The Rev. Tom Elewaut, principal of Bishop García Diego High School in Santa Barbara, has received the 2008 Catholic Secondary Education Award from the National Catholic Education Association.

The award is presented in recognition of distinguished service to Catholic education, said Sister Mary Frances Taymans, executive director of the NCEA’s Secondary Schools Department. Elewaut is one of six high school educators among 1,213 high schools honored this year by the NCEA.

A Josephite reverend for the past 26 years, Elewaut holds a master’s degree in education from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and a master’s of divinity degree from St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo. He served the community of St. Joseph High School in Santa Maria for 20 years as a teacher, principal (1990-98) and president (1998-2002).

Principal of Bishop High since 2002, Elewaut realized the future of the struggling school would require a change in governance. Supported by parents and community leaders, a local Board of Trustees was formed, and in 2005, Bishop High become an independent Catholic high school with its own spirited identity. Since that time, Bishop High has implemented more than $4.6 million in facility and program improvements, including a second gymnasium, a collegelike campus courtyard, a weight room and other athletic facility and technology improvements, and expanded courses to seven periods daily.

During his years of service as principal and president of St. Joseph High School, Elewaut oversaw enrollment as it reached capacity at 650 students and a number of renovation and expansion projects, including a Campus Ministry Center, a computer lab sponsored by Den-Mat Corporation, new science labs, an athletic trainer room, football stadium lights and several modular buildings. He was instrumental in securing national recognition for St. Joseph High School as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in 1993.

By piloting the president-principal model in 1998, Elewaut led the way for other high schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to adopt the model and better meet the expanding leadership needs of Catholic secondary schools.

Besides church ministry on the weekends, Elewaut served as a civilian chaplain for the U.S. Air Force, an NCEA regional associate for Region II for the past 15 years and as a visiting committee accreditation chairman for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Debbie Herrera is Bishop Garcia Diego High School‘s director of admissions and public relations.