'Embraced' and empowered: Schools office starts program to support new principals

Above: Mike Watson (left), a retired principal, is a mentor to Patrick Kurz (right), a new principal in the diocese.

Ask educators and they will tell you - schools are most vital when administrators are supported. It’s something the Diocese of Raleigh believes, too, and its Office of Education recently implemented new support structures for new principals and early childhood center directors. Under the leadership of Marcia Edge Navarro, assistant superintendent, this research-based program equips new Catholic school administrators to serve their school communities successfully. 

Navarro’s role itself, which focuses on leadership and was new in 2022, is one component of the superintendent’s vision to restructure the Office of Education to provide comprehensive support to Catholic school communities.

“In order to recruit, develop and retain quality Catholic school leaders, it is crucial to provide consistent and ongoing support,” said Lytia Reese, superintendent. “Our office is in the position to partner with pastors in the formation of our new administrators.”

For Navarro, supported principals are most likely to experience success.

“Professional development becomes long-term learning when there is follow-up through goal-setting, coaching and networking,” she said.  

In the 2022-23 school year, the diocese welcomed three principals and one early childhood director to this program, a four-faceted approach to leadership development.

“The principal’s success as a visionary Catholic leader directly impacts faculty, staff and student formation,” said Reese. “The intentional support structures for new administrators in the Diocese of Raleigh will continue to develop the outstanding potential of our leaders and ensure the sustainability of our schools.”

How the program functions

The program includes a yearly goals meeting for each administrator, their pastor, Reese and Navarro. This meeting includes a discussion regarding growth opportunities for the school leader, as well as strategies to achieve their leadership goals. 

Each principal or director is also partnered with a mentor who has served as an administrator in Catholic schools.

Mike Watson, who recently retired from his career as principal at The Franciscan School, serves as a mentor.

“Mentoring is one of the keys to success for any person in a new role, especially one with all the responsibilities of a principal. The benefit of having an experienced person act as a sounding board, offer a learned vantage point and provide insight into pitfalls and challenges in dealing with all the stakeholders in any school environment is a way for the new principal to gain confidence and perspective,” Watson said. “The mentor is not there to provide answers or a checklist; they are there to lower stress by assuring the new principal they are on the right path and are keeping their focus on the important things."

A third level of support is offered through bi-weekly personal coaching sessions with Navarro. These sessions offer administrators the opportunity to ask questions regarding their role as a leader. Sessions are offered both in-person and virtually, with the content tailored to the needs of the individual.

DawnMarie Smith, principal at The Franciscan School, said, “I appreciate the monthly visits and weekly coaching sessions from Marcia along with her availability any time I have a question. In addition to having a mentor at the Office of Education I also have a peer principal mentor who I can call upon at any time. The Triangle area principals also have an ongoing text chain we utilize to get quick answers to any pressing issue or planning question. This program has embraced me and provided me with the support that is necessary to aid in my success.”

Monthly meetings, referred to as the new administrator network, complete the fourth element of wraparound support. These meetings include discussion of case studies and the opportunity to read, discuss and reflect on education articles. Meetings often include conversations about instructional leadership and trust. A group book study is also included in the meetings, focused on the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Navarro stated, “It’s generating a lot of discussion about teams and culture, and how our leadership impacts school and community culture.”

Patrick Kurz, who was recently appointed principal at Immaculata Catholic School after serving as interim principal for a year, said, “I have found the support of my diocesan mentors and coaches to be invaluable. Coaching sessions and small-group networking PLCs with other new and veteran principals has been especially helpful as I am able to seek guidance on key issues from other diocesan leaders who have successfully navigated similar challenges in their professional experience. I have also found that my training through the University of Notre Dame Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program closely parallels the supports provided to new principals in the Diocese of Raleigh this year, and I am grateful for the structure and support put in place for me as an administrator.”

As the Office of Education continues to improve support for new principals, it also continues to benefit from the experience of long-time administrators and research-based best practices.

Lynn Magoon, who will retire from the principalship this year after 33 years of service in the diocese, said, “Administration can be a very lonely job, especially when you are a new principal without a broad network to call on.  Many of our diocesan schools are not near each other, and it is a great help and comfort to have Office of Education staff and programs ready to answer questions and give ideas when needed to assist administrators with the many decisions and challenges they face in their daily jobs.” 

For Sarah Macey, director of St. Raphael Preschool, connections are powerful and important. "One of God's greatest teachings is to ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ As a new director, I have seen this firsthand through the multiple avenues of support I have received through a mentoring program and continual in person gatherings with co-workers and professional leadership staff. Most importantly I feel as if I am part of a culture that has the necessary resources to enable me to fulfill my passion for Catholic education,” she said.

The Diocese of Raleigh currently has multiple opportunities for new leaders for the 2023-24 school year. To view and apply for positions, please visit https://dioceseofraleigh.org/employment or contact Assistant Superintendent Marcia Edge Navarro at marcia.navarro@raldioc.org.