Lorang's legacy of learning - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Lorang's legacy of learning

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Excitement is at a fever pitch.

It's the end of the school year, and the Sioux Falls Catholic School System's superintendent is in the building.

Dr. Tom Lorang is taking a victory lap of the system's six elementary schools. After 36 years of service, Dr. Lorang is retiring.

"I'm going to miss the opportunity to work with this wonderful community and be a part of something so much larger than myself. To feel that, experience that, and be with people that have that as their mission is just powerful," said Lorang.

"I think we all owe a real debt of gratitude to Dr. Lorang for his vision, for his capacity to really love people through hardships, through learning tasks, through building our community and our schools," said St. Mary School principal Courtney Tielke.

Dr. Lorang's devotion to Sioux Falls Catholic Schools started in 1978. Back then his naturally curly hair was jet black, and he was bursting with ideas.

"I really had a desire to impact a culture of an organization, especially a school," he said.

It wouldn't be easy.

In 1979, Dr. Lorang became the first non-priest to lead O'Gorman High School.

"Here we come first lay principal. I'm sitting here with all of these ideas," said Lorang. "We can't mess it up because our children and grandchildren need this."

'This' was an idea Dr. Lorang had hatched while getting his doctorate degree. At the time, the parish elementary schools and the high school were acting independently.

"We did not have a model out there to follow. We decided we were going to make our own model if we were going to have successful Catholic schools," said Lorang.

After years of discussions with Bishop Paul Dudley, priests, and parents, the decision was made to become a school system in 1991. At the time only two other communities in the country had come to a similar conclusion.

"It was rather revolutionary," said Father Chuck Cimpl.

Curriculum is now standardized, under one budget tuition and salaries are the same at every school, priests and parents both have governance, and most importantly the mission is the same.

"Built on the grace of God, having high expectations, and never settling because we can always, always be better. Always be better," said Lorang.

A master motivator.

"I just saw that we have 40 students out of a class of 187, 40 students with 30 or better ACT scores," said Lorang.

A thoughtful leader.

"He knew that it was bigger than him. And, the system was bigger than him. He had a lot to do with it. But, he created good people around him that worked with him and good staff and a good attitude and culture that's going to continue beyond him," said Father Cimpl.

Dr. Lorang's humility has served him best. He reflected on receiving a national award at the White House.

"And, they spoke about me. Afterwards I felt bad because I felt it was not just Tom as the principal. It was about the faculty, and the family, and that community. And, so I vowed that day that we're not going to talk about Tom Lorang anymore."

Despite his modesty, Dr. Lorang is a giant in this community and in the larger world of education.

Robert Wehde has been given the enormous task to succeed him.

"He's incredible. Visionary leader, compassionate, intelligent, committed. He's everything that you would want in a great leader. I'm just inspired to see if I can continue to do what he's designed here," said Wehde.

"The best tribute we can give to him is that we're successful going into the future too," said Tielke.

As he nears the finish line, Dr. Lorang fights for composure.

For a man who celebrates others first, he's a bit uneasy basking in their praise. But, the time has come to be reminded of his blessings.

"All of those things I feel like God had a plan for me," said Lorang.

As he closes his eyes and hears the students' sweet voices, his heart is full.

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