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Rich Raimondi's Returnment

Bishop Kelly’s president was ready to ‘give back’ when HP career ended


The following story appeared in the March 11 Idaho Catholic Register.

By Gene Fadness

Editor


When Rich Raimondi graduated from Stanford University with a history degree, one of his professors warned him that he would be asked probably many times: What are you going to do with a history degree?


But that’s the wrong question, the professor told Raimondi. “The most important question is: What is history going to do with you?”


Raimondi’s history is still being written, but the chapter that includes a 12 tenure year as president of Bishop Kelly High School, is closing. Raimondi retires at the end of this school year with new BK President Bill Avey beginning duties on July 1.


Choosing to apply for the presidency of Idaho’s largest Catholic high school was a chapter that Raimondi did not need to add to his story. He could well have ended the book with his November 2008 retirement from Hewlett-Packard after a successful 30 year career, the final 16 years as vice president and later senior vice president of several businesses inside HP. Only 56 at the time, Raimondi could have retired financially comfortable and healthy.


Yet, there was a yearning to do more, to give back. “Those of us who are baby-boomers are incredibly blessed by the post-World War II prosperity and by our educational opportunities,” he said. The same era brought improved health care, extending an average lifespan into the 80s, meaning a retirement at 56 could mean a lot of years just kicking back.


Raimondi read a book by a Portland-based author who wrote about “returnment,” as an alternative to retirement; the idea of returning to give back whatever gifts life has afforded you to better the lives of others. A personal friend and a Catholic school administrator, Scott Coulter, asked him if he would consider applying for president at Bishop Kelly.


“This was the one opportunity that really spoke to my heart and to my wife’s heart,” Raimondi said, partly because of his love for the school. All three of his children are BK graduates. He applied at the end of February 2010 and was hired to begin on July 1, 2010.


Raimondi’s background is not in education. The school’s new governance structure, rewritten in 2004, follows the trend of many Catholic schools to adopt a “president/principal” model under which the president, unlike the principal, is not required to have an education background, but can bring other skill sets to aid the school in its ability to raise funds and establish alumni relations.


Unlike a public school that does not have to worry about enrollment or funding, Catholic schools operate under an entirely different model, one that requires more of a CEO/COO at the head with the business and finance acumen that Raimondi could bring to the table. The president’s job is to work in partnership with the Board of Governance to ensure the future success of the school and to achieve its mission.


(The Board of Governance includes two priests, a lay representative from each of the seven Treasure Valley parishes that support the school, the Superintendent of Catholic Schools and the president of the private, non-profit Bishop Kelly Foundation.) Under the model adopted in 2004, the board hires the president and the principal works for the president although the two collaborate as a team.


When Raimondi was hired for the position, he committed to five years. His love for the job and his notable successes resulted in a tenure that more than doubled his original promise. “I’ve never had a question that this was the right thing to do,” he said. Though he had to learn jargon unique to the education community, “This job has allowed me to utilize the skills and gifts I have been given and to take that experience and put it to good use in an organization that is complex and has a variety of stakeholders,” he said. To top it off, “I was able to live out my faith in my work, something you cannot do as much in a secular organization.”


RAIMONDI IS THE the oldest of six children in a middle-class family in Sacramento. His above-average grades and basketball skills got him into Stanford University. His basketball career and a quarter of his junior year in school were cut short when he broke his leg during a game.


With a history degree in tow, he considered law school, teaching and coaching. His father, a liquor and wine wholesaler, gave him an opportunity to manage a bar and restaurant in Old Sacramento. By then he was married to Georgiann, his wife of 44 years.


“When you’re managing a restaurant, your ‘wife’ is either the restaurant or your wife.” Choosing Georgiann, he left the restaurant business to pursue a Masters of Business Administration in finance from the University of Oregon, which led to his successful career at Boise-based Hewlett-Packard.


He arrived at Bishop Kelly on the heels of the Great Recession of 2008. “Salaries and overall environment needed a little attention,” but, on a broader scale, it was a good time to “talk about the culture we wanted here,” Raimondi said.


“In my mind, culture is the most important thing to any organization,” Raimondi said. “I had a professor tell me, ‘Culture eats strategy for lunch.’ I like to think that culture and strategy should go to lunch together. If so, you have a wonderful organization.”


Not long after he started, Raimondi and his staff surveyed BK parents, students and teachers, asking them what part of the current culture they wanted to leave behind, what did they want to keep and what did they want to add. The result is eight guiding principles that have come to be known as the “BK Way,” posted throughout the school and on its website. They include faith (“Jesus Christ is our ultimate teacher and role model and are actively dedicated to our spiritual formation”), a safe and caring place, academic excellence, activities, honor, generosity, community and partnership.


