Brother on a mission to cultivate leaders

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 September, 2010, 12:00am

Elite boys school La Salle College again has a Christian Brother as its head, ending a six-year experiment with lay principals.

Brother Steve Hogan has joined the Kowloon Tong school from De La Salle College in Auckland, New Zealand, following an international search within the Catholic education order.

As students resumed class at the high-achieving secondary school last week, they were greeted by their new principal dressed from head to toe in a plain, white cotton robe - a traditional sight not seen on a principal since 2004.

Beneath the robes - the hallmark of the teaching order - Hogan is Lasallian through and through. He studied at a Lasallian school, completed the De La Salle novitiate and has taught in six of the order's schools across Asia Pacific.

And as many elite schools gamble on the loosening of restrictions on mainland students attending Hong Kong schools for their future development plans, his strategy for La Salle is firmly focused on getting back to the basics of its Catholic mission.

Following in the footsteps of Diocesan Boys School and St Paul's Co-educational College by building lavish student hostels - as several other schools are aiming to do - was out of the question. 'We have neither the resources nor the intention to bring in mainland students to the school,' said Hogan, who joined the school in July. 'We want to serve our core constituency here in Hong Kong.'

La Salle College would also be sticking to its long-standing policy of refusing to join the migration of elite aided schools to the Direct Subsidy Scheme, which allows sponsoring bodies to set higher fees. The school has repeatedly refused to make the move on the grounds that it would bar students from low-income families from entry.

Hogan's experience includes setting up a child literacy training project in Papua New Guinea, merging two Lasallian schools in Sydney and doubling Form Six pass rates at the Auckland school, which serves one of the city's most disadvantaged areas.

But the key thing the 49-year-old principal believes he can offer to the order's leading school in Hong Kong is a vision of its future as a Lasallian institution. 'I bring an understanding of the Lasallian spirit and how that is expressed in nine different Lasallian schools across Asia Pacific,' he said.

Hogan's vision of the school in 10 years time draws on the United Nations' Education Futures programme, which has set education targets that all countries should achieve by 2020.

Learning how to learn, problem-solving and teamwork skills were key competencies identified in the UN plan that would be required of school leavers in 2020.

'I am determined that La Salle boys will be leaders of Hong Kong in the commercial, political and civic spheres in 2020,' he said. 'For the region to thrive in a rapidly changing global environment and economy, it is essential that its leaders have a strong focus on human values.

'We will be inculcating these in our students through a leadership training programme, strong pastoral guidance and support and an emphasis on civic education.'

Hogan said education in 2020 would also extend far beyond the school gates and higher-form students were likely to be enrolled in open learning institutions and take part in other online learning.

'It is going to require a property audit, an IT audit and a curriculum audit,' he said. 'And I will work with the staff, the parents and the school management committee to plan strategically for it.'

School leaders say parents and alumni were demanding a Lasallian brother for the next principal as immediate past principal Wong Yen-kit approached his retirement this summer after four years at the helm. But they insist that the recruitment exercise was open and that there is no policy of packing vacant headships with brothers.

Wong rose from the ranks after La Salle's first lay principal, Paul Lau Wai-keen, resigned weeks before the end of his two-year probationary period following public criticism by parents of his standard of English.

The school had been headed by a De La Salle brother throughout its previous 72 years, but its sponsoring body has faced an increasingly uphill struggle to replace the dwindling band of aged brethren.

'The brothers tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would apply,' Hogan said. 'We wouldn't have the luxury of having a policy even if we wanted one, because there are so few brothers today.

'The issue here, as in every region, is to try to have at least one brother as a principal so that the distinctive ethos can be maintained both for the individual school and the Lasallian family in the region.'