Pope John Paul II High School was founded in 2002 by Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, now the retired bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo. The majority of the school's population resides in the Sumner County area, but there is a strong regional draw, with the current student body coming from ten separate counties and forty-five zip codes, some from as far away as Clarksville and Bowling Green.
Hans Broekman was hired as the school's founding headmaster; Faustin Weber followed him from 2008-2015, and Mike Deely is now the third headmaster, beginning the 2015-2016 school year. The school is led by a Board of Trustees that governs school policy, sets annual budgets and establishes a long term vision. The Headmaster is supported by six "cabinet-level" leaders—an Assistant Head/Dean of Studies, Dean of Students, Director of Finance and Operations, Athletic Director, Dean of Advancement and Admissions and Director of Campus Ministry—who together run the school's day-to-day operations.
There are just over 570 students in grades 9-12. The school employs 75 faculty and staff, with a full-time school nurse and three full-time school counselors. The facility sits atop a 66-acre plot of land in the north Nashville area, surrounded by trees, athletic fields and parking. Inside there are thirty-five classrooms, an auditorium, chapel, cafeteria, band room, art rooms, library, offices, and athletic facilities. More on the school, in video form, can be seen here.
The school requires students to earn 32 credits prior to graduation, with 4 years of Math, English, History and Theology, and 3 years of Fine Arts, Science and Foreign Language (in Spanish, French or Latin) as its core program. Students have the ability to graduate with as many as six Math, Science or Fine Arts credits, a fourth year in a foreign language (an A.P. class) or any number of alternate electives. The school has both advanced/AP tracks and college preparatory tracks, and provides its students with after-school tutorials. It employs a rotating schedule, in which students take 8 classes per semester but only five classes per day, each lasting about 70 minutes.
With options in Art History, Calculus AB and BC, Chemistry, Studio Art Drawing and Painting, Art 2D, and Art 3D, English Literature and Composition, United States Government and Politics, AP European History, AP Environmental Science, AP Macroeconomics, Macroeconomics, Biology, AP Statistics, and AP Physics, students at JPII take over 500 A.P. exams each year. In 2014, they received 97 A.P Scholar awards from the College Board, including ten students who were named "National A.P. Scholars." During the last four years, 2011-2014, JPII students have earned over 370 " A.P. Scholar" awards.
With four distinct tracts in choral music, instrumental music, dramatic arts, and visual arts, students are required to take 2 years of Fine Arts. A large number of students are chosen for the freshman, mid-state and all-state honors choir each year. Student artists are quite successful in regional and national art competitions.
The school motto is "Faith Leads Us Beyond Ourselves," a quote by Pope John Paul II when speaking from Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD in 1996. The school sponsors three exchange programs with Catholic schools in Hertfordshire, England, Muenster, Germany and Amiens, France and leads students on excursions to Paris, Rome and Spain on a rotating basis. In 2013, it began an "International Scholars Program," in which highly qualified students from other countries are invited to study at JPII for their high school careers, supported by host families at the school.
The school's outward emphasis is also reflected in its ecumenical outreach: nearly 45% of its students are from a faith outside of the Catholic tradition. In addition, JPII draws students from many different regions (45 different zip codes, two states) and ethnicities (15% of the student body).
Core to the program is an annual "Christian Service Internship" requirement for all students, in which students are paired with local charitable agencies in the greater Nashville area to give direct service to the disadvantaged. The school supports a coordinator that helps link the school's students to these agencies, depending on student interests.
The fine arts program is considered among the state's best, headlined by its choral program. The 140+ students involved in the choral program are divided into five "tiers" of choirs: Beginning Men, Beginning Women, Advanced Men, Advanced Women and Chamber. In state competitions, the choral program routinely places 15-18 kids on the all state team and the Chamber choir receives "superior" ratings. The instrumental music program features a "Jazz Ensemble" program in addition to string, guitar and percussion classes. The theater program produces two comprehensive productions: a dramatic production in the fall and a musical in the spring. The art program features tracks in either three-dimensional or two-dimensional works, including photography, which culminates in a spring art show.
In addition to the two year fine arts requirement for all students, the school's schedule allows artistically inclined students to take 3rd, 4th and 5th classes in the arts as electives.
JPII competes at the Division II level (large school, private) in the Tennessee High School Athletic Association. It offers teams in football, volleyball, cross-country (male/female), competitive cheer-leading, golf (m/f), basketball (m/f), wrestling, basketball cheer-leading, dance, lacrosse (m/f), baseball, softball, bowling (m/f), swimming (m/f), tennis (m/f), soccer (m/f) and track (m/f).
Athletic facilities include two gymnasiums for basketball and volleyball, a wrestling gym, locker-rooms, 6 tennis courts, an upper and lower stadium for football, soccer and lacrosse events, a baseball and softball field and two practice fields. In 2011, through the benefaction of area businessman Jim Carell, the school's athletic facilities received a major upgrade, including the creation of lower field soccer/track stadium with lights, a turfed upper field, a new concessions/bathroom/pavilion complex, an 8-lane track and two new weight rooms. The most recent upgrade includes a large batting pavilion for the baseball and softball teams.
