Girls Cross Country earns JSerra’s first state honor

Trinity league, CIF and State Champs

*Featured in the current issue of the Capistrano Dispatch

A special accomplishment earned JSerra Catholic High School students a special reward.

The Girls’ Cross Country team is the school’s first team to win a state title in JSerra’s eight-year history, outrunning the competition at last month’s state meet. They are also the school’s first athletic team to win the trifecta of Trinity League, CIF and state titles in a single season.

Read more: The Capistrano Dispatch – Girls Cross Country earns JSerra’s first state honor

AP Scholars, Magnet Programs, JSerra an Academic Powerhouse

Below is CEO and President Frank Talarico’s monthly Capistrano Dispatch column. It runs in the current edition.

JSerra may be the new kid on the block among parochial high schools in Orange County, but we’ve already taken grown-up steps to set the bar academically.

New and innovative academic programs illustrate our commitment to offering the best college preparatory experience possible.

We recently introduced a groundbreaking pre-medical professional magnet program for students who want to get a jump-start on medical studies.

A collaboration between JSerra and Mission Hospital, the program already has generated significant attention. Princeton University told us this month it will give special consideration to JSerra graduates who have a pre-med citation on their diplomas.

But we’re not stopping at medicine. We are also launching a pre-business professional magnet program in collaboration with the Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine. About 60 students will participate in the intensive college-prep curriculum, which will expose students to UCI lecturers and allow them to join UCI’s prestigious clubs and associations.

As with the pre-med program, students enrolled in the pre-business program will receive a special citation on their diplomas when they graduate. We also are planning magnet programs in law and engineering. Stay tuned.

At a school with a record 52 “AP Scholars” this year alone – the most in our eight-year history – we must continue to innovate to stimulate our increasingly talented pool of young scholars.

Although JSerra prides itself in being strong in all areas academically, we are earning a special reputation for our strength in science and math. Part of the reason is our faculty, which includes former NASA consultant Mr. Jan Kilduff. Our popular science department chair, known for his wry sense of humor and uncanny ability to make complex courses such as chemistry, physics and pre-calculus accessible, shares my observation about the evolution of our students.

“It seems that every year, each new crop of students at JSerra is getting stronger academically, and I am continually expanding the content of my classes to meet the students thirst for knowledge,” Kilduff says.

It’s not just academics. There’s a lot to cheer about in athletics. Recently, four JSerra baseball players signed letters to play ball at major universities, and two female athletes signed up in other sports. Clay Williamson will play baseball at Cal State Fullerton, Austin Hedges at UCLA, Tyler Krause at UCI and Trent Boras at USC. Swimmer Casey Mims signed on at UC Berkeley, and Katherine Delaney, a member of the Trinity League champion girls’ cross-country team (a JSerra first), plans to run at Berkeley.

Meanwhile, members of the JSerra Chamber Choir prepare for a trip to Rome in April. Our choir has been granted the esteemed honor of singing for Pope Benedict XVI, and has been busy learning new music for this once-in-a-lifetime performance. The 10-day trip will include an audience with the pontiff as well as a religious pilgrimage.

For more information about the exciting things happening at JSerra, visit us at

JSerra Poised For Its Best Year Ever

CEO Frank Talarico sent the following letter to the JSerra community last week.

Frank Talarico
Frank Talarico

Last year was a big year for JSerra Catholic High School. We won our first Trinity League championships, graduated our largest senior class (including our first National Merit Scholarship winner) and contributed to the community in hundreds of notable ways.

In my latest Capistrano Dispatch column, I predicted that our seventh year would be our best yet.

I’m pleased to report we’re already on our way. We learned this week that Nicholas Stropko is a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist and that 33 of his classmates earned Advanced Placement Awards. JSerra also recently obtained important new financing that positions the school for long-term fiscal health.

We’ve also had a strong start in athletics. Our football team is 3-0, and our boys water polo and girls cross country teams are ranked among the best in the county. We also welcomed world-class new boys basketball, swimming and girls water polo coaches.

