Saint Johns | Thomas Powell

Thomas Powell, president of St. John’s Catholic Prep, speaks to students in March 2020 after the school announced it was closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thomas Powell, president of St. John’s Catholic Prep, announced Monday that he plans to leave the school at the end of June.

Powell has led the private Catholic high school for the past six years. He came to St. John’s after serving as president of Mount St. Mary’s University from 2003 until 2015.

According to school officials, Powell alerted the Board of Trustees during a closed session meeting in November that he would be resigning.

“It’s a good time to end this run; I happen to believe in term limits ... it’s time to let somebody else take the helm, and I’m very confident that the board will select a leader who is going to take [St. John’s] to the next level of excellence,” Powell said during a phone call with the News-Post on Monday.

He plans to dedicate his time and attention to working with children with intellectual disabilities and their families. This is not a new passion for Powell, who spent most of his early career developing school and community-based programs for children with disabilities as well as employment programs for adults with intellectual disabilities. Powell has an adult-aged son who has an intellectual disability and lives independently.

“I want to end my career going back to what I’m professionally trained to do,” Powell said.

During Powell’s tenure, the school increased enrollment and built a new on-campus chapel and cafe for students.

In his list of major accomplishments, Powell includes getting the school’s finances in order and another not-so-exciting but needed advancement.

“We were finally able to get the new school hooked up to the county sewer and [water] system, which took years,” he said.

And although the school was able to increase enrollment, Powell considers attracting more students a constant obstacle.

“We are blessed in Frederick County to have some outstanding public high schools ... so making the strong argument to parents, when they’re faced with public education, what are the advantages of coming to a Catholic prep school and a private prep school has been a challenge. It would be different if we were located in a different part of the state where the public schools weren’t as good,” Powell said.

This desire to always strive for excellence is something that will be missed, said school Principal Will Knotek.

“What I admire about [Powell] is his vision, his urge to fight mediocrity. [Powell] is not someone who’s ever pleased with the way things are,” Knotek said. “He constantly reminded the leadership team that as a school of 300 we should be leaders in education not only in our county but our state and even our country.”

Since Powell told the Board of Trustees in November of his plans to step down, the board has been working to identify and secure a new leader.

Jim Plamondon, board chairman, said in an email that the community should expect an announcement regarding the position in the coming weeks.

For Powell, he embarks on his final months with St. John’s knowing the primary vision of setting up students to be leaders of the future will remain intact.

But he also feels like the work is not done.

“We have one life. We can have many different roles serving our community ... and I plan on continuing that until I’m no longer able,” Powell said. “I’m not retiring to any kind of a rocking chair. I want to continue to serve people.”

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @katrynajill

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