Dickinson school gets new dean; parents express need for voice in fire’s wake
DICKINSON, N.D. -- Trinity High School introduced a new leader Friday, just in time for classes to restart Monday, a week after a fire that has rendered the school unusable.
But some parents are still clamoring for more of a voice in the wake of the blaze, allegedly started by the school’s principal.
During a public meeting Friday, the Dickinson Catholic Schools Board of Education announced that Trinity Chaplain the Rev. Kregg Hochhalter has been named the school’s dean of students. It drew applause from many in a crowd of about 200.
"I want you all to know that the diocese will do all that it is able, in cooperation with Dickinson Catholic Schools, to get everything put back together,” said Bishop David Kagan of the Diocese of Bismarck.
Still, some parents expressed concern about Trinity’s future to the assembled school leaders.
“I can’t speak for everyone else, but I can speak for myself,” said Sandra Kuntz, a Dickinson attorney with children in the Trinity school system. “As a parent, my voice has been silenced and that is not acceptable. I haven’t found a single statement in the Gospel or the Canons that say we’re supposed to follow that says anything other than the parents are supposed to be the primary educators. When you silence our voice, you make us unable to be a part of that.”
Kuntz was one of several who offered her help to the board, Kagan and the Rev. Justin Waltz, the diocese’s delegate for Catholic education.
Monday’s fire canceled classes at the 53-year-old school and has caused students in grades 7-12 to move to classrooms at various Dickinson Public Schools and a Catholic Church for the rest of the school year.
The school’s former principal, Thomas Sander, is incarcerated in Dickinson after being charged with arson and endangerment by fire, both Class B felony charges.
“I’m asking that you look around this room and invite those that have that primary responsibility to be a part of administering this rebuilding,” Kuntz said. “We would like to see a rebuilding team, not just a single board that comes from one perspective and thinks they’ve covered all of the angles. I think that huge piece went missing after our parents and children were silenced.”
Kuntz was referring to a shakeup of the Dickinson Catholic Schools board and administration last spring, which led to the hiring of Sander in July.
A new dean
Kagan toured the school Friday for the first time since the fire before attending a private board meeting.
“This is a difficult time,” Kagan said. “That's maybe one of the big understatements of the week.”
Kagan said the announcement of Hochhalter’s promotion was already in the works, but necessitated expedition after the fire. The announcement was originally planned for next Friday, and Hochhalter was originally set to take the position July 1.
A Trinity graduate, the 29-year-old Hochhalter said after the forum that he is looking forward to the challenge of his new position.
“I’m happy to serve Trinity High School,” he said. “I’m a product of the school. I’ve spent 13 years in the school building. … I cannot wait to bring the school out of this time of tragedy and sorrow to a time of great success.”
‘Not the day to tear our family apart’
Though there was concern in some voices, others used the forum as an attempt to rally support from all sides of the Trinity community.
Andrew DesRosier, the school’s athletic director, read a prepared statement from longtime head boys basketball coach Gregg Grinsteinner, who was unable to attend the meeting.
"We have two choices to make,” Grinsteinner’s statement read. “Come together and get stronger, or let ourselves defeat ourselves.
“Today is not the day to tear our family apart.”
Aside from Kagan’s quick tour, the school remains inaccessible to the public.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is expected to return Tuesday for further investigation. The building will remain secure until investigators have their case “refined for trial,” said the Rev. Patrick Schumacher, chairman of the Dickinson Catholic Schools board.
Dickinson Catholic Schools President Steve Glasser said that over the next week, school officials hope insurance materials begin coming together so they can better answer questions about personal items of students and teachers still inside the building.
The building was insured for $17 million through Catholic Mutual Group.
Among the voices of concern, the overwhelming sentiment from Bishop Kagan, parish priests and school officials was patience and support.
“The devil does not have the last say in this,” Waltz said.