By NANCY CZABALA
JAMES ISLAND — The Thursday before Thanksgiving each year is “National Day of Appreciation for Catholic School Principals,” sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). Since principals are not only responsible for the day-to-day operation of the school, but also for planning, budgeting, attending meetings, visiting sick students and parents, listening to the problems of students, faculty and parents and so much more, NCEA created a special day to recognize their outstanding work.
Margaret Neises has been a Catholic educator for more than 25 years. She came to Nativity School five years ago from the Archdiocese of Chicago where she was a principal. Very dedicated to Catholic education professionally, she also extends that belief in her own family; her children have attended Catholic schools throughout their education.
As a principal, Neises says, “I feel very strongly about the uniqueness of each child, and I work to development individuality through the faculty.” She says that it is important to have a Catholic staff — members with a strong Catholic background — who can help to communicate their faiths’ values to the children.
Two years ago a program called Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) was founded by Father Timothy Schully, CSC, to help understaffed Catholic schools in the southeast. The program involves graduate students from Notre Dame making a two-year commitment to Catholic education. Principals who were interested in the program applied, and Nativity was accepted as part of the program. Although the academic pursuit is most important, Neises was looking for a student with a music background who could extend the students appreciate of music. The two ACE students at Nativity have started a band, as well as a Latin Club.
With 330 students, 26 faculty members and 4-year-old kindergarten program through eighth grade, Neises works hard to implement programs to benefit everyone. She started a unique math and reading program that carries four levels in reading and three levels in math and is geared toward the lower grades. Students are able to work in small groups, targeting their individual needs. “We have seen exceptional results from this program in overall testing,” says Neises.
In the social justice program, created by Mary Ellen Jurgielewicz of Charleston, each class is assigned one of the Eight Beatitudes and is asked to implement it in the classroom or in the community. First graders shopped for baby food, buying 450 jars with money they earned from doing chores, took the food to Our Lady of Mercy Outreach Services on Johns Island and donated it to migrant workers’ families. Each grade implements their
beatitude in different ways, learning without frightening them, as was the hopes of Jurgielewicz, about the ills of the world in which they live.
Pastor at the Church of the Nativity Father Henry T. Barron, director of Vocations for the diocese, visits with classes and during Mass each Tuesday has the students pray for vocations. Father Joseph G. Maher, in residence at the Church of the Nativity, also says Mass on occasion, but focuses on teaching religion to the students. The children take part in walking Father Maher, who lost his sight a few years ago, over to the school for class.
Neises also pursued the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program, which is difficult to get established because it is so popular. The program, implemented at Nativity four years ago, educates fifth grade students about drugs. After the 17-weeks of drug education is completed, students graduate from the course.
“It’s taken me five years to bring the school to where it is now. And I feel through a dedicated faculty and supportive pastor the school will continue to grow,” says Neises.