27 years after graduating, Michael J. Barnett returned to his alma mater as the president of Archbishop Ryan.
On Nov. 6, Michael J. Barnett officially began his tenure as the president of Archbishop Ryan High School.
Barnett, class of 1990, has spent the past two decades in a multitude of fields, but decided now was the time to come back to his alma mater.
“It’s a calling,” Barnett said. “I firmly believe that the Lord put me in this particular place at this particular time with my fusion of my education as well as my professional experiences to give back to the community and to the Ryan family.”
Barnett knew from a young age that the field of education was a path he wanted to pursue. By the time he was graduating grade school from St. Katherine of Siena in Torresdale, he said teaching was one of three career paths he was considering, in addition to (dreaming) of becoming a pro football player or studying veterinary medicine.
Although Barnett attended high school before open enrollment started for Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, he was a member of a parish that gave males the option of attending either Father Judge High School or Archbishop Ryan. Barnett had friends who decided to take their talents to the high school on Solly Avenue, but he knew Ryan was the place he wanted to call home the next four years of his life.
While attending Archbishop Ryan, Barnett continued to develop his passion for learning inside and outside of the classroom. One of those whom Barnett credits with influencing his career path vividly remembers how eager the young student was to learn.
Rosemary Naab has been as English teacher at Ryan for the past five years and also taught at the school from 1975–99. During her first stint at Ryan, she taught Barnett English.
“I remember him distinctly because he loved to participate in class,” Naab said. “In fact, we were reading Shakespeare’s Othello and he was Lago, the evil character of the play, and did a very good job of reading that.
“He was interested in what we were doing. I could always count on Mike to answer a question. His work was quality,. He was just a joy to teach. He truly enjoyed the subject matter, so that made it easier.”
The lessons learned inside the classroom from Mrs. Naab helped shape Barnett’s career path, but it was outside of the classroom where he would learn to “maximize” his potential.
Barnett played football at Ryan and was a member of the school’s first Catholic League championship. He fondly recalls playing under the late head coach John Quinn and credits coach Glen Galeone with maximizing his potential.
Galeone is a math teacher at Ryan, but remembers how unique of an individual Barnett was in high school.
“He was a good kid that would always listen, always willing to accept coaching,” Galeone said. “Some people you would coach would want to do it their own way, but Mike would always listen and try to make himself better knowing that he could listen to people who have more knowledge than himself, and actually he’s still that way.”
After graduating, Barnett got a degree in English Secondary Education from Millersville University. Upon graduation, Barnett spent the next couple of years in the educational field, but then decided to pursue a career in technology.
He talked about how working at this point in time in the tech industry was beneficial because it was “the wave of the future.”
His career would even take him out of the Philadelphia area for four years. From 2003–07, Barnett was the vice president of sales for Smack Apparel and relocated to Tampa, Florida.
Barnett once again learned valuable lessons in this job, but wanted to be closer to his relatives, so he and his family moved back to the Philadelphia area.
For the past five years, Barnett was the regional director of Bensalem-based Carousel Industries Inc., a telecommunications service provider.
Denise LePera was Ryan’s president up until this summer when she left to assume the same role at Nazareth Academy High School.
During the transition, Joanne Walls, who just had retired as principal at St. Hubert High School, became the interim president at Ryan. Barnett had heard about the job opening early in the summer from other alumni, but decided not to pursue it right away.
As the summer progressed, Barnett gave more thought to the idea of applying to become president.
“I’ve been praying for two years to find out what my mission is in this world,” Barnett said. “I’d pray about how I can utilize the skill set that I’ve acquired to better help my community.”
Before fully pursuing this role, Barnett wanted to get the opinion of his family.
“I had to have a conversation with my family.” he said. “You go into education because it’s a calling and you want to make a difference. You do not go into education to become independently wealthy.”
Barnett credits his family with being very supportive of this dream of his and decided to leave his position with his previous employer to go all in on this job.
Principal Joe McFadden, class of ’97, recalls having an hour-long conversation with Barnett during the interview process that included talking about how much Ryan meant to them.
“I am blessed to be able to work at my alma mater,” said McFadden. “I wouldn’t want to be at another school.”
Barnett shared the same sentiments as his fellow alum.
“I wouldn’t have changed careers if it was another school,” Barnett said. “This is the only place that I would have stepped away for.”
Barnett immediately accepted the job when he was offered it.
Upon hearing Barnett was the president in waiting, some of those he credited as his biggest influences were excited to hear about his return to Ryan.
Naab, a former principal at Kennedy-Kenrick and Bishop McDevitt high schools, believed this would be a great fit.
“As a principal, I’ve worked with presidents in my past two schools so I know the personality that is needed to be a successful president, and I think he has that.”
Galeone was duly excited and impressed with how Barnett handled his first days in his new role.
“He comes in here as president and he’s asking everybody stuff, rather than thinking he knows everything,” Galeone said. “He’s not coming in like he knows everything already, he’s coming in saying, ‘Hey, I want to do a good job here, I need to get some good information and do it.’ ”
Barnett acknowledges he has a plan for the first 100 days as president.
“I will be gathering information and attentively listening to the alumni, faculty, parents, in regards to their thoughts/input on Ryan and what they would like to see moving forward.”
McFadden stated the school also plans to reach out to additional local universities for partnerships.
The bar is set high under President Barnett, and the Archbishop Ryan family is eager to achieve these goals. ••