New principals ready for start of year at Catholic schools around diocese

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PROVIDENCE — The diocesan Catholic Schools Office has announced the appointment of seven new principals, and two returning principals, to serve at elementary and middle schools around the diocese. The principals, all of whom come from strong Catholic school backgrounds, will be responsible for guiding their schools through a number of new initiatives over the upcoming 2016-2017 school year.

Among the new principals are Allison Amodie, serving at St. Teresa School, Pawtucket; Patricia Bartel, St. Luke’s School, Barrington; Jennifer DeOliveira, Good Shepherd Regional School, Woonsocket; Sister Beth Ann Dillon, Sacred Heart School, East Providence; Jae T. Smith, Father John V. Doyle School, Coventry; Andrea Spaziante, Immaculate Conception Regional School, Cranston; and Sister Maria Francesca Wiley, St. Pius V School, Providence.

The two returning principals include Jack Rezendes, who will return as principal at St. Margaret School, Rumford, and Janet Rufful, who will serve as principal at St. Pius X School, Westerly, after previously serving at Blessed Sacrament School, Providence.

“We’re very excited about this new group of principals. They’re enthusiastic, eager and cooperative,” said Jack Wright, education coordinator for the Catholic Schools Office.

According to Superintendent Daniel Ferris, the selection process for Catholic school principals includes not only consideration of their skills and experience, but a period of discernment of their calling to Catholic ministry.

“It’s a very conscious vocation and a process of discernment that leads to it,” said Ferris. “We sit on the search committee, but the most important person on any search committee is the Holy Spirit.”

For Allison Amodie, incoming principal at St. Teresa School, Pawtucket, Catholic education is not only a vocation, but the foundation that provided her with the skills necessary for her career. Amodie, a former student at St. Cecilia School, Pawtucket, said she gained a strong faith background from her childhood growing up in Catholic schools.

“Taking that and moving into my adult life with it, I just always felt that I had wanted to teach at a Catholic school,” she said during a phone interview with Rhode Island Catholic. “For me, it’s more about the vocational calling of working in Catholic education. I really believe in the mission of Catholic education.”

Like many of her fellow principals, Amodie plans to integrate more technology into the school as digital learning tools become an increasingly important part of education. She also hopes to develop strong relationships with parents.

“I just really want to meet our families and start forming relationships with them and bring them into the school more,” she said. “Get our parents really involved in the school because they want to be there.”

Sister Maria Francesca Wiley, incoming principal at St. Pius V School, Providence, said she has been preparing spiritually, mentally and intellectually for the new position for several years. Though this will be her first administrative position, she feels prepared, as she is aware of the wealth of resources available within her new school community.

“I think the biggest part of being a leader of our school is knowing you don’t have to do everything,” she said. “God has placed so many gifts in your community. It’s sort of that listening to the Holy Spirit and being willing to listen well enough to know what gifts he’s placed there.”

Sister Wiley said she looks forward to continuing the faith formation programs started by previous Principal Sister Mary Veronica Keller, including a parent retreat program that offers guidance and spiritual renewal to parents as well as their families.

“I think that’s one of the most beautiful things that Sister Mary Veronica left is trying to support the families in our school and recognizing that the parents are the first educators of our children and wanting to support them in that, especially when it comes to imparting the faith,” she said.

Throughout the diocese, principals will be responsible for overseeing several new policy changes, including the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed last December and scheduled to go into full effect during the 2017-2018 school year.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, which builds on its predecessors the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) and No Child Left Behind Act (2002), promotes equal opportunities in education by allocating federal grant funds to support resources for low-income students as well as professional development for teachers. In the new version of the law, stricter standards for the distribution of funds among students within a school district are being cheered by Catholic school administrators, as the new requirements will ensure a more equitable calculation of funds distributed to low-income students in public and private schools.

“The bottom line is we have great hope that with the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind as the Every Student Succeeds Act that our students and parents will receive equitable services that they are entitled to,” said Ferris.

Other changes for the upcoming school year include the adoption of Renaissance STAR Assessments as the new diocesan-wide standardized test, a move administrators hope will reduce testing time and provide more personalized feedback on student performance for parents and teachers.

The Catholic Schools Office also hopes to increase opportunities for financial aid for students by pushing for an expansion of the state’s corporate tax credit scholarship program. The program, which offers tax credits to businesses that donate to scholarship-granting organizations, currently operates under a limited cap that allows only a fraction of interested businesses to participate.