Notre Dame High School scores points with new principal

by PATRICK J. BUECHI
Fri, Mar 18th 2016 10:30 am
Staff Reporter
Principal Wade Bianco has created a recruitment plan for Notre Dame High School and will also focus on facility upgrades. (Patrick J. Buechi)
Principal Wade Bianco has created a recruitment plan for Notre Dame High School and will also focus on facility upgrades. (Patrick J. Buechi)

Wade Bianco still talks in football terms. The former coach took over the role of principal at Notre Dame High School in Batavia last summer, and he's already looking to score one for the school.

"Dr. Joe (Scanlan, former principal) did a great job. He hands you the ball and you better do a better job. That's how you stay vibrant," Bianco said from behind his desk.

On the wall behind him is a crucifix and a framed picture of Vince Lombardi offering advice on what it takes to be number one.

"My job is to set the vision, show the path, nudge people back on the path when they get a little off, and create the perception and reality that this is the number one choice for every kid in the area. That it is the dream school to go to," he said.  

Bianco has 37 years of coaching and administration under his belt. Originally from Long Island, he began his career in Oakfield, Ala., in 1979, then moved to Batavia, while coaching at Avon Central School. Wanting to work with the "big schools" in Monroe County, Bianco settled at West Irondequoit, where he served as assistant principal as well as head football coach. He retired June 30 and began work at Notre Dame on July 1.

"I wasn't ready to retire at 59 years old," he said.

Notre Dame already had a solid foundation. Business First ranked it as the top private school in Western New York for the past eight years. The Fighting Irish Interscholastic Athletics Program ranked number one in Genesee, Wyoming and Orleans counties. The school has a 100 percent graduation rate, with everyone earning regents diplomas, and 64 percent earning Advanced Distinction.

The school has won 78 sectional championships and six state championships. It is the only school in the Batavia area with a hockey team, and Bianco is looking to start a lacrosse team as well, to draw in students who want to play those sports.

Seniors earned $4 million in scholarships and many earned college credit. The cost of high school may seem steep, but Bianco looks at the K-16 cost of educations; the amount it will cost to pay for a child's schooling from kindergarten through four years of college.

"When you go to Notre Dame, you get your money back in year 16," he said. "You spend it up front, but in year 16, your kid probably only goes half a year. Some kids don't even go a 16th year. You're in a great learning environment. You're safe. You have the Catholic religion embedded in everything. Then you go on to college and you're successful."

Notre Dame is in the midst of a $5 million capital campaign. Much of the money will go toward endowments. The rest will go toward upgrades of the facility.

"We're doing some good stuff with a lot of good people. We have a board of trustees that is motivated, that is invested emotionally and financially. We've got a great deal of momentum going in a positive direction," he said. "What we're trying to do here is give the kids a state-of-the-art education in a Catholic school learning environment that is physically and emotionally safe, and make sure everyone who starts here, finishes here."

Bianco addressed six points at a staff meeting at the school which included recruitment and retainment; campus ministry activities; instructional; climate and culture; athletics and facility upgrades. He put together a 12-month recruitment plan, a first for the school.

He wants to get people into the building and talking about the school. He hands out a "snapshot" of the school, listing its attributes to real estate agents as a selling point for living in Batavia and the surrounding area. The school draws from 21 communities.  

Bianco wants the school's campus ministry to be accessible to all members. He wants to be inline with the diocese and its Catholic mission, and also be sensitive to the interfaith population. One-third of the student body is not Catholic.

Bianco speaks of the friendly, family atmosphere of the school, where older kids help younger kids. He points out that the lockers have no locks. The students don't bother with them because of the trust they have in one another. Another thing Bianco is proud of: the cafeteria serves grapes.

"You can't serve grapes in a public school," he said. "Why do you think? They're projectiles. Here, you serve grapes, you find two on the floor after 169 kids eat," he said.

His current goal is to improve the facility. They are assessing their hardware to see how to upgrade their technology. Bianco organized a tech committee, which is now debating cloud versus web environments.

He is writing a grant to enhance the STEM initiative by hiring a part-time teacher for Project Lead the Way, an RIT course that takes students from entry level to advance level engineering.

To serve the students better, Bianco consults with them, asking what they are most proud of and what needs to be improved. The kids love the family environment, dedicated teachers, food and people in the cafeteria. They like the fact that ninth-graders and 12th-graders can socialize without a class division.

"That was good for my ears to here, because when I hear that, that tells me there is less chances for bullying," he said. "When ninth- and 12th-graders can integrate with each other and get along, that means there is less opportunity for bullying."

"What I learned from the kids helped get a lot of these initiatives off the ground," he said. "Then I share the results of these meetings with the board, and the parent group, because the parent groups needs to hear, also, what the kids want. Everybody in the building has to have a voice."

The students want the grotto cleaned more regularly, and they're willing to do it. They alerted Bianco to the facts that the speakers in art room and soap dispensers in the washrooms weren't working. They are now working.

"The kids are great. Now, they feel they can come in and ask me things. You want them talking to you," Bianco said.

Bianco lives a block away from the school. He thinks Notre Dame is one of the "nuggets" that makes Batavia a special place to live, along with Batavia Downs, the veterans' hospital and the New York State School for the Blind.     

"It makes Batavia a comprehensive community that has a lot of options for people. I wanted to give my energy and time to it," he said.

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