By Kristin Boza
Neighbors, St. Barnabas parishioners, and friends Meg Dunneback and Brendan Conroy coincidentally both stepped into new leadership positions at area Catholic high schools. Dunneback is the incoming principal at Marist High School, 4200 W. 115th St., and Conroy is the incoming president of Mt. Carmel High School, 6410 S. Dante Ave. Both are eager to begin their respective positions on July 1 and plan to bring a new level of energy and fresh ideas to these area Catholic schools.
Meg Dunneback grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley and envisioned a career in entertainment, either as a TV writer or sports newscaster. Dunneback’s mother, a teacher, advised her to earn a minor in teaching because “you never know where life will take you,” she said. “My mom obviously had some wisdom that I didn’t have at the time! When I was doing my student teaching, I fell in love with it.”
A graduate of Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., Dunneback made her way back home to New York and worked as a substitute teacher and in a junior high school writing lab before deciding that becoming a high school English teacher was her calling. And her move to Chicago is one of the most South Side stories ever.
“One day, I got a call from a Chicago friend who was playing softball with a friend who was leaving Marist, which opened up an English teacher position,” she said. “I flew out for the interview and ended up accepting the job on a pay phone in the airport in New York. It was a Friday when I accepted and my first day was the following Tuesday. I figured I’d give it a year to see if I liked it and learn a new city and meet new people; I was 25 at the time. Then, I met my now husband, also a Marist teacher at the time, and we made a life for ourselves here in Chicago.”
Dunneback spent six years at Marist, teaching English and working within the Marcellin Program, a college-prep curriculum for students with learning challenges. She moved on to Richards High School in Oak Lawn, beginning as an English teacher and eventually becoming Assistant Principal of Curriculum Instruction, overseeing faculty and engaging in their professional development.
“It really feels like a full circle to come back to Marist as the next principal,” Dunneback said. “My daughter is currently at Marist and my husband attended there as well. Marist is a big part of our lives and I’m excited to make an impact on the lives of Marist students.”
COVID-19 has changed education in ways Dunneback believes are for the better. “There are silver linings from the pandemic, and I hope one of them will be for education and how we approach teaching and learning,” she said. “I’m really reflecting on what we learned about education and how we can meet today’s kid. This is a good time to be in education, as much as it’s a hard time.”
She hopes to find ways to assess the current state of the school and see how Marist’s approach can be more interactive. “Today’s kids like their work to be more lived than thrown at them,” Dunneback said. “I want the kids to feel that school is safe and that they’re welcome here. I’m excited to meet the staff and work with them to help the students feel as connected as possible while continuing with Marist’s traditions.”
Brendan Conroy began his working life in business, but realized he wanted to do something more fulfilling. He began his teaching career at Leo High School before moving to St. Ignatius College Prep, where he spent more than 13 years as a teacher, an admissions department chair, and an assistant principal. His first principal position was at Christ the King Jesuit College Prep, and the next was at St. Rita of Cascia High School where he served for eight years, Eventually, he moved to a school leadership position with the Christo Rey Jesuit school system, a consortium of 37 schools across the country.
At every position he held, Conroy enjoyed having an affect on the lives of his students and their families, particularly focusing on education in the Catholic tradition.
“I have worked with families from all different economic, religious, and racial/ethnic backgrounds,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have that experience now that I land at Mt. Carmel; we have that rich diversity right here in the building. It’s exciting to be at a place that serves a big geographic area, as we have students from Beverly/Morgan Park, the north side, South Loop, West Loop, and northwest Indiana. It’s neat to see what’s happening at Mt. Carmel and it’s exciting to be in a place where all of those kids get to rub shoulders and learn from each other.”
As president at a Catholic school, Conroy will report to the Board of Directors; he compared it to being a CEO while the principal acts like a COO. The president works to fundraise and engage with external audiences.
He looks forward to getting to know each person at Mt. Carmel as his first step in his new role. “I want to have at least one sit-down meeting with every employee in the building to hear what makes them love Mt. Carmel and how they contribute to the mission and school,” Conroy said.
During the interview process, Conroy said the idea of “win-win-win” came up. “We must be committed to the Carmelite tradition to challenge our students to understand God in their lives; we must offer the strongest academic experience we possibly can; and we must have a strong tradition of athletics and activities,” he said. “My goal is to look for how we can draw on the Carmelite tradition and still be dynamic. I’m amazed at what the faculty is doing; they are so focused on learning how boys learn best and there is a very intense and intentional focus on this as faculty is committed to understanding the adolescent male brain.”
Conroy is focused on spreading the good news of Mt. Carmel to prospective families, alumni, and benefactors. “What I love about Mt. Carmel is that we’re not going to rest on tradition or past glory; instead, we are going to understand how these young men learn and commit to this brand of education in the Carmelite Catholic tradition,” he said. “I’m excited about exploring those areas without getting in the way of the principal and faculty, who I trust implicitly.”
While students attend Mt. Carmel from all over the area, Conroy recognizes the special place the school has for residents of Beverly/Morgan Park. “We at Mt. Carmel are so appreciative of the commitment people make to Catholic education in general and Mt. Carmel in particular,” he said. “The families from this neighborhood have so many options and we are so fortunate and grateful for the families who consider Mt. Carmel.”