Celebrating Jason D. Curtis
Rachelle Garbarine

Editor’s Note: Since this story was published in our recently-released GIBBONS Magazine Jason Curtis, who has completed his tenure as principal, has received several additional accolades, celebrating his leadership and vision at Gibbons. 
     At the Leadership Legacy celebration in May, Representative David Lewis presented Jason with the Old North State Award, which recognizes “dedication and service beyond expectation and excellence” to North Carolina. (View the special video shown at the celebration highlighting the advances made at Gibbons in the 13 years Jason served as principal.)
     
Jason was honored again at Gibbons’ end-of-the-year dinner, during which he received a special award - Cardinal Gibbons High School Excellence in Principal Leadership Award - made possible by the generous support of Bob and Susan Daly '76.  Beginning next year an educator will be selected and presented the Jason D. Curtis Award for Vision, Innovation, & Leadership, in recognition of how Jason has inspired educators to be visionary, to be innovative, and to be mission-driven leaders. (Read more)
     The entire school community also celebrated Jason by throwing him a “Gibbons style” send-off. Called the Legacy Lap, students and educators lined the school’s hallways, presenting Jason with memorable Gibbons gifts and unforgettable Gibbons memories.
     
Our best wishes and heartfelt prayers go out to Jason, who also recently was named an honorary Gibbons Alumnus; and to his family, who will always be Crusaders at heart.
     We can’t wait to welcome you home!

 

Principal Jason D. Curtis standing in front of the Mission Wall.

Jason Curtis has been called a passionate advocate of Catholic education, a dedicated servant leader, and a self-described Gibbons alumnus hopeful. He not only is the youngest principal in the 110-year history of Gibbons but the one who has held the title the longest. Add to those superlatives the fact that during his 13 years as principal and 19 years as a Gibbons educator he has expanded on the school’s storied past to provide it with a future bright with promise.

At the end of this school year, Jason will step down as principal to become president of St. Francis, a Catholic co-ed high school in Mountain View CA, not far from both Silicon Valley and where Jason and his wife, Kelly, went to college. With his departure, he leaves behind a legacy that will be felt for years.
 
As Gibbons’ principal, he helped the school reach its potential. In doing so, his tenure has been marked by change in various forms - from the physical and theoretical to the cultural. Examples abound. Here are a few: the expansion of the school, the launch of an internship and entrepreneur program, the debut of the one- to- one laptop program, the purchase of the Short Journey Retreat Center, the introduction of a parent engagement initiative, and the establishment of not one but eight different types of leadership conferences.

Jason is the first to tell you, however, that he was not alone in any of those efforts. He will tell you that educators, students, and parents were at his side every step of the way, as were the diocese of Raleigh, the school’s Board of Trustees, and his own family. He will also tell you that those efforts are “the outcome of a vision and love for this place and of putting people in positions to accomplish that vision.” If one sentiment could serve as Jason’s mantra it would be that he has a passionate commitment to that vision and to what was possible – even when it wasn’t easy.

“I was part of helping the school be the best version of itself and that, in turn, was the product of a loving relationship with my colleagues,” Jason says. “I may be the one who said we had to do something, but I was always confident that we could do it...and surprised and excited when we pushed it beyond what was anticipated.”

Jason D. Curtis with Gibbons educators in front of the Mission Wall.

While that best version capitalizes on 13 years of advances, the masterwork that is the Gibbons spirit has remained solidly intact. That has endeared Jason to the Gibbons community as has his self-effacing manner, deep faith, and Jason-style acts of kindness.

There’s Jason in the school’s kitchen every St. Patrick’s Day cooking corned beef and cabbage for educators; his star turn as Santa, replete with the red suit and beard at a faculty luncheon; his role in the infamous “School is Closed” video; his memorable stint in the classroom as a theology and social studies educator (oh, the stories alums tell); and the Curtis family Christmas cards and gifts.

And who could forget Jason the surf club moderator and the guy who shows up at nearly every activity or sporting event? Also memorable are the times you walk out of his office after a chat and wonder what just happened! There was, as Jason tells it, something else at play because months later those same people were “owning,” a program, event, or activity mentioned in that meeting.

