In those days, DeLaSalle was a commercial school, preparing young men to work in the trades and growing industries of Minneapolis. Owing to this history and its classroom structures, the original building was eventually called the “commercial building,” shortened to “C Building” eventually. Through the work of Brother Heraclian, the first graduating class, 13 members strong in 1903, all received positions with the leading business firms of Minneapolis before graduating.
Within six years, the college preparatory DeLaSalle was accredited by both the University of Minnesota and the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. (North Central eventually became AdvancEd, the agency still accrediting DeLaSalle after nearly 90 years .) By the 1930s, the school had earned a statewide reputation for superior education of young men. During this time, the Islanders also earned athletic renown, under legendary coach George Roberts. In 1931, De captured the National Catholic High School Basketball Championship.
This type of story more and more became the norm in these lean years. To make this type of “budgeting” work, the Brothers at DeLaSalle – who made up more than 90 percent of the teaching staff and lived in community on campus — often went without pay, depending upon the kindness of neighbors and parishes for enough food to get through each week. The credo came from St. John Baptist de La Salle himself, who told the earliest Brothers in 17th century France: “Pass the basket. If you have more than enough food, put some in. If you don’t, take some out.”
DeLaSalle dominated Minnesota high school athletics in the 1950s. State championships in all sports were common. No opponent could even score a point against the undefeated 1953 football champs. The 1959 baseball team won a state championship, then reformed as a summer American Legion team and won a national championship. A new legend, Dick Reinhart, coached six state championship teams in basketball.
Post-war baby boomers were filling Catholic elementary schools beyond capacity, and De was regularly forced to turn away hundreds of applicants. In response, the Brothers were asked to open Benilde High School for boys in St. Louis Park, soon to become an arch-rival through most of the 1960s and 1970s. DeLaSalle parents expressed a desire to bring all four grades together on Nicollet Island, as well as provide more modern classrooms and the first stand-alone gymnasium in school history. A new addition opened in September 1959 (today still known at the “A Building”). With three classroom buildings in use, all students were together at one location.
Also in 1971, the archdiocese closed the all-girl St. Anthony of Padua High School in northeast Minneapolis. Several months later, and with DeLaSalle’s enrollment in a bit of a freefall (losing 12-16 percent a year), The diocese recommended that DeLaSalle open its enrollment to girls in order to sustain enrollment and to help accommodate the needs of St. Anthony of Padua families. Many Catholic grade schools either closed or merged during this time, as well. By 1975, enrollment at the now co-educational DeLaSalle had dipped to 475 students, a decline of nearly 1200 students in 12 years.
Due to the fortitude and leadership of successive chief administrators, Brother Cyril Litecky and Brother Basil Rothweiler, the school launched a comprehensive Development Office to build relationships and raise funds for the school. The centerpiece was the Annual Giving Campaign, working with a loyal base of alumni and friends to help offset operating costs and provide financial assistance to students in need. One of the first donors was the very same alumnus from the 1930s whose family couldn’t afford $80.00 yearly tuition. From the mid-1970s forward, he made up the difference – and then some – with his support of DeLaSalle.
Stabilized somewhat by new Development income through the 1980s, De began adding back programs that had been cut through the years. A new Dean of Students, Barry Lieske, was hired in 1982 to help bridge the return from modular scheduling to a more traditional schedule for the students, with a renewed focus on regular prayer and service. Finances were somewhat better, but enrollment rose and then fell with demographic shifts, reaching a 70-year low of 306 students in 1990-91.
Among the more noteworthy additions of Brother Michael’s tenure was promoting Barry Lieske to principal, granting him authority as Chief Operating Officer. For 19 years, the two worked side-by-side as CEO and COO for the school. Nary a decision was made without at least one (and usually both) involved. Other area administrators in ministry, admissions, finance, activities and development stayed as colleagues in the longest (and perhaps most stable) era of administrative leadership in DeLaSalle’s history.
The school again prospered. Enrollment climbed steadily each year. By 2007-08, DeLaSalle had 665 students; had balanced the operating budget for each of ten years; and raised over $20 million through annual and capital giving. Though the 2008 recession affected many families (and had a hand in reduced enrollment back to 595 students by 2011), the school planned appropriately and budgets remained balanced. De even opened its first-ever on-campus athletic field in 2009, thanks to a $3 million major gift from alumnus Skip Maas `58, the largest single gift in school history. As the economy improved, enrollment began to build again. Even when Brother Michael suddenly became ill and died in January, 2012, the stable administrative team continued moving the fortunes of the school forward.
Lieske and principal, Jim Benson, oversee a college preparatory curriculum and academic program. Over 98 percent of De’s graduates are matriculating to colleges across the country each year, including the “most selective” schools. DeLaSalle was among the first in Minnesota to implement a 1:1 technology initiative, distributing iPads to every student, and implementing innovative programs in cloud technology and communication.
The school has tripled its Advanced Placement course offerings, and AP and ACT composite scores are at their highest levels ever. The latest innovation, the Global Advantage Program, introduces students to academic and service travel opportunities around the world. In athletics and fine arts competition, the school has won 12 state team and 15 state individual championships since 2000.
On May 19, 2015, DeLaSalle broke ground on its latest facility upgrade, the construction of a new Center for Innovative Learning (CIL). This $8.8 million project presents an opportunity to redesign the campus and do something that is long overdue: replace locker and weight rooms in the middle of the campus with modern and multi-dimensional classroom space. When the CIL opens in August 2016, the hub of the campus will provide flexible spaces for creative, activity- and project-based learning, spaces for multi-media production and inter-departmental instruction, and resources for enhanced use of emerging technologies in all academic fields. Upgrading the technology available to students with the learning spaces themselves will enhance the current 1:1 technology program and college and career preparatory curriculum. With all the information in the world available to students on a tablet or computer, they will take the lead in discovery, research, collaboration, connection across curriculum, and relevant applications of knowledge. This project will be funded entirely from a separate capital campaign, the “Gateway to the Future” funding initiative which already includes three lead gifts of $1,000,000 or more.
St. John Baptist de La Salle … pray for us!
Live, Jesus, in Our Hearts… forever!