“It’s not enough to declare this culture, we have to live it,” Raimondi said. Thus, a number of policies and practices were put into place such as the “Knight of the Week” tribute given to a student and to a staff member who best exemplify the BK Way.

The COVID pandemic put the BK Way to the test in a way that Raimondi could not have imagined when he took the job.


Already, the school was concerned about increased isolation among students, a growing problem with young people across the nation.


“Most of the research shows that this is the loneliest generation in history,” Raimondi said. “Students are more isolated, relying on their phones to connect. And they don’t trust institutions, be it politics, or government or religion or corporations. Quite frankly, these institutions have given them some reason not to trust.”


Add a pandemic to student life and you only increase the isolation, Raimondi said.

To combat isolation, the school came up with a theme last year: Strengthening a Sense of Belonging. The school created small communities by inviting students with common interests to gather, moderated by a staff member. In all, there are about 70 groups who share common interests, among them, animal lovers, card players, cyclers, math whizzes, political wonks, improvisational actors, rodeo riders, mathematicians and knitters. If students can make friends and reduce the isolation, the extra class time allotted will have been worth it, in Raimondi’s view.


EXCEPT FOR THE weeks of the mandated lockdown during 2020, BK never closed its doors. However, for a time, there was a mix of remote and live learning. While there were obvious disagreements on how best to handle the pandemic, the school avoided the drama of mask protests and board resignations that pervaded other school districts.

“Every decision we made was to keep kids in school. We didn’t miss a day in late March, April and May of 2020,” Raimondi said. Graduation was held outside and socially distanced. “When we came back in the fall of 2021 we were in-person while most schools were still remote.”


Raimondi didn’t waste breath fighting the mask wars. “We told people we are going to mask up. Some people sent me data claiming masks don’t work. I just told them that masks work and we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.”


The school took other steps to make sure it could stay open: improving air-flow through its HVAC systems and reimagining physical space, such as making the gym the music room, and the music room becoming the speech and debate room.


Raimondi and the board increased its budget by $500,000 to hire 10 teachers to keep classes smaller to allow for social distancing.


“We made communication a high priority, making it timely, effective and transparent,” Raimondi said.


During four years as a Stanford history student, Raimondi wrote a lot of papers. “I wrote more in the first year of the pandemic than I did in four years in college,” he said, beefing up the schools external and internal communication, “to explain to people what we were doing and why.”


THE IMPROVED culture at Bishop Kelly is the greatest source of pride for Raimondi as his presidency ends.


“We’ve built a lot of buildings and classrooms,” he said, but culture is more important than bricks and mortar or a better endowed foundation.


“I feel great about those things, but, to me, it’s about people and how we treat each other, how we love each other and how we live out our faith. You can have ramschackle buildings, but if you have that supportive culture to go with the ramshackle buildings, you still have something special.”


That said, Raimondi is justifiably proud of the school’s improved physical plant and financial stability.


The recently concluded “BK2020 Vision” campaign raised $14.5 million, of which about $11 million went to facilities and the remainder to help shore up the endowment for the school’s foundation, which keeps tuition costs down and increases scholarships.


The campaign helped complete the Father Wilson Science and Technology Wing, the LaMott Family Performance Training Center and classroom expansion. It expanded the Fraser Library and the Performing Arts venue. It also provided new student and community gathering spaces, including Our Lady’s Garden and the Thometz Alumni Plaza. Most recently completed were the enhancements to Ysursa Field football and track facility and the Dave and Patti Lachiondo Family Plaza.


Over the dozen years of Raimondi’s tenure, the school has added 18 classrooms, eliminating all portable classrooms, and building new facilities to allow the school to handle up to 1,000 students comfortably. Enrollment increased from 620 to 940.


There was some angst, especially from faculty and staff, about increasing student enrollment, but that has largely eased. The increased number of students provides more opportunities for students that larger schools can provide. But, Raimondi acknowledges, there is a limit to that growth, and BK may be near that point.


He does not want the school to become an “exclusive prep school,” like some Catholic schools, where only the wealthiest can afford it and only the smartest can pass grueling entrance exams designed to get students into prestigious colleges.


The private BK Foundation, as well as the generosity of BK families, supporters and alumni, have kept tuition – about $8,200 to $9,000 – considerably lower than the $12,000 to $20,000 assessed by Catholic schools in Port-land, Seattle, the Bay Area, and Salt Lake City.


“We are a very grateful and generous community,” Raimondi said, noting that giving did not ebb during the pandemic.


Unlike those schools where waiting lists are long and most students are denied admission, Raimondi said he can count on two hands the students who have sought entry to BK and were denied.


“If families want their kids to come here, we work to make it happen. We never want financial issues to be the reason someone doesn’t come to BK.”


Keeping the school accessible and affordable also helps to preserve its Catholic identity, Raimondi notes.


