Catholic principals and vice principals are still working on educational training and degree programs, despite the extra workload brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Each of them who is willing at this point in time, when they’ve been through one of the hardest years that they’ve ever been through, and had more expected of them than ever before, for them to say, ‘Yes, I still want to grow. I know this will benefit my school, children, families, teachers,’ it just speaks to their heart for their Catholic schools,” said Marguerite Olberts, associate superintendent for marketing with the diocesan Catholic Schools Office. “It speaks to their commitment, their education. We really emphasize servant leadership and that's what our principals have, a servant’s heart, and their desire to lead their children closer to God.”
Catholic Extension has awarded grants for principal Kim Odom of St. Michael School in West Memphis, and assistant principals Nicole Schafer of Immaculate Conception School in North Little Rock and Ashley Davis of St. Vincent de Paul School in Rogers to take nine credit hours of Catholic school leadership training through Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Odom and Davis have master’s degrees, but the classes will focus specifically on Catholic school leadership. Schafer, who also has a master’s degree but in another field, can put these credits toward her master’s degree in school leadership, Olberts said.
“The nice thing is for these assistant principals, this will make them much stronger candidates when the time comes to be principals,” Olberts said. “All of them already have leadership degrees from public universities, but this gives them that Catholic perspective that is so important.”
It is the first year for Arkansas educators to participate through Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Eighty percent of the course is paid for, with Loyola covering 40 percent of the tuition and Catholic Extension covering $5,556. The remaining cost per student is $3,148 for nine hours of credit, a yearlong course. Barring any COVID-19 restrictions, the three will go to Los Angeles for on-campus orientation July 30-Aug. 1 and then study remotely from Arkansas. The principals will study mission-focused leadership in Catholic education, organizational leadership and school finance.
As a first year principal for St. Michael, Odom said she’s looking forward to learning about marketing and recruiting practices.
“It’s like I tell the kids all the time, you can always learn and grow,” Odom said. “You can always further your education and learn more.”
Principals Vivian Fox of St. John School in Russellville and Myndi Keyton of Christ the King School in Fort Smith received grants from Catholic Extension -- $3,850 per school -- to train with the Latino Enrollment Institute at the University of Notre Dame. Principal Janet Edgar of St. John School in Hot Springs will also attend, but with Title II funding.
Each school is responsible for $400. Pastors or other staff can also attend the four-day session this summer. After the session, they are paired for a year with a mentor principal who previously attended the institute.
The program started in 2012 through the Catholic School Advantage Campaign at Notre Dame in response to the growing Latino population of the United States and the Catholic Church. Olberts said it discusses creating a welcoming environment for Latino families, including appropriate signs and classroom methods.
Fox, who is attending the institute with pastor Father Mauricio Carrasco and school secretary Karen Greer, said St. John Church in Russellville is about 50 percent Latino, but in the school only 26 percent -- 90 students -- are Latino.
“I want to learn how to make the Latino community feel more welcome and comfortable in our school and parish community,” Fox said. “I also want to learn how to include the Latino community and help them and others realize that they are a vital part of our school and parish and have much to offer.”
Lead principal and middle school principal of St. Joseph in Conway, Matt Tucker is in his second year studying for his doctorate in educational leadership through St. Louis University. Rebecca Kaelin, former principal of the now-closed St. Boniface School in Fort Smith, is continuing her doctoral studies along with Tucker.
The school pays 50 percent of their tuition, with each student responsible for $610 per semester for two classes. Their group project, comparable to a thesis, is planned for spring 2023.
“As an educator, you’re always looking for professional development but also personal growth. I could go and take generic classes that would help me be a better principal,” but Tucker said he wanted the Catholicism and challenge of SLU courses. “... I really do see myself staying in Catholic education, in a leadership-type role.”
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