New Catholic schools superintendent brings personal touch - Catholic Courier

New Catholic schools superintendent brings personal touch

Cheerfully admitting that she hadn’t been a model student in the eyes of some teachers, Anne Willkens Leach noted that in her youth she often received low marks for self-control because she laughed so much.

Yet, in a sense, her outgoing ways have allowed her to have the last laugh.

“Those have been gifts to help me get where I am. They make me who I am,” she said.

In late June diocesan officials announced Willkens Leach would take over Aug. 11 as the new diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools. She brings to the post many years of experience in local education and administration, and has served this past school year as principal of Rochester’s Nazareth Hall Middle School and Nazareth Academy.

“It is not my MO (modus operandi) to take a job and leave it this quickly,” Willkens Leach said of her one-year stint at Nazareth. “Nazareth is a wonderful, wonderful place. The kids are second to none. The programs and the technology are just state of the art.”

Yet she was moved to apply for the diocesan superintendent’s job because “it really seems like a perfect fit. It pulls together all the experience I have,” she said.

The post has been filled on an interim basis by Sister of St. Joseph Janice Morgan since January 2008, following the resignation that month of the previous superintendent, Sister of Holy Cross Elaine Poitras.

Willkens Leach will assume her new position on the heels of a downsizing that saw 13 of 24 Catholic elementary and junior high schools in Monroe County close at the end of the 2007-08 school year. A 14th diocesan school — Holy Family in Dansville, Livingston County — also closed.

“One of the things I want to do is keep the schools that are open, open,” Willkens Leach said.

While she feels that it’s too early to compile a long list of specific goals, she said she does plan to visit each diocesan school and get to know those communities.

“I want them to know I’m going to be a visible presence,” she said. “One of my key gifts is that I lead by collaboration.”

Willkens Leach’s gregarious personality might be just what the doctor ordered. She said it’s important to restore confidence in Catholic schools and the Rochester Diocese, though “I appreciate the (negative) emotions that are still there.”

Willkens Leach grew up in East Irondequoit, attending St. Cecilia church and school, and graduating from Eastridge High School. She earned an associate’s degree from Monroe Community College, a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Empire State, a master’s degree in education from Nazareth College and a certificate of advanced study in education administration from SUNY Brockport.

She began her career as director of physical education for School of the Holy Childhood and as girls’ physical-education instructor for Rochester School for the Deaf. In 20 years with Monroe BOCES No. 1, she was a district-based classroom teacher from 1979-83, training coordinator from 1983-89, and director of curriculum and staff development from 1989-99.

In 1999 she became assistant superintendent for instruction for the Wayne Central School District. In 2001 she became deputy superintendent of schools for Genesee Valley BOCES in Le Roy, where she remained until joining Nazareth in 2007.

Willkens Leach and her husband of 38 years, Steve, are Penfield residents and parishioners of St. Joseph Parish. They have two grown children and one grandchild.

Noting that very few people know her actual age, Willkens Leach remarked, “I like to think of myself as quite young. … I love children and I love life.”

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