More Catholic schools transitioning to a president/principal model

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

The complex job of managing, improving, and promoting Catholic education just got a little easier at St. John the Apostle School. Beginning this year, the kindergarten through eighth grade campus in North Richland Hills will adopt the president/principal model. It’s a strategy that divides multiple administrative roles and responsibilities between two individuals.

Amy Felton, former assistant principal, was named principal for the 2013-14 academic year. David Dean, an experienced Catholic school administrator from Plaquermine, Louisiana, will join St. John as president.

U.S. Catholic secondary schools have used the president/principal model for 25 years and it is becoming more common in Catholic elementary/middle schools, according to diocesan School Superintendent Don Miller. In the Diocese of Fort Worth, Nolan Catholic and Cassata High Schools have employed a principal and president for more than 10 years.

Last year, Holy Trinity and Our Mother of Mercy Schools experimented with the model and will continue to use it. The diocese is encouraging other schools in the diocese to consider the idea.

The job of a Catholic school principal has become increasingly complex, Miller points out.

“Many people who rise to the position of principal do so because they’re good teachers interested in curriculum, or they like dealing with kids and parents but they lack other skills,” he explains. “They haven’t been prepared as fundraisers, marketers, and business professionals.”

Successful Catholic schools in today’s world rely on that expertise. The president/principal model allows one administrator (the president) to focus on the overall direction of the school, while the other (the principal) manages the day-to-day operation of the educational program.

“Another way to look at it is the president is the chief executive officer and the principal is the chief operating officer,” Miller said.

A school’s president handles the finances, development, strategic planning, marketing, and grant writing. He or she also deals with community relations. The principal’s chief focus is the students, teachers, and parents and how they relate to academic programs.

Both the president and principal share responsibility for the Catholic identity of the school and the spiritual leadership of the faculty and staff.

Twenty percent of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fort Worth currently use the model, and the superintendent expects that number to increase. The addition of a president to the administrative team can eliminate the need for an assistant principal.

“It’s not an extra position but a more defined division of responsibilities,” the superintendent continued.

St. John’s principal hopes implementing the president/principal model and the relocation of North Richland Hills’ city hall near the campus will help the school grow.

“The city is moving its offices right behind us,” Felton explains. “So this is going to allow Mr. Dean, our new president, to create a great relationship with the city. People will know we are here and that will build our school up.”

The new organizational structure is working at Our Mother of Mercy, where Michael Barks was appointed school president last June. Erin Vader is the school’s principal.

“I’m in charge of public relations, fundraising, enrollment, and those types of things,” he explains. “Advertising for enrollment is key to the success of the school, so I work on those strategies quite a bit.”

Barks’ efforts to increase enrollment, find sponsorships, and communicate with the nearby community takes a lot of pressure off the principal.

“I think it’s very helpful in that way,” he adds. “It’s always better to have two people when there are so many facets to take care of in education.”

More parishioners from Our Mother of Mercy are volunteering at the school and an overall increase in support is noticeable. Barks, who graduated from Catholic elementary and secondary schools in Virginia, is optimistic about the future of Our Mother of Mercy School.

“Part of my job is giving people innovative ideas on how to pay for an education in difficult times,” he says.

The complex job of managing, improving, and promoting Catholic education just got a little easier at St. John the Apostle School. Beginning this year, the kindergarten through eighth grade campus in North Richland Hills will adopt the president/principal model. It’s a strategy that divides multiple administrative roles and responsibilities between two individuals.

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