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Innovative Program Develops Aspiring Leaders



By Eileen Connelly, OSU

“I just care so much about this program.” 

Kathy Kane, Deputy Superintendent for Leadership and Licensure in the Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office, is referring to the Aspiring Catholic School Leaders Residency, which she had an active role in developing several years ago. The innovative program provides participants with the opportunity to strengthen, nurture, and cultivate their leadership abilities in collaboration with existing exceptional Catholic school leaders, building shared knowledge of best practices in spiritual and academic leadership. 

Kane, who previously served as principal of Our Lady of Victory School in Delhi, on the westside of Cincinnati, said her perspective of leadership development changed when she moved into her current position. “I started to notice that we weren’t getting as many passionate, qualified candidates pursuing leadership opportunities at our schools,” she explained. “The only thing that prepares you to be a leader in a Catholic school is to be a leader in a Catholic school.”

After Kane consulted with her colleagues, and with the full support of Susie Gibbons, Archdiocesan Superintendent, and Director of Educational Services, the Residency was launched at the start of the 2017-18 school year with seven participants. Eight aspiring leaders took part in 2018-2019, and six Catholic school educators are enrolled in the current cohort for this school year. Applications for the Residency are reviewed by a team of principals and require a presentation from the prospective leaders.

“We are looking for those candidates that we feel are ready to enter the pipeline,” Kane said. “Number one, that means being absolutely grounded in your Catholic faith. I’m not the person to judge this, but for a Catholic school leader, your relationship with God can’t be separated from any aspect of what you do. Your faith is what grounds you and guides you.”

During the Residency, monthly sessions are held at both the Catholic Schools Office and various local schools. Cohort members are immersed in opportunities to learn about leadership development and deepen their understanding and ability to lead. Their sessions include prayer and spiritual leadership, professional readings and presentations, and meaningful collaborative sessions with current principals. Covered topics include marketing and enrollment, financial stewardship, government programs, cultivating culture, leading change, instructional and operational leadership, and coaching. 

Mikki Dunkley is in her first year as principal at St. Vincent Ferrer School after spending 20 years teaching, eight of those at St. Vincent. 

She describes the chance to participate in the Residency as a blessing. “The Aspiring Leaders program was an invaluable part of my preparation for the role of principal. It was an incredible opportunity to meet with successful and experienced principals and to learn from them how to be a dynamic leader in a Catholic school. In each session, I walked away with more information that I knew I would be able to one day use in my own school to help create a culture that completely supported our mission as a Catholic school. I am so thankful I was a part of this.” 

“I participated in the Aspiring Leaders program during the 2017-2018 school year while serving as a kindergarten teacher at Sacred Heart (Fairfield),” said Stacie Wendt, now principal of St. Gabriel Consolidated School. “What I found most beneficial was learning about being a principal in Catholic schools and visiting many different schools in the area. Networking and meeting so many people at the Catholic Schools Office was a tremendous benefit to me last year as a first-year principal. Xavier (University) prepared me to be a principal, but there are so many more components to teaching in a Catholic school. Because of the Aspiring Leaders program, I knew who to go to when I needed help with something. I was lucky to be included in the group with other amazing women, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity.” 

The Residency is funded through the Catholic Education Foundation, with support from the One Faith, One Hope, One Love campaign. Kane said local Catholic educators are grateful for the investment being made in their professional training and leadership development. “There’s no way this program could be offered without the funding,” Kane said. “It’s wonderful to see how much is being done to support aspiring leaders and give them what they need to feel confident to lead. I am overwhelmed by their dedication and passion and their commitment to the students, families, teachers, and communities in our Catholic schools.” 


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