Principals learn more about their role as mentors



CHARLESTON — This fall’s fifth annual conference for Catholic school principals focused on the principal as a spiritual and academic mentor. The meeting was sponsored by the Department of Elementary Schools of the National Catholic Educational Association and was held at the North Charleston Sheraton.

About 200 principals from 34 states attended the conference, including 21 Diocese of Charleston principals. It was three enriching days geared to help principals enhance their own spirituality and that of their faculty.

On Nov. 8, the session opened with a keynote address from Elinor R. Ford, Ph.D., an educational consultant.

“Principals have so many hats they have to wear today in their schools. The most important hat is spiritual leader,” said Margaret Adams, Ph.D., superintendent of schools. “Dr. Ford emphasized that fact.”

Adams said that the Charleston diocesan principals all came away from the conference with a renewed sense of spirit. In order for principals to be in charge of the spiritual leadership at their schools, they must take time for themselves to re-energize, she said.

Principals, superintendents, and consultants presented workshops on Friday and Saturday.

Judi Koepnick, principal of Immaculate Heart of Mary School, Grand Rapids, Mich., offered ideas on “Building a Spirit of One.” She suggested ways of connecting with staff members and creating a spirit of one.

“You must keep that spirit once you find it,” said Koepnick. She made numerous suggestions for keeping the spirit alive: pray together, light votive candles for each staff member, give teachers disposable cameras for “Kodak moments,” offer opportunities for spiritual retreats. The ideas are endless, and Koepnick said to be creative.

Another workshop presenter said that teacher evaluations are an important aspect for creating a successful learning environment. Sister Sara Kane, assistant superintendent of schools in San Bernardino, Calif., stressed that true in-class evaluations are needed to understand a teacher’s style. Merely walking by classrooms doesn’t provide a sense of the level of teaching.

“Teachers deserve the evaluation process,” said Sister Kane, “so at the end of the year you can see where you’ve come from and where you’re going and how you can help.”

In “Films and Prayer,” George Hofbauer, principal of St. Joseph School in Seattle, shared opportunities for reflection and prayer within movies. By showing various clips, he demonstrated how important and difficult subjects could be addressed in films.

In one clip from “Finding Forrester,” a student is challenging his teacher. From this Hofbauer asked, “How do we teach? How do we react when a student or teacher stands up to us.” The important lesson in this scene is that tables can turn and make a student the teacher, and this is a concept that needs to be acknowledged by the teacher.

There are teaching moments in many films like “Apollo 13,” dealing with a crisis; “Field of Dreams,” what are the calls you’ve heard in your life, “and “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” losing one’s way in life.

In another workshop, Principal Paul DeZarn of St. Raphael School in Louisville, Ky., shared an interesting new model of teaching. In “Who Moved My Planning Period?” he described a plan where teachers are in the classrooms teaching for four days, and on the fifth they work on staff development. DeZarn said that there was some resistance from parents, but even the most vocal dissenter acquiesced to the new model.

Robert J. Kealey, Ed.D., executive director of the NCEA, said the annual fall conference grew out of the summer academies, which the organization started about 15 years ago.

There are three academies — beginning, experienced (10 years plus), assistant principal — that inform principals on new developments and offer time for them to share with one another their challenges and successes.

The annual conference was an offspring of the academies because the principals wanted to get together during the year.

According to Kealey, the training of principals is an area of significant improvement for the organization.

The executive director has been with the NCEA for 16 years and is retiring this year. A major change he’s seen within those years is a more positive outreach to educate people on Catholic education.

The NCEA began a national marketing campaign 10 years ago. National Catholic Schools Week, the last week in January, helps to make the populace aware of Catholic schools. On Catholic Schools Appreciation Day, on Wednesday of that week, all Catholics are asked to wear a button in support of Catholic schools. Also during the week, the NCEA sends their members to congressmen and women to distribute information about Catholic schools.

In Kealey’s 16 years the organization has worked to build awareness of legislation for all children. The NCEA has made it their mission to make people aware of the importance of parochial education and that parents should have a choice in their children’s education. They have campaigned for government assistance for religious education and to give people knowledge of the matter so that they may be vocal in their communities.

Kealey noted that for the past seven to eight years enrollment in Catholic schools has gone up.

The Catholic school association quickly responded this year to assist their members with the disaster of Sept. 11. They provided information on holding prayer services and on helping children through the crisis.

“The events of Sept. 11 have led to a terrific affirmation of the need of Catholic and religiously affiliated schools,” said Kealey. “Our priorities may not have been what they should have been, but there’s now a commitment to go and be something to other people in the world.”