Principals gather to reflect

Principals, from left, including Chantel Jaso, St. Nicholas Academy’s new principal; Suzanne Barnett, principal of St. Martha School, and Stephanie Longshore, the new principal of St. Stephen Martyr School, shared a laugh as they took part in an activity July 31. They were among more than two dozen who attended an Archdiocese of Louisville principals’ retreat at Mount St. Francis Center for Spirituality. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

MOUNT ST. FRANCIS, Ind. — A group of about 25 school principals — some assuming the role for the first time — gathered at Mount St. Francis Center for Spirituality to prepare for the new school year with prayer and reflection July 31. 

Dr. Mary Beth Bowling, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Louisville, opened the principals’ retreat by asking the educators to reflect on a series of questions.

“What makes our leadership different?” she asked them. “How do you approach your work? What’s your ‘why’ for choosing a Catholic vocation?”

Bowling told veteran principals that the new principals need their support. “They deserve to know they’re part of a larger community,” she said. 

She asked each to share some words of encouragement with their colleagues who are first-time principals.

Their advice included:

  • Get to know their new school and its traditions.
  • Find ways to interact with students because the students are “the best part.”
  • Stay rooted in a spiritual life and rely on God.
  • Listen to and communicate with families.
  • Stay calm.
  • Celebrate small victories.
Dr. Kevin Baxter gestured as he spoke to a group of principals during a retreat July 31. Baxter, a former educator and superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, now serves as director of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program at the University of Notre Dame. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

The group also heard from Dr. Kevin Baxter, director of the University of Notre Dame’s Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program. 

Starting his presentation with an activity to get the principals out of their chairs and interacting, he used stories from Scripture to highlight different leadership characteristics. 

From the Gospel of John, Baxter related the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The best model for servant leadership, Baxter said, is Jesus Christ. 

“You’re all models for your school. It’s important to recognize that’s a challenge,” said Baxter, who served as a teacher, principal and superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “What you model is what you’ll see.”

Mary Parola, assistant superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville, worked with Amy Fears, the new principal of St. Raphael School, and Lara Krill, principal of St. Gabriel School, during an activity July 31. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Serving as an educator in a Catholic school is a “vocational call,” he said “You don’t do it to get rich or known, it’s truly a vocational call. Our obligation is to continually nurture that call” and to do so “within your teachers as well.”

Building relationships is also important, he said, noting that even difficult relationships need attention because there’s always something to be learned. Leaders have an obligation to “figure out what people have to teach you,” he said. 

Baxter noted that “the real work or leadership is the people” and, as the person at the helm, it’s possible to deal with those “five minutes of interruption” that sometimes claim the entire day. People should never be seen as an interruption, he cautioned.

Ruby Thomas
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Ruby Thomas
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