Catholic-school principals are a unique breed: They’re called upon to not only be administrators, but spiritual leaders as well.
That point is emphasized by Anthony Cook, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools. He explained that in order for Catholic identity and values to circulate among faculty, staff, students and volunteers, "that really needs to be felt from the leadership."
"Principals have to have a deep commitment to their personal faith and share that with others, in a way to inspire deeper connections," Cook said.
The superintendent lauded the professional expertise of all five diocesan-school principals in the Southern Tier area: Dr. Gerald Benjamin (St. Agnes School, Avon), Lorie Brink (Holy Family, Elmira), Don Mills (Immaculate Conception, Ithaca), James Tauzel (All Saints, Corning) and Jean Yorio (St. Mary Our Mother, Horseheads).
James Tauzel took over as principal at All Saints Academy in Corning in January 2015. Above, Tauzel practices Mass music with seventh- and eighth-graders at the school Jan. 14.
Yet Cook said these leaders also possess strong spirituality, pointing out that many Catholic-school principals in the diocese are actively involved in their parishes. He noted that anyone applying for a principal’s position must be a practicing Catholic — preferably with a reference from his or her parish pastor — and that Bishop Salvatore R. Matano makes a point of meeting with principal candidates before they’re hired.
Cook said principals in his jurisdiction go above and beyond in several other ways. They tend to be highly involved in marketing and fundraising efforts, and — particularly in small-city or village settings such as in the Tier — are also looked upon as community leaders. Within the school, Cook added, Catholic-school principals are adept at the personal touch.
"What I’m seeing is principals taking the opportunity to meet the families and kids coming to school in the morning. I think the perception of principals by students is so different nowadays. The principal is seen as a support person, as opposed to an authority figure. In all the schools the kids think the principal is truly someone they can go and talk to. I think that’s a major shift in probably how it was even 20 years ago," said Cook, who served for nearly two years as principal of Seton Catholic School in the Rochester suburb of Brighton before becoming superintendent in 2013.
All of these elements emanating from the principal help produce a close-knit school environment, Cook said: "The interconnectedness that exists, that’s part of the compelling nature of it. It’s very comparable to a church community."
Even though several intangibles are required of Catholic-school principals, Cook said the diocese is blessed with folks well suited for the task.
"We’ve just been so fortunate to find people that are excellent educators and so deeply committed to Catholic education," he said.
Included in that group are the following Tier-area principals:
Dr. Gerald Benjamin
St. Agnes School, Avon
PRINCIPAL HERE SINCE: 1997
NATIVE OF: Springfield, Mass.
HIGH SCHOOL ATTENDED: Classical High School
COLLEGES ATTENDED: American International College (bachelor’s); Tufts University (masters); Syracuse University (doctorate in special education and curriculum development/administration)
EXPERIENCE OF NOTE: New York State Education Department, research associate (1965-67); Boston University School of Education, department head of special education (1967-72); University of Virginia, visiting summer school professor (1968-71); principal, Geneseo School District (1972-87); principal, Cambridge (N.Y.) School District (1987-90); principal, Caledonia-Mumford School District (1990-97)
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT MY JOB: "The children (are) the well-spring of my happiness. I just have to look into their eyes as I am greeting each student each morning and I realize how blessed I am."
WHY CATHOLIC EDUCATION MATTERS: "My St. Agnes School colleagues, my dedicated teachers and staff, have a clear understanding of not only how children develop but who project great respect for the sanctity of childhood."
SUPERINTENDENT SAYS: "Gerry is an absolute treasure, not only to St. Agnes but Livingston County. The events and culture he brings to that school and parish (such as concerts and Sept. 11 remembrances) are indescribable."
Holy Family School, Elmira
PRINCIPAL SINCE: 2011
NATIVE OF: Elmira
HIGH SCHOOL ATTENDED: Southside
COLLEGES ATTENDED: Nazareth College (bachelor’s); Elmira College (master’s); University of Scranton (administrative certification)
EXPERIENCE OF NOTE: Teacher, Corning-Painted Post Schools (1997-2006); first-grade teacher, Holy Family (2009-11)
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT MY JOB: "It is important for me to incorporate my Catholic faith each day at school while interacting with the students, families and staff. We are a close team of like-minded people. We interact as a family and we have the best interest of the students as our priority. I love coming to school each day!"
