Learning Center (PLC) for kindergarten and first grade which opened in 1982, the conversion of the gym to the junior high wing, construction of a new gymnasium/auditorium, and the expansion of the main office, health room, and main library in 1997, and the expansion of the PLC to accommodate full-day kindergarten in 2002. In 2009, the PLC was expanded once again with a wing for 2nd grade classrooms, a second computer lab, and a music room. The new wing connected the PLC to the main school. In February 2015, a second floor addition to the 2009 PLC extension was completed to add more junior high class rooms, a second science lab, and a project based learning room.
School Administration, Faculty and Staff
When classes began in 1969, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill staffed the facility with eight teaching sisters with Sister James Immaculate, SSJ serving as the first principal. In 1972, Sr. Joan Anita, SSJ became Principal. She was succeeded in 1973 by Sister Mary Kathryn Quinn, SSJ. The Sisters of St. Joseph served the school for 13 years. In 1982, the Bernardine Sisters of St. Francis accepted the invitation to staff the school, and Sister Immacule, OSF was named as Principal. Sister Michael Eileen, OSF served as Principal from 1983-1991. Mrs. Joan Connolley was STM’s Principal in 1991, and she was succeeded by Mrs. Judith Buenaflor in 2000. Dr. Carl Weber assumed the leadership role of principal in 2006, followed by Deacon Peter Schutzler in 2012. Since the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, two principals collaboratively serve the school; Dr. Carl Weber, Middle School Principal, is responsible for grades 5-8, and Mrs. Michele Ryan, Primary School Principal, oversees grades K-4.
Throughout its history, the school has been blessed with a dedicated staff of lay teachers that is among the best found anywhere. The faculty has grown from the original 16 classroom teachers to 59 teachers, including 8 related arts and physical education specialists as well as 13 instructional support specialists. The principals are supported by a vice principal, the directors of educational technology, instructional support, advancement, and maintenance. A head teacher, dean of students, two school counselors, administrative assistants, a technology coordinator, a mobile device manager, and bookstore coordinator support the faculty, administration, and nearly 700 students. The health room is staffed daily by a registered nurse, and cafeteria services are available for lunch. In addition, the Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit (CLIU) provides a speech and language therapist, and a reading intervention specialist. Our Extended Care program for before and after school care is housed in the church. Religious education classes are conducted in the school on week-day evenings and on Sundays for parish children who attend public school. The director of religious education and 2 assistants also have an office in the school.
The value of both education and religious foundations at the school was endorsed in 1987 when the school was accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA-CESS). Since then, the school was re-accredited by MSA-CESS in 1997, 2008, and again in 2016. St. Thomas More School was designated an Apple School of Distinction for the years 2014-2016.
The Legacy Continues
The STM School Mission Statement provides a framework for the future of the school: “STM School is a Catholic faith-centered educational community, rooted in Christian values. We nurture faith, foster academic achievement, and inspire personal responsibility, accountability, and service.”
The implementation of this vision is the primary reason for the success of our school since its very beginning. Our present administrators, Dr. Weber and Mrs. Ryan, point to Monsignor Murphy’s visionary leadership, inspiring support, and unwavering commitment as a major factor in creating an exemplary school. In partnership, the faculty, staff, students, and parents have also embraced the concept contained in our Mission Statement.
Our school not only has a rigorous academic program, but also has a strong emphasis on Christian values, a passion for compassion. This criteria is enhanced by the outstanding level of volunteerism by family members.
As we move forward, we strive to again meet the needs of all students enabling them to reach their maximum potential. Faith, Scholarship, and Service will always be the school’s hallmark. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have upheld this vision through the past 47 years and are responsible for more than 3,000 well-prepared graduates. We look forward to those who will continue our school’s fine legacy in the years ahead.