“I was part of helping the school be the best version of itself and that, in turn, was the product of a loving relationship with my colleagues,” Jason says. “I may be the one who said we had to do something, but I was always confident that we could do it...and surprised and excited when we pushed it beyond what was anticipated.”

There is also Jason’s tireless commitment to the school. When he describes Gibbons as a 24/7 community, he would know since he often is right there to chronicle those times.

Jason and his family at graduation 2018.

Now the chronicler is being chronicled. Given his nature, Jason is hating every minute of this lengthy interview for this article. In his office glimpses of the man come into view: there are photos of his family, students’ art pieces, Gibbons memorabilia, and a bookcase overflowing with tomes with such varied titles as “How Big is Your God,” and “Heart at Work.” There is also an old-fashioned globe, the kind that whirls around on the stand, a nod to his days as a history educator.

When asked about the globe Jason calls it a visible sign that things are going to change, that we are part of change, that God is the master of our fate. “It is important to take yourself seriously, but not too seriously,” he says, his mouth pulling upward at the edges into a smile.   

What also is striking is that his office has none of the trappings that could come with the title. Everything in it from the black leather seats to the small round conference table is functional. It is a place of work and work he does.

That has been his MO from the beginning, perhaps a legacy from Br. Michel Bettigole, OSF, Jason’s predecessor and mentor. It was Br. Michel who saw the administrator in Jason before Jason saw it in himself.  That was nearly two decades ago when Jason, a new father, educator, and coach moved with his young family from California to NC.

By that time Jason, a graduate of Santa Clara University, had tried his hand at business and law, before settling on education, particularly Catholic education, as his passion and profession. Before the move to NC, he was a social studies teacher at Archbishop Mitty High School. (Ironically, his old school is ten minutes from St. Francis, the school he will lead as president.)  When he landed in NC he sought employment at Cardinal Gibbons where initially no jobs were available. Fatefully, however, Br. Michel called with an offer just days before Jason was to sign a contract with a Wake County public school.

In 2003, Br. Michel chose Jason to become Assistant Principal of Administration and three years later to become Principal. Inspired by the faith entrusted to him, Jason took the role and ran with it. Almost from the beginning, he was accompanied on that journey by assistant principals Mike Rogosich ’90, Mike Curatolo, and Nancy Barkan. (The latter has been named Interim Principal for the 2019-2020 school year. The four have been a team ever since.

The journey has had its share of ups and downs, as well as twists and turns. But it has been both inspirational and fulfilling, as well as enlightening and deeply personal. For not only has Jason gone from educator to administrator, but he and his family also have lived the life cycle of Gibbons parents and students.

From prospective parents to current parents to parents of alumni, Jason and Kelly have experienced the Gibbons journey as have their children Jake ’16 and Emily ’18.  Maggie, a Gibbons sophomore, and Erin, a seventh-grader at St. Michael, like their older siblings, grew up at Gibbons and will always be Crusaders at heart.

While the decision to accept the presidency at St. Francis is a quintessential professional move, it has not been an easy emotional one. From time to time throughout our interview, the carefully chosen words and the halting voice laced with sadness, hint at how bittersweet a time this is for him. Looking back on his years as principal he hopes, “people will see that the school has extended beyond its walls into the community to become a model of what we want our students to do – selflessly share our gifts.”

And personally? “When I think of my time at Gibbons I have been luckier than I deserve to be,” he adds. Really? In characteristic Jason-fashion he answers, “The Sisters of Mercy (his former teachers) will attest to that!”

Ever the pragmatist, Jason points out why now is the time for him to step down as principal. “The school,” he says, “is in the best position it has been in 20 years and God is saying Gibbons needs different opportunities, too.” There is still more to do to advance the school to its highest potential, he notes.

What of Jason’s future?  His new role is more defined, more structured, and that will take a little getting used to, he concedes, adding, however, that he also is looking forward to new challenges and opportunities. They include getting involved in “a significant building project the school plans,” and building relationships with area businesses, he notes.

When asked if his taking a job in CA reflects the old cliché that he is returning home, or going full circle, Jason’s answer is a quick and emphatic NO. “North Carolina will always be our home,” he states. “It is where I raised my family, where my job became my vocation, where Gibbons is located.” It is also, no doubt, where he will leave a big chunk of his heart.

Read what colleagues, friends, and students have to say about Jason and his years as Principal.

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