Exclusive prep schools in other cities tend to have fewer Catholic students enrolled and are, instead, populated by families who seek the college preparatory school status.

“We tell families, and will continue to tell families, that we are unabashedly Catholic,” Raimondi said. “We tell them that their students will attend Mass, their teams will attend Mass and even if you come from another faith tradition, our goal is to help make that faith grow.”


 
Tributes to Rich Raimondi: ‘We all know and love this guy’


The Idaho Catholic Register invited friends and associates of Bishop Kelly President Rich Raimondi to share their thoughts about him and his upcoming retirement. Below are excerpts from what we received:


Bishop Peter Christensen: “Rich has always been a gentleman. I’ve enjoyed our time together. We share information that’s helpful managing both Bishop Kelly High School and the diocesan response to any concerns they may have. Whenever I met with him he always concluded our meeting with, ‘And Bishop what can I do for you?’ Those aren’t just words, he means it.


“Most recently, I have been very impressed with Rich’s response in handling the COVID virus. He dealt with the virus and the demands that came from it in a very balanced way.


“Rich is as excited about the spirit of BK, whether it be sports or STEM classes or any gathering as any student would be. Who will forget the pride and the boast of the academic achievements he makes about his students at graduation, their continuation on to university studies and the amount they are awarded in scholarships? He’s a cheerleader for BK.”


Bishop Kelly Principal Mike Caldwell: “Rich Raimondi epitomizes the meaning of servant leadership. He is always thinking of others before himself and is consistent in his approach to building up those around him and making those closest to him feel valued, respected and important.


“Rich has earned tremendous levels of trust, respect and admiration from everyone who has had the pleasure of working closely with him. Rich helped Bishop Kelly navigate some extremely challenging years in his tenure. Through his leadership, Bishop Kelly High School has never been stronger in just about every measure you can use to evaluate a high school. Rich leaves behind an impressive resume of accomplishments and a legacy of leadership that would be nearly impossible to match.


“Rich is an amazing communicator, which is one of the core tenants of his leadership philosophy. It’s hard to imagine Bishop Kelly High School without Mr. Raimondi, but he’s leaving the school on an extremely strong foundation to be successful for decades to come.”


Laura Alvarez Schrag, chair, Board of Governance: “I want to take this opportunity to thank Rich Raimondi for his leadership over the past 12 years. He has been instrumental in continuing to strengthen and grow Bishop Kelly High School. Rich has had countless accomplishments and contributions over the years. One of the most significant contributions that will continue to live on is his leadership in creating the culture we have all come to know as The BK Way. Rich demonstrates daily what it means to live by The BK Way.


“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Rich’s leadership over the past 18 to 24 months. He has led with great courage, integrity, and compassion. On behalf of the Board, I want to acknowledge the tremendous job Rich has done in navigating and leading our school and community through such challenging and uncertain times. We are grateful to have him continuing to lead the way.”


Angie Harrison, BK booster: “The first time I saw Rich Raimondi was at a Bishop Kelly Back-to-School night. It was several years before he became president of Bishop Kelly. He delivered a speech of gratitude and praise for the school. It was his final year as a BK parent and he spoke with such heartfelt emotion and humility. Little did I know that Rich would soon be serving the school he loved so dearly as its president. What a blessing he has been!”


Rod Gramer, friend and 1971 graduate: “Our school was blessed to have Rich Raimondi leading it for the past 12 years. I give tribute to the hiring committee that over-looked his lack of being an educator and wisely chose such a wonderful leader.


“Rich and I are the best of friends. We have known each other for 41 years. We have been there for the birth of each of our kids and have watched them all grow up into fine adults. Rich and Georgiann are the godfather and godmother of our son, Robbie.


“My wife, Julie, and I met Rich and Georgiann on a Catholic Marriage Encounter in March 1981. We were the only couples on the encounter who didn’t have kids at the time. As you know, you can talk to your spouse only at meals. Needless to say, at lunch one day we were eager for conversation with other people. It was our good fortune to sit with Rich and Georgiann at the table that day. During the course of the conversation we learned that we were married the same day, same year, about two hours apart – June 25, 1977. We have spent nearly every anniversary together since 1981. We had our marriages blessed in the chapel of St. John’s Cathedral on our 10th anniversary. On our 25th anniversary, we had our marriages blessed by St. Pope John Paul II.


“Rich is one of the finest people I have ever known. He is a world-class and visionary leader. He is a people person – he genuinely loves to be around people and help them. He is a loving and devoted husband, a wonderful father and a loyal friend. Rich is one of those people who can seemingly do it all and do it with warmth, authenticity, and love. (Except, like me, he doesn’t know a hammer from a screwdriver.) Of course, I don’t have to tell anyone who has known or worked with Rich about these qualities. We all know and love this guy.”


If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.






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