Sister Michelle Germanson, the longtime president of Trinity High School, has announced she will step down as head of the River Forest institution but stay on to work with alumni, donors and in other capacities.
Germanson, who has served the school for 25 years, made the announcement on May 17, first to students, faculty and staff. Word then went out that day by phone or email to the board of directors, donors, alumni and parents of current and incoming students.
Both Germanson and Walter Healy, president of Trinity’s board of directors, said she will remain as president until a replacement is found. A committee of as many as 10 representatives from different constituent groups – from alumni, parents, students, faculty, administrators, donors and supporters – will be engaged in the search process. Germanson will have input in the process, but not be a part of the group.
“We are truly committed to finding someone who we know will continue the mission we have created and has a vision for an amazing, woman-centered future,” Germanson said. “This is my love, my life. It needs to go forward.”
Healy said the search will start almost immediately and could take as long as 12 months. William E. Hay & Company will assist in a nationwide search for a new president.
Healy acknowledged it won’t be easy, but “we will be successful and will find a very strong replacement to carry on the mission of the school for the foreseeable future.”
He noted the board acknowledged that the new president will be a lay leader, and not a Sinsinawa Dominican nun; the order has operated the school since its inception.
“We are open to all strong candidates, but we believe we will find a very strong woman to lead the school into the future,” Healy said.
Germanson indicated it made sense to begin a search for a new president as the school is on the verge of launching its centennial celebration. Discussions about succession had been an ongoing topic of conversation at the board level for the last three to four years, and it took some time to put together a strategy to make that work.
It’s incumbent on all boards to have a working succession plan to build on all the work that Germanson has done over the last 25 years and continue the work for the next 100 years, Healy said.
When she moved down the street 25 years ago from Rosary College (now Dominican University), where she had been the dean of students, Germanson found a school in crisis.
There was talk of closing the all-girls school or possibly merging with Fenwick High School, an all-boys high school in Oak Park run by Dominican priests that went co-ed in 1992.
Germanson said the essence of those discussions centered on education and what each school would do. But then issues of governance came up. Fenwick wanted both boards and administrations to resign, she recalled. Trinity’s board decided not to go co-ed.
Trinity had a choice: they could politely die or build an awesome school, Germanson said.
The board opted for the latter and asked Germanson to be president. At first, she resisted the offer, but then decided to accept. The school hired a principal as well.
Enrollment was low and the school was “in a bag of hurt financially.” The board had two options: Do nothing and close in about four years or take the $1 million endowment and build up the school.
“It still might close,” she said, “but we had to try.”
School leaders attribute the school’s rejuvenation to Germanson’s charismatic leadership. Her first order of business was to start on a path towards expanding its already strong academic programs.
The school became the second in the state to offer the International Baccalaureate program, adopted block scheduling with fewer classes per day and each class period longer and building strong fine arts and athletics programs.
The school ended up building a new athletic facility, bearing Germanson’s name, and a new health center.
The school also embraced its identity as an all-female institution.
“The cornerstone of who we are is gender,” Germanson said in a 2015 interview. “It’s how we teach differently and do education differently. It’s why block scheduling is so important because it’s a collaborative way of learning. That’s how women learn. We process differently.”
Today, Trinity’s boasts 24 years of 100-percent college acceptance; this year’s graduating class earned more than $23.5 million in academic scholarships. Enrollment is 500 students.
“Sister Michelle, through her unique personality and strong leadership, has shaped Trinity to become the exceptional educational institution that it is today,” Healy said. “Michelle has touched so many lives during her 25 years at Trinity and will continue to do so in her new role as president emerita. Building stronger relationships with our alumnae and benefactors is crucial to our continued success.”
Sister Michelle, through her unique personality and strong leadership, has shaped Trinity to become the exceptional educational institution that it is today”, said board chairman Walter Healy. “Michelle has touched so many lives during her 25 years at Trinity and will continue to do so in her new role as President Emerita. Building stronger relationships with our alumnae and benefactors is crucial to our continued success.”