And then there’s our baseball team. Senior Bret Dahlson became the eighth Lion from last year’s Trinity League championship team to earn a big-time college scholarship. He announced last week that he’ll join Colton Plaia at Loyola Marymount.

I hope you’ve had a chance to visit our new Web site. We’ve received tremendous feedback regarding its look and functionality. As always, please visit JSerra Blog or our new Web site for the latest campus news and announcements.

It was fantastic to see many of you at our Welcome Mass and Fiesta, and we look forward to sharing more good news later this week at Back to School Night.

Best regards,


JSerra CEO: ‘This Will Be Our Best Year Yet’

The following column was published in the current edition of the Capistrano Dispatch.

By Frank Talarico

Last year was big for JSerra Catholic High School.

Frank Talarico
Frank Talarico

We won our first Trinity League sports championships, graduated our largest senior class (including our first National Merit Scholarship winner) and contributed to the community in hundreds of notable ways.

All our accomplishments last year beg the question: Can we top them this year?

Yes, we can.

I predict JSerra’s seventh year will be its best yet.

More than 200 seniors wearing freshly pressed uniforms walked through the halls of our $110-million campus on Sept. 1 – the first day of school. This is our biggest – and most talented – senior class yet.

Our student retention rate is also breaking JSerra records. It’s at 85% and climbing.

Here’s another telling statistic: During the worst recession since the Great Depression, we have maintained enrollment and may even grow enrollment for the year.

What do the numbers tell us?

They illustrate the tremendous value of a JSerra education. Families continue to invest in a JSerra education knowing it will prepare their children for a successful college career and to be contributing members of our society.

The value is especially evident now – as, sadly, neighboring public schools cut teachers, increase class sizes and eliminate important science, arts and extra-curricular programs because of harsh budgeting responsibilities.

At JSerra, we will continue to provide students the same high caliber educational excellence we always have. We are blessed with world-class instructors like Dr. Jan Kilduff, a former NASA consultant, who teaches Chemistry.

The good news extends beyond our classrooms and onto our renowned athletic fields.

Our boys’ soccer, boys’ lacrosse and baseball teams are gearing up to defend their titles. Our soccer team already showed its promise for the coming year, winning the Capo Valley summer league. The Orange County Register said goal-scoring juniors Juan Gutierrez and Dylan Seedman “have quite possibly developed into the most dangerous duo” in Orange County soccer.

Other sports programs are poised to join them in competing for titles.

One of our most exciting new additions over the summer was our hiring of Julie Swail-Ertel. A rare two-sport U.S. Olympian, Swail-Ertel directs our aquatics program and will coach girls’ water polo. Swail-Ertel led the U.S. water polo team to a silver medal in Sydney in 2000 – and competed in the triathlon in Beijing last year. Now, she’ll share her world-class knowledge and experience with all of our students.

And, of course, there’s the great family and community tradition of high school football. We invite the community to join us in enjoying a football game or rooting for other Lions sports teams.

To view our athletic teams’ schedules, I encourage you to visit our significantly enhanced website at It’s also a great place to find the latest campus news. Visit frequently because we’ll be updating the site regularly.

What else is new?

JSerra is launching its international student program, and will welcome students from as far away as South Korea to our community. The program introduces students from other countries and cultures to JSerra students while giving foreign students valuable experience in the U.S.

We’re looking for host families. Each family receives a stipend for housing the students for 11 months. If you’re interested, call us at 949-493-9307 ext. 1015.

And, finally, our new community relations committee began its important work of brainstorming new ways to raise the bar on our community contributions. I’m happy to inform you that we have several well-known community leaders working with us to help JSerra be an even better neighbor. I plan to report back when the ideas turn to implementation.

As you can see, the 2009-2010 school year is already shaping up to be a memorable one.

I hope to see you on campus soon – and can’t wait to share news of our progress.

JSerra’s Goal: Give More to the Community

The following column runs in the current edition of The Capistrano Dispatch.

By Frank Talarico
CEO of JSerra Catholic High School

JSerra Catholic High School’s list of accomplishments continues to grow.

