Eight years of love and service: Kate Morin retrospective

When Kate Morin arrived as Head of School in the 2015-2016 school year, she initiated a plan to provide climate control to the Sr. Mary Wilfrid Gymnasium, a project called “Cool the Cave.” It initially had a $300,000 target and Kate laughs about it now, “Three hundred thousand dollars was just an impossible sum for me. I honestly couldn’t imagine how it could be raised,” said Kate. “But I already loved this school, so I channeled that love into that project, and it turned out to be easier than I thought it would be.” This campaign paled in comparison to the much bigger endeavor Kate would take on later: the restoration of Mayfield’s historic Strub Hall —a $17.5 million capital campaign—one that would go on to win widespread recognition and award-winning acclaim. But this first “Cool the Cave” project hinted at something Kate would prove uniquely talented at: bringing love in the face of adversity. And the harder the problem, the more love she would bring to the issue. In this way, Kate embodied what Cornelia Connelly called “a love full of action.”
Kate’s connection to Cornelia Connelly and the vision of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus was something never lost on Angela Howell ‘76, Mayfield’s Associate Head of School for Strategic Initiatives. “Though Kate Morin wasn’t raised in a Holy Child educational tradition, she always displayed a deep understanding of all aspects of its mission. She always had a Holy Child heart.”

It would be impossible to list here every initiative Kate took on during her tenure, but suffice to say her first year was much more than just “Cooling the Cave.” She launched the California Association Independent School (CAIS) accreditation process for Mayfield, premiered the first robotics team on campus, changed the scope and sequence of the STEM courses by establishing a freshman physics course, added a second required year of global studies into the social studies program, and expanded ninth grade health and wellness classes as part of a plan that became Mayfield’s distinctive “Formation of Self” program.

To the student body, Kate was immediately a figure of incredible warmth and joy. She was at every performance, art exhibit and major sporting event. She was a voice of inspiration at the beginning and end of school years. To the utter delight of the students, she also started the first Mayfield faculty band “Rock Child,” where she played a mean bass. She was probably most famous for her hugs. To any student who wanted them, these hugs were an inexhaustible resource. Caroline Squire ’23, former ASB president, recalled these moments of connection fondly: “To be hugged by Mrs. Morin, it was like a celebrity moment.”

In the early years of her tenure, Kate made a point of strengthening Mayfield’s connection with the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, visiting other Holy Child Schools, including the original Mayfield in England. In 2018-2019, she helped launch a new website for the school, added multiple AP and Honors courses, initiated the Campus Ministry Council, and approved the new phase of the Master Plan prioritizing the Strub Hall renovation as most pressing and launching the Strub Hall: Century 2 Campaign to prepare our beloved home for the next 100 years.

However, it was in 2019-2020 when Kate truly showed her mettle as a leader capable of sharing compassion and empathy, even in the most trying of times. 2020 was the anniversary of the school’s century-old building, and Mayfield had started a year-long celebration of the centennial of Strub Hall. The “Rhapsody in Red” gala honored the magnificent contributions the Strub family had made to the growth of the school. But just as the school was about to pause for its Spring Break, the very first wave of COVID-19 upended all of these best laid plans. And what started as a year of celebration for our beloved school, became a year of uncertainty as COVID-19 turned into a global pandemic, requiring countless adaptations and pivots in every aspect of the school.

Luckily, Kate had made early investments in the school that paid off in the early stages of COVID-19. Kate’s first hire, her first year, had been a school nurse, a role that hadn’t existed beforehand, but proved invaluable during this health and safety crisis. Secondly, Kate had made professional development, coupled with technological awareness, readily available to the teaching staff, which made the transition to a remote-learning classroom relatively swift. Although everyone hoped this “new virus” would be a short-lived phenomenon, when it was clear that a return to in-person learning was much further down the line, Kate oversaw the retraining of the teaching staff. She also pioneered new ways to celebrate cherished school traditions, and innovated practices to honor the Class of 2020—which included adapting the traditional group graduation ceremony into 77 individual graduations, with a real-time premiere of those recorded celebrations over YouTube—so that the graduates and families of the Class of 2020 could have ways of feeling connected even when physically apart. 

Togetherness and kinship were central themes inside Kate's leadership. Even before the school was able to reopen, Kate drew on the faith traditions of the school and the charism of Cornelia Connelly, to have in-person liturgical celebrations, where students had a chance to meet their classmates and teachers outside of the screen—often for the first time—though masked and six feet apart! Kate helped create infrastructure to the ever-shifting health and safety procedures, and kept the Mayfield community informed through virtual town halls, emails and a COVID-19 webpage. Aware of the unprecedented need from the Mayfield community, Kate increased financial aid by $360,000 for families struggling due to business closures related to COVID-19.

Finding opportunity in crisis, Kate not only obtained a $12 million construction loan for Strub Hall, she sped up the construction process, taking advantage of the time students weren’t yet allowed on campus. The construction phase of the Strub Hall: Century 2 Campaign took 13 months from start to finish, and it fully renovated all of Mayfield’s mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, in addition to seismic reinforcement. The phased approach to the project had been thoughtfully conceived by Illig Construction Company, so when students did return to campus, the impact of the construction was minimal, and it was completed by the time of the graduation for the Class of 2022.

