Program seeks to foster future school leaders

BRAINTREE -- A new collaborative initiative between the Archdiocese of Boston's Catholic Schools Office and the Catholic Schools Foundation (CSF) is providing local Catholic educators with the training and opportunity to grow into school leaders.

Dubbed the Leadership Initiative, the multi-year program is designed to both create leaders within the schools, including principals and board members, and to increase the effectiveness of new leaders through a variety of training and professional development courses and evaluations.

"Quality leadership is essential to the long-term success of Catholic education and we are thrilled to support this comprehensive program," CSF executive director Mike Reardon told The Pilot, April 17.

"Catholic schools are blessed with committed teachers and administrators, but without programs like this, opportunities for professional development can be limited," he noted.

Some of the training offered to educators includes the Emmaus Leadership Series at Boston College, governance training for new Catholic school board members, and a unique Apprentice Principal program.

Lawrence-native and longtime Catholic educator Donna Henderson is one of the beneficiaries of this new initiative.

For nearly two decades, Henderson educated Catholic youth at St. Louis School in Lowell, teaching multiple grade levels and filling various administrator roles during her time there. She enjoyed the school and the students, but after 17 years, felt she "outgrew that fishbowl, in a sense." She felt she wanted to expand her role in Catholic education, and found that the Leadership Initiative would provide just that.

In particular, Henderson took advantage of the Apprentice Principal program. The program saw her leave St. Louis School, and begin a new position at St. Michael School in Lowell as apprentice principal, at the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

Speaking to The Pilot April 17, Henderson said the program was almost like "baptism by fire" -- it put her directly into a leadership role, providing direct experience.

She works directly with Principal Scott Bolton, who acts as a mentor to Henderson.

"We work hand-in-hand, we co-principal the school, in a sense," she said. "All decisions -- operational things, pragmatic things, teacher evaluations -- I get to walk through with a safety net."

"It's really unique, and it's actually a great hands-on experience. It's very authentic," she said.

Already, she has been accepted into the role of principal at St. Monica School in Methuen, beginning in the 2018-2019 school year. An alumnus of the school, Henderson is looking forward to leading St. Monica, and believes it will be a "natural transition."

Julia Fiedler-Ross, an educator at St. Raphael School in Medford, is another one of the beneficiaries of the Apprentice Principal program. She started at the Catholic school in 2015 as a math coordinator and a middle school math teacher, and was brought into the program after she approached the administration with ideas to strengthen the math curriculum at the school.

Now the dean of academics, Fiedler-Ross told The Pilot April 13 that she's "very fortunate to have the opportunity."

"I saw a lot that needed to be done (in the school)," she continued. "I couldn't really balance teaching math and doing the work that I wanted to do -- I just didn't have enough hours in the day."

She began the program in August of 2017, and has since been working with her principal and attending various professional developments through the Archdiocese of Boston, learning the ins-and-outs of being a principal and a better administrator.

Right now, Fiedler-Ross said she is applying to principal positions within the archdiocese.

"With my training this year, the hope is that I get hired as a principal in the fall of 2018," she said.

According to Reardon, investing in the Apprentice Principal program, and the Leadership Initiative in general, will help ensure "a pipeline of quality school leaders for years to come."

"Each year the Catholic Schools Foundation invests around $9 million in the schools through scholarship and other support and quality leadership in the schools is critical to ensuring that the resources granted are having the greatest impact for students and families," he said.

"The Leadership program Superintendent Kathy Mears and her team developed is quite comprehensive and is a critical investment in the people that make Catholic schools successful in the Archdiocese of Boston. We are proud to support the school leaders and Kathy's vision," Reardon continued.

Mears said April 18 that the Leadership Initiative "is helping us to develop our future school leaders in a way that is unique to Catholic education."

"Our apprentice principals are receiving excellent professional development while working in a collegial atmosphere that supports their learning. Preparing our educators to become our school leaders will help to assure the success of Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Boston," she said.

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