The athletic teams are supported by an integrated, year-round weight-lifting program. Student athletes have the option to take a weight-lifting and conditioning class as one of their eight classes in each of their four years of high school.
In its short history, JPII has won six state championships: twice in Hockey (2007, 2008), men's Bowling (2008), twice in men's Lacrosse (2009, 2011) and Girls' soccer (2005). Four of its students have been named Tennessee's best in their sport, including Megan Forester (soccer, 2006), Golden Tate (football, 2006 and 2007), Paige Baechle (basketball, 2010) and Chelsea Gettelfinger (cheerleading, 2012). The 2005 girls' soccer team, coached by Dean of Students Mike McLaren, finished undefeated and was named by USA Today as the #1 team in the country at season's end.
The school's spiritual life is fostered by a Director of Campus Ministry and supported by a full-time chaplain/priest. Every Wednesday, the school worships together at Mass. All students are asked to serve those in need through a Christian Service Internship. Prayer before assemblies, before ball games and before classes is frequent. The intellectual life of faith is supported by theology classes, required each year of high school, and the JPII Center for Scholarly Engagement, which hosts speakers and colloquiums to discuss topics of faith and society with students and the broader community.
Taking cue from its namesake, JPII is strongly ecumenical and welcomes the contributions of its non-Catholic students and families in the creation of a vibrant Christian community. In the words of the school's second headmaster, "Our faith is the lens through which the busy life of each student is focused."
Following the British model, students are placed in one of six "Houses," each of which is named after an important pope in the Church's history (Gregory, Pius, Leo, John, Clement and Peter). Each house includes seniors, juniors, sophomore and freshmen, led by a faculty member as "House Master." The Houses are further sub-divided into 6-8 "Advisories," with each faculty member in the school assigned to twelve or so kids as their advisors. The Houses sponsor dances, conduct charitable fund-raising activities, and compete against each other in various contests throughout the year, including biannual "House games, " for the annual "House Cup." The school has two "Assemblies" each week in the school auditorium, one led by the school's headmaster, and the other by the student body president. The net effect is a lively community of support and good fun.
Since 2008, three JPII Science teachers have been named "Tennessee Distinguished Science Teacher of the Year," including Science Department chair Jennifer Dye, Physics teacher Luke Diamond, and Biology teacher Rachel Gordon. Gordon was also chosen as the state's most outstanding Biology teacher in 2012. Karen Phillips, Assistant Head and Dean of Studies, was named 2009 Southeastern A.P. Teacher of the Year in History.
When the school was built, Bishop Kmiec requested an artifact of Pope John Paul II to connect the students tangibly to the life of the school's namesake. The Vatican gave the school the pope's ski jacket, which he often wore on clandestine trips to the Alps while on vacation. In the spring of 2010, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Pope's death, the school unveiled a permanent display of the jacket in its hallways, including a photograph of the pope wearing the jacket. Faustin Weber, headmaster, said the display "reminds students that JPII was not only a linguist, scholar, playwright, and poet, but also that he was a kayaker, soccer player, and yes, a skier. His zest for life reflects our Renaissance vision for students." With the canonization of JPII on April 27, 2014, it is now a second-class relic.".
Though the generosity of Dr. Bill Noah, the school was site to a museum exhibit in the spring of 2010 entitled "Ink and Blood, " which traced the history of the written word through the many translations of the Bible. The exhibit featured ancient cuneiform tablets, Torah scrolls, fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls, a text from the gospel of John dating to the 3rd century, Latin manuscripts and leaflets from the Gutenberg press--all hosted in the school library.
JPII was the site of the filming for Taylor Swift's music video You Belong With Me. It was filmed in the football stadium and gym, using JPII football players, band members, cheerleaders and members of the senior class for the final prom scene. The "fans" in the stadium consisted of students, parents, and faculty from the school and other local high schools. The high school's prom was the following night, and Swift used the school's prom decorations in her video. It was voted Female Video of the Year by MTV in 2009. Swift chose JPII because it was in her hometown of Hendersonville, TN and because her brother Austin is a 2010 graduate of the school.
Golden Tate, class of 2007, is currently an all-pro wide receiver for the NFL's Detroit Lions, having earned All American honors at the University of Notre Dame. He was named winner of the Fred Biletnikoff Award as college football's top receiver in 2009. As a starting wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks from 2011-2014, he helped the Seahawks win Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014.
In 2009 the school began the "John Paul II Distinguished Lecturer" series. Lecturers have included George Weigel, who wrote the definitive biography of Pope John Paul II, entitled "Witness to Hope," Tennessee governor, Bill Haslam, Vanderbilt professor and Jewish New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine, and Bishop Daniel E. Flores.
Each year, the school's graduation exercises take place in that most iconic of Nashville landmarks: the Grand Ole Opry.