Longtime fixture on campus says Notre Dame always has taken pride in its academics.
Jerold McGhee, (a.k.a. Jerry) has been a quiet yet prominent fixture on campus since first coming to Notre Dame in 1999. He typically can be seen on the football field or in one of the two gymnasiums as part of his primary role as physical education teacher for the middle and upper divisions. He also can be found in a classroom on certain days of the week when he presides over health classes.
While he thoroughly enjoys his job, McGhee never loses focus on what Notre Dame is all about.
“I believe that the most important part of my job here is to help promote the mission of the school,” he said. “The school’s identity comes from its mission as a Catholic school, so helping to form good Christian persons who are upright citizens and academic scholars is a very worthy cause to help promote and maintain. This is one of the things that make this such a unique and important school.”
Fr. Joe Hindelang, s.m., principal of Notre Dame’s upper division, said that while McGhee always takes things in stride, he has no doubt about his complete dedication to the school. “He is always there to help the students,” Hindelang said. “And over the years, he’s probably heard most of the issues they face. Mr. McGhee always takes care of things calmly and not much can ruffle his feathers.”
McGhee’s journey to becoming an “unruffled” teacher at one of Michigan’s more elite schools, however, had a decidedly “non-elite” beginning, although his original inspiration was similar to what we hear a lot from other Notre Dame faculty members.
“I chose to become a teacher initially because of the people that helped make a difference in my life as a teenager,” said McGhee. “I grew up in a pretty rough environment in the inner city of Detroit, and high school back then seemed like a safe place for me. My teachers there showed a genuine care for us as students, and I felt that was something that I would like to give back.”
He said his primary role models were teachers who also coached because they provided a little more of a structure and set of expectations that he had not experienced previously.
So he decided to follow his inspiration and become a teacher.
After earning a B.A. in health and psychology from Alma College and an M.A. in administration from the University of Detroit-Mercy, McGhee spent 10 years in various capacities at Royal Oak’s Dondero and Kimball high schools. He also served in a long-term substitute position at South Lake Middle School in St. Clair Shores.
He loves to teach and loves to coach sports, which he was able to do in nearly all his positions — including the one he currently holds at Notre Dame, a school he admits he knew little about it before hiring in.
“I knew a bit about Notre Dame Prep from previous coaching that I had done, but didn’t really know anything about the school itself,” McGhee said. “When I started working here in 1999, there was construction going on, and the school looked like a place on the rise. But even though it was growing, the school didn’t really seem too big for its own good, and it also seemed very welcoming to me as well as to the students who were also new here at the time. And, even that many years ago, the school seemed to take much pride in its academic success.”
Since then, McGhee, who currently lives in Royal Oak with his wife and three sons, has had a front-row view of many significant changes on campus.
“After more than 16 years here at Notre Dame, the biggest changes I’ve seen included the addition of the artificial turf athletic field, the tennis courts, the Grimaldi and Gifford buildings and the weight room,” he said. “When I first got here, the school was going through a big growth spurt and the facilities were not adequate to accommodate the students, teams and events that were happening more and more. The new facilities were a huge step forward to help make the sports teams even more competitive.”
McGhee also said that by adding the International Baccalaureate programs, the school solidified the already high academic standards at NDPMA.
“As had been said many times back then, IB seemed to take all of the good things that were going on here academically and gave it an official ‘title,’” he added.
Titles are not necessarily a big deal personally for McGhee even as he’s conducted a long career being called “teacher” and “coach.” But if he wasn’t a teacher or coach, what might he want to do with his life, career-wise?
“If I had not gone into teaching, I would be an aviator, a pilot,” he said. “I earned a private pilot license shortly out of college, and would have loved to pursue that venture if teaching had not taken precedence.”
And when he’e not teaching, or perhaps flying(!), what does McGhee do with his free time?
“I have been heavily involved with the Boy Scouts of America the past eight years,” he said, “and have held various leadership positions. I also enjoy outdoor activities, which for me included doing multiple day hikes in the Isle Royale National Park and Pictured Rocks National Park in Michigan.”
Jill Mistretta, who is the principal of the school’s middle division, sums it all up with high praise for McGhee. She said “Jerry sees everything,” and that he's very observant and understands the value of students living through their experiences naturally.
“Without a doubt, I trust that students in Mr. McGhee's care are safe both physically and emotionally,” Mistretta said. “At the same time, I notice that he allows them to be free to be themselves with one another.
“But perhaps most important, I’ve always admired Jerry's trust in the Catholic Church,” she continued. “The Marist Way is thoroughly ingrained in him, which shows up in his own three boys as well.”
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." The Marist Fathers and Brothers sponsor NDPMA's Catholic identity and manages its educational program. Notre Dame is accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools, the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.