Frank Talarico
Frank Talarico

This year alone, we graduated our first National Merit Scholar, earned our first Trinity League sports championships and will send all 176 members of the Class of 2009 to college.

But there’s another achievement that hasn’t generated as many headlines – our contributions to the San Juan Capistrano community.

One of JSerra’s key founding principles is to give more to the community than it takes.

I’m proud of our local community service record. But that doesn’t mean we can’t strive to do more. We do. And we will.

One way is through our new JSerra Community Relations Committee. We recently invited an accomplished cross-section of community leaders to join us. I’m thrilled to report that representatives from the J.F. Shea Therapeutic Riding Center, Mission Basilica and the surrounding community have agreed to assist.

JSerra board member, parent and San Juan resident Kevin Baldridge will chair the committee. He told me he looks forward to finding creative new ways for us to contribute.

“I believe we can add additional value to the community by working together to identify new opportunities for us to help make San Juan Capistrano a better place,” Baldridge said. “JSerra is already a positive influence. And San Juan is already an outstanding community. But there’s always room for improvement.”

Below are some recent examples of how JSerra is making a difference close to home.

Compared by some to an Ivy League university, JSerra’s $110-million campus serves as an important venue for community organizations to host their events. In the past year, 26 local sports leagues used our football, baseball, soccer and other athletic facilities. Also, burgeoning local churches of different faiths used our campus for a variety of events geared toward growing their congregations.

Our accomplished class of 2009 dedicated more than 15,000 hours of community service supporting local soup kitchens, building homes through Habitat for Humanity and mentoring younger children through Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America.

JSerra awarded more than $3 million in financial aid, helping 100 San Juan families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to send their children to our school.

Valedictorians Lexi Crommett and Nicole Madro with Principal Tom Wazsak
Valedictorians Lexi Crommett and Nicole Madro with Principal Tom Wazsak

Our board members and parents donated millions of dollars to the Shea Center, Mission Preservation Society and other local charitable organizations.

Many of our top students participated as tutors to CREER: Comunidad y Familia underclassmen. The program, headed voluntarily by JSerra science teacher Betty Cappelletti, was such a success that there’s expansion talk. Our students built lasting friendships and helped the CREER students improve their grades.

Of course, the most important thing we do is develop future community leaders. I often say that we’re not only preparing our students for college; we’re preparing them for what they will become after college.

Co-valedictorian Lexi Crommett, our first National Merit Scholar, hopes to cure Alzheimer’s Disease. Our other co-valedictorian, Nicole Madro, isn’t sure where her liberal arts studies will lead her. Wherever it is, she says she hopes to use her academic skills to make the world a better place.

Stories of community service ambitions abound on our campus. As an institution, we are committed to leading by example.

Of course, we won’t only rely on school administrators and community volunteers.

We welcome everybody’s input.

With that in mind, we’ve set up a new “community hotline.” If you have any ideas about how we can do a better job, please contact us.

JSerra Tutors Help Under-Served Students Improve More Than Test Scores

* This story ran in today’s edition of the Capistrano Dispatch.

It started about this time last summer with a question.

Would JSerra Catholic High School’s brightest juniors and seniors tutor underclassmen from under-served San Juan Capistrano neighborhoods?

Frank Talarico
Frank Talarico

The answer: Absolutely.

To the delight of everybody involved, the JSerra-CREER: Comunidad y Familia tutoring program has been and continues to be an incredible success.

But it didn’t exactly start that way, recalls Betty Cappelletti, an outstanding JSerra science instructor.

Some of the CREER students had never even seen a science lab. “I think the kids were a little intimidated at first,” she said.

It’s easy to understand how a student who’s never visited a private school might be overwhelmed walking into Cappelletti’s laboratory. Inside, there’s a pond with goldfish, koi and red-eared turtles, a caged Son Conure bird named Einstein, just about every lizard known to man and five chinchillas.

Some have compared JSerra’s $110-million facilities to an Ivy League campus. And Cappelletti’s classroom is where college-bound honors students enjoy advanced lectures in biology, anatomy, physiology and chemistry.