WHY CATHOLIC EDUCATION MATTERS: "There are so many distractions for students, especially in this day and age. While technology can be a great teaching tool, it also has many dangers. In a Catholic school we can openly discuss the importance of our faith. This helps to guide the students on their journey of good citizens that are kind and of good character."
SUPERINTENDENT SAYS: "I don’t know if I’ve met too many more people than Lorie who just so deeply cares about the kids. I think for all our principals it’s all about the kids, but it’s the way she talks about them. It’s just so clear when you talk to her that the kids are her highest priority."
Immaculate Conception School, Ithaca
PRINCIPAL SINCE: 2013
NATIVE OF: Bath
HIGH SCHOOL ATTENDED: Haverling
COLLEGES ATTENDED: St. Bonaventure University (bachelor’s); Rowan University, Glassboro, N.J. (master’s in educational administration)
EXPERIENCE OF NOTE: Science teacher, Cumberland Regional High School, Seabrook, N.J. (1991-2002); assistant principal, Williamsville South High School (2002-07); principal, Niagara Wheatfield High School (2007-09); principal, Ithaca High School (2009-11)
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT MY JOB: "The excitement for school I see from the students and their parents every day. The dedication that all families have for a positive learning experience for their children, and the willingness to volunteer to help maintain the positive environment at the school."
WHY CATHOLIC EDUCATION MATTERS "A Catholic education teaches values of tolerance, respect and service often missing in public schools."
SUPERINTENDENT SAYS: "Don is just so willing to help other principals, serving as a mentor for them. He’s never shy about taking on any potential task that we may have for him — always willing to help, a generous individual. He also has made a strong attempt to reach out to the parishes in the area, which I think is significant."
All Saints Academy, Corning
PRINCIPAL SINCE: January 2015
NATIVE OF: Worcester, Ostego County
HIGH SCHOOL ATTENDED: Worcester Central School
COLLEGES ATTENDED: Cornell University (bachelor’s); University of Texas — Pan American (master’s in educational administration)
EXPERIENCE OF NOTE: Teacher and supervisor, Donna Independent School District, Donna, Texas (2009-15)
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT MY JOB: "I am blessed to lead an organization that is strong and growing because of the contagious energy of our students. We are supported by a dedicated group of parents and families, an experienced staff, and a culture that emphasizes the fact that above all else, All Saints is a family. We share our successes and our failures because we are all in this together."
WHY CATHOLIC EDUCATION MATTERS: "There may have been no greater time in history than today to remember the simple, yet critical, mission of our Catholic schools: to teach students the truth of the Catholic faith in a setting that strives to emulate the love and compassion of Christ. This has always been the mission of Catholic schools and must remain central to all that we do."
SUPERINTENDENT SAYS: "You can just tell Jim is very thoughtful in the way he makes decisions. He is also one of the most intelligent and talented people I’ve had the opportunity to work with."
St. Mary Our Mother School, Horseheads
PRINCIPAL SINCE: July 2015
NATIVE OF: Alfred and Pittsford
HIGH SCHOOL ATTENDED: Pittsford-Mendon
COLLEGES ATTENDED: Alfred University (bachelor’s); SUNY Geneseo (master’s); SUNY Brockport (certification in educational administration)
EXPERIENCE OF NOTE: Teacher, Dundee Central School (1986-91); teacher and preschool director, Horseheads School District (1997-2003 and 2008-15)
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT MY JOB: "The best part is that I can interact with every student on a daily basis. As a staff in a small-school setting, we have the opportunity to get to know each student, and their family, and create a plan that helps each student reach their highest levels of success. As principal at a Catholic school, I can bring a focus on faith into the educational setting."
WHY CATHOLIC EDUCATION MATTERS: "Our world continues to show it’s need for deeper character education and faith formation, especially for our youngest students. Catholic education can provide a strong foundation, based on faith, that will help create a future filled with highly educated, respectful, compassionate and merciful individuals."
SUPERINTENDENT SAYS: "Jean is probably one of the most kind and honest administrators we’ve had join us. She’s just so genuine. Her kindness is just something that sticks out. The moment you meet her, you feel comfortable."