Wendy Klesch, Special to The Catholic Virginian
Former principal Dennis Price has played a lead role in the story of Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School for 35 years. But his journey to the helm of the school took him off the beaten career path.
“It wasn’t a straight line, but for me, that’s been a good thing,” he said.
Price began his schooling at Holy Trinity, Norfolk, and it was there he decided he would one day be a teacher.
“My eighth-grade teacher, Sister Bernadine, really inspired me,” he said. “What the Catholic schools had given me, I wanted to give to other people.”
After graduating from Norfolk Catholic High in 1967, Price attended Loyola College, Baltimore, for three years but left school to work construction. He held a series of jobs during his 20s — everything from putting up acoustical tiles, to repossessing cars, to supervising 45 newspaper carriers as a district manager for The Virginian-Pilot.
At age 29, Price enrolled at Old Dominion University, taking as many classes as he could — once even taking 24 credits in one semester.
“I realized, what I was doing then, at 29, I would not want to do at 55,” he said. “And I had always wanted to be a coach and a teacher.”
Upon graduating from Old Dominion in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and social studies, and a master’s degree in administration and supervision, Price began teaching at his alma mater, Norfolk Catholic High School. He taught social studies and coached basketball and softball. By 1984, he became dean of students, an administrative position which made him responsible for discipline and student life.
Price explained that his years away from academia gave him managerial experience and a sense of perspective that helped him in his later career.
“It made me a much better administrator,” he said, adding that he has used his story to reassure increasingly stressed-out students, many of whom are anxious about getting into the most competitive college possible.
“I gave the graduation speech this past year, and I told the students, ‘I took a circular route. No matter what happens, you can continue to follow your dreams. Don’t feel you ever have to put them away.”
“And I always try to tell the parents: your child will find himself at the college that is right for them. It all works out,” he said.
Price was named assistant principal in 1987, and it was during this tenure that he helped to oversee a new chapter in the life of the school: its 1992 relocation from Granby Street in Norfolk to Virginia Beach, where it was renamed Catholic High School.
“The demographics had changed so much. We were struggling with the numbers at the Granby Street location, and we knew we needed to make the move,” he said.
“It was heartbreaking to leave the place – Norfolk Catholic had become almost iconic – but the building itself was easy to walk away from. We had all new facilities waiting in Virginia Beach. But, still, it was hard to watch it get torn down.”
In 2003, Catholic High was renamed Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in honor of Bishop Walter Sullivan, who had supported the school during its relocation. The name change gave the school a new sense of identity.
“It made it easier to have a more distinctive name.” Price explained, adding with a laugh, “Before, when I would call in for a snow day and say ‘Catholic High,’ the people at the television stations would say, ‘Where is this?’”
Price became principal of the school in 2005.
He oversaw the expansion of the Advanced Placement program and the complete renovation of the school’s science labs. He has also seen the great changes in the use of technology in the classroom.
But, he said, through all the decades and name changes, the spirit of the school remains constant.
“Some things have changed, but the tenor of the school is the same. And the kids, of course, are the same. They are fun and easy to work with,” he said.
This past June, 50 years after his graduation, Price said he felt it was time to step aside. But his work supporting Catholic schools isn’t over. At his retirement reception, he was surprised by an announcement unveiling the foundation of a scholarship: the Dennis Price Scholarship for Catholic Education.
“I’m deeply honored to have a scholarship in my name,” he said. “And today scholarships like this are greatly needed.”
Price will serve on the scholarship’s selection committee. In addition, he will continue his work for the Diocese of Richmond’s Quality Assurance Board, which is responsible for evaluating and accrediting Catholic schools in the diocese.
“It’s fun traveling to the different schools, and it’s gratifying to see just how good these schools really are,” he said. “It’s been good, and I look forward to keep on supporting Catholic education in the future.”