By Tim Johnson
FORT WAYNE — The Prospective Principal’s Program has been a beneficial source of identifying individuals who possess the leadership potential to become Catholic school principals in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
Funding for the program has been provided by a grant through Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) since 2004.
“The significant financial support from OSV over the past 10 years for the Prospective Principal’s Program has placed strong Catholic leadership into our diocesan elementary and high schools, ultimately benefitting the Catholic education of thousands of Catholic school students,” said Marsha Jordan, associate superintendent of Catholic Schools who coordinates the administration of the program. “Sixteen current principals and assistant principals have been the beneficiary of the funding received from Our Sunday Visitor in order to complete their administrative coursework and licensure.”
“Many of these individuals would have found it difficult to accomplish this task without the benefit of the funding provided to this program,” Jordan said. “Our schools are blessed each day by the important work of these Catholic school leaders, and our diocese is blessed by the passion and commitment that Our Sunday Visitor shows in its support of many important programs within the diocese.”
Current principals identify and recommend teachers within their buildings who are strong Catholic role models and who also demonstrate effective leadership skills. The individuals must complete an application process and be interviewed by the superintendent and associate superintendent before acceptance into the program.
Jerome Kearns, executive director of Our Sunday Visitor Institute, told Today’s Catholic, “It’s important that our Catholic schools be led by principals who practice the Catholic faith and are committed to maintaining our Catholic identity. This is in danger today because of secular forces in our society and a shrinking supply of teachers who were educated in the Catholic school system. Therefore, it’s imperative that we develop and train Catholic educators for leadership roles so we can be certain our students are in a Catholic environment and are receiving the spiritual training needed to live and grow their faith.”
Cristy Jordan, assistant principal as St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth School in Fort Wayne, who will be principal of the new St. Joseph School next school year, is one of the beneficiaries of the program. “Support from other administrators in the diocese is critical and one of the greatest assets of the program,” Jordan said. “In addition, Marsha Jordan, our associate superintendent, meets with us regularly to guide us with advice and action steps that are quite specific to the needs of Catholic schools.”
“You can pursue a master’s in administration anywhere and you will certainly undertake a program that will prepare you for your position as principal,” Jordan said. “However, as leaders of Catholic schools, we are called to be a part of something greater than managing a building and staff. Rather, we are called to cultivate and sustain spiritual environments in which students experience opportunities to better know, love and serve God. … The program OSV assisted me with illuminated my role as a principal, not as manager of a school but as an architect of Catholic school culture.”
Carl Loesch, principal of Marian High School in Mishawaka, was not the typical prospective principal. He began his studies after he was appointed principal.
Of the program, Loesch said, “It helps teachers and other school personnel discern whether or not they are called to serve as school administrators. The Prospective Principal’s Program helps people develop their skills, learn about current trends in education and, most importantly, grow in their understanding of the critical role of principal as the spiritual leader of their school.”
Loesch participated in the Remick Leadership Program at Notre Dame and said it helped his formation into “a better Catholic school principal by broadening my understanding of school finances, school law, HR best practices, students with special needs and many other facets of school administrations.”
He added, “The absolute focus of the Remick Leadership Program was developing us as Catholic school leaders through liturgies, retreats and studying Church documents on education.”
“I am grateful for Our Sunday Visitor for making it possible for me to participate in the Prospective Principal’s Program and the Remick Leadership Program at the University of Notre Dame,” Loesch said.
Mark Kirzeder, the assistant principal of academics at Marian High School, said, “The most tangible benefit of the Prospective Principal’s Program is that it affords current leaders in Catholic schools throughout the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend the opportunity to pursue a principal’s license without having to bear the total cost of such an endeavor. Once the education is completed, then the newly-licensed principal agrees to serve in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for an extended period of time.”
Kirzeder said the Prospective Principal’s Program is not only beneficial to individual teachers who are pursuing further education, but it also ensures the future vitality and stability of the diocesan Catholic schools by providing and promoting future local Catholic school leaders.
In her first year as principal at St. John the Evangelist, Goshen, Principal Mattie Willerton said, “Since the program exposed me to the blessings and challenges of being a school principal before I became one, I felt more confident and prepared for the demands of the job.”
Stanley Liponoga, the principal of St. Joseph School in Monroeville, told Today’s Catholic, “The benefits from the program are life changing. Christ used the Prospective Principal’s Program as a tool to change my ministry and my life. I loved being a teacher, and I knew that God had called me to teach.”
“I planned to be a teacher forever, until God’s plan for my life changed,” he added. “The Prospective Principals grant from OSV covered my tuition at IPFW to earn my master’s degree in educational leadership.”
His degree and Indiana educational administrative license led Liponoga to become the assistant principal at St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School in Fort Wayne, and he was then chosen to be principal at St. Joseph Catholic School in Monroeville.
“The grant from OSV was a tool used by God to form me into becoming a better Catholic and to use the gifts He continues to give me to better serve Him,” Liponoga said.
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