But from 2:30-4:30 p.m. every Tuesday for the past year, Cappelletti conducted a different type of experiment – a more social one.

With the assistance of dozens of JSerra California Scholar Federation (CSF) students, whose membership is granted based on high standards of scholarship, service and citizenship, Cappelletti oversaw the transformation of 20 CREER students, providing guidance in every subject.

She recalled one student preparing for a test on the respiratory system. Cappelletti asked if he had ever dissected an animal.

“Of course not,” the student answered.

She brought out a fetal pig and, with a student-tutor, provided hands-on coaching. There were other firsts. Another student had never seen a microscope. And another bragged that his tutor helped him get his first “B.”

But it wasn’t just the CREER students who benefited from the tutoring sessions. The JSerra volunteers made new friends.

“These kids come from different cultures, different economic backgrounds, different religions, but the kids – the JSerra kids and the CREER kids – started to realize that even though they come from different places they really have so much in common,” she said. “As a teacher, that was my reward.”

Most of the JSerra volunteers signed up for eight hours – or one month of tutoring. After their time was up, many stuck around for the entire year.

The success is evident by the number of students on the CREER waiting list, the friendships and the improved grades.

“Several of the CREER students have achieved higher test scores and (built) greater confidence in their academic abilities” wrote Teresa “T.J.” Gause, CREER’s executive director, in a letter to Cappelletti. “We look forward to an ongoing partnership in developing the educational, cultural and social opportunities of the Mexican/Latino children and families.”


Finals are over and we handed 176 hard-earned diplomas to our graduating seniors, all of whom are now preparing for college.

The Class of 2009 devoted more than 30,000 hours to community service and earned more than $2 million in college scholarships. Our baseball, soccer and lacrosse teams won the school’s first Trinity League titles and baseball Coach Brett Kay was Orange County Register’s Coach of the Year.

Lexi Crommett, our co-valedictorian, became the first JSerra student to earn a prestigious National Merit Scholarship. She plans to attend Texas A&M. Our other valedictorian, Nicole Madro, plans to attend Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula. Both received significant achievement-based scholarship awards. Matt Kewell, winner of the JSerra Award and class president, plans to attend the University of Dallas. And salutatorian Sam Inman will attend the University of Arizona, where he received the Excellence Award scholarship.

From tutoring CREER students to winning athletic titles to earning impressive scholarships, JSerra scholars continue to make a difference in the community – and make us proud.

JSerra Continues to Make News

JSerra Catholic High School President and CEO Frank Talarico shared the following letter last week with parents and others.

I have some more exciting news to share: JSerra Catholic High School continues to make news.

Frank Talarico
Frank Talarico

We handed 177 hard-earned diplomas to our graduates, and the Orange County Register took note.

The Class of 2009 dedicated more than 30,000 hours of community service – and earned more than $2 million in college scholarships. Co-valedictorian Lexi Crommett was JSerra’s first National Merit Scholar. She shared the honor with Nicole Madro, who finished a remarkable high school career with a 4.7 grade-point average.

Salutatorian Sam Inman was quarterback of our football team. He was also a midfielder on the lacrosse squad that won JSerra’s first divisional championship in any sport.

It’s not just our graduates making headlines.

JSerra’s baseball team won its first CIF playoff game in school history – beating Camarillo, 3-2. Coach Brett Kay was named Orange County’s baseball Coach of the Year. Slugger Austin Hedges earned first-team all-county honors, and senior Joe Kurrasch – headed to the University of California Berkeley next year on a scholarship – earned second-team honors.

You can read about all our accomplishments – and more – by joining the more than 2,000 visitors of our month-old JSerra Blog.

Also, I continue to write a monthly column for San Juan Capistrano’s local newspaper, The Capistrano Dispatch. Look for the newest column June 24.

This is an exciting time in our evolution, and we plan to continue to share our news with you – and the community. You can follow us on our Web site, JSerra Blog and Twitter.

As always, thank you for your support. I look forward to seeing you soon.