Erika Randall, Chair of Mayfield’s Board of Trustees (2020-2023) explained, “When we think about the challenges we have faced over the last few years…we have so needed a loving and compassionate leader to lead us through these times. And that’s exactly what Kate has been.” 

Obviously, these were not just eventful years for the school but for the world, and it would be impossible to chronicle all of the challenges Kate faced, the difficulties she overcame, and the crises she averted.

Catholic social justice teachings strongly informed Kate’s approach to enhancing the Justice, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (JDEI) offerings at Mayfield, and her strides in this regard will always be a big part of her legacy. Even in her earliest times at the school, Kate dedicated resources to the cultural competency on campus. In the 2018-2019 school year, Kate helped found an early version of the JDEI department, with a dedicated JDEI Coordinator, to help foster awareness and respect for all voices on campus. Under Kate’s leadership, students experienced diversity and inclusion instructions as part of their required Formation of Self curriculum and eventually were given options to learn in a multi-teacher Ethnic Studies course as well. Kate dedicated funding for programs like the annual People of Color (POCC) Conference and Student Diversity Leadership (SDL) Conference, and affinity groups and clubs that celebrated diverse interests and cultures started to flourish. Faculty and staff were given chances for robust professional development programs like Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED). In the years in which social justice and accountability became even more present in the public consciousness, Kate made herself deeply responsive to all the needs expressed from students, faculty and alums alike. In the 2021-2022 school year, Kate engaged an external contractor to conduct a comprehensive JDEI review of the school culture, practices, policies, with quantitative data analysis and extensive qualitative interviews. These findings of this review continue to shape and enrich all aspects of the school. By the end of 2021, Kate had hired a full-time Director of Justice, Diversity, Equity, who currently sits on the senior administration team. A parents JDEI Committee and a Faculty/Staff JDEI Committee were formed. Kate also forged more direct connections with the departments of Campus Ministry and JDEI, so the connections between the school’s Catholic identity and its obligations to the most marginalized and vulnerable populations are ever-present.

Under Kate Morin’s tenure, Mayfield’s strengths in the STEM disciplines grew by leaps and bounds. Before Kate, only nine students were enrolled in one AP STEM class. After Kate, 102 students were enrolled in five AP STEM courses, and 60 were taking upper level electives. During Kate’s leadership, several new courses were launched including, engineering, sports medicine, anatomy & physiology, forensic science and computer science courses. With the expert guidance of Melissa Tighe, Mathematics Instructor and Director of Innovation and Community Partnerships, Mayfield now provides a four-year financial literacy course, and with a new Mayfield Investing Team (MINT), these investments in STEM and STEM-related interests is literally “paying dividends.” 

Veteran science teacher Theresa Peters put this STEM growth in perspective. Theresa said, “Seeing the changes in the sciences over the years, I can easily say the time under Kate has undergone the greatest evolution.” She added, “As a biologist, I would call this a macro-evolution!”

There were other macro-evolutions under Kate’s leadership. Mayfield’s endowment has doubled from $6 million to $12 million. Financial aid for students grew by 30%. Salary scale for teachers increased to be competitive with area independent schools salaries and to retain quality teachers. In between “Cooling the Cave” and the Strub Hall restoration, Kate also oversaw the renovation of Pike Auditorium, which fully replaced all of the seating and flooring, a project that began before the pandemic and was completed during lockdown. And when it came to the largest capital campaign of the history of the school? Kate Morin not only launched the Strub Hall: Century 2  Campaign during a global pandemic, and she made sure that the project was completed on time and under budget. 

But ultimately, it is Kate’s legacy of love that people will remember the most, and how it inspired those around her. Science instructor Lydia Arguelles was not sparing with her praise of Kate, saying, “I would not be the teacher or person I am today without her.” Theology teacher Bo Kim mentioned how “Kate's love for Mayfield is palpable” and “her passion for educating young women and cultivating leaders shines through.” And Campus Ministry Director, Teri Gonzales, puts Kate’s style as a leader in perspective: “It’s faith that grounds Kate’s leadership…because for Kate it’s not about her. It’s about bringing Christ and hope into the community, so they can find the light.” 

As Mayfield excitedly prepares for its next chapter with incoming Head of School Laura Farrell, our community also looks back with deep appreciation of Kate as well. This year, Mayfield’s Board of Trustees voted to make Kate an Honorary Alumna of Mayfield Senior School, the first Head of School to ever receive this distinction. At the end of the Baccalaureate Mass for the Class of 2023, Kate was ready to dismiss the crowd, but was surprised when Board member Jane Hawley ‘86 came to the podium, and then gifted Kate her very own Mayfield honorary status. Kate was moved to tears by the gesture. To someone who was often referred to as a “second mother” to the Mayfield students, it feels only fitting Kate can now address all Mayfield graduates as her “fellow alums.” Mayfield will always be grateful to Kate Morin, and for the eight years of boundless love and service she gave to our Mayfield family. 

To learn more about Kate Morin's legacy at Mayfield, please watch her tribute video here.
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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 28 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.