By Robyn Kurth
In addition to having Henry P. Fortier as the new Secretary for Faith Formation/Superintendent of Catholic Schools, the Diocese of Orlando is also welcoming 11 new school principals. This larger-than-normal incoming class of new principals officially began their duties on July 1, and they have each been paired with mentors who are experienced principals within the diocese.
“Typically we probably have four to five new principals; this year we have 11 new principals because people have moved out of the area or they retired,” said James E. Cooney, Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for the Office of Catholic Schools. “It’s always exciting to have new people come and bring with them new experiences from new places and they contribute to the knowledge and faith community of the Diocese of Orlando.”
Fortier is especially excited about journeying with these new principals as he begins his first school year with the Diocese of Orlando. “We’re all coming together as a community of faith to spread the Gospel and to build our next generation of church and civic leaders,” said Fortier. “The ultimate goal of every Catholic school and every faith formation program is to make saints.”
The following new elementary school principals will be leading their pupils on the potential path to sainthood beginning with the 2011-2012 school year:
Dr. Larry Thompson is the new principal of Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Kissimmee. Dr. Thompson is new to the Diocese of Orlando, but he is not new to school administration. He has spent the past 23 years in Catholic education in Los Angeles, CA; Portland, OR; and Trenton, NJ. Dr. Thompson looks forward to “serving others in a faith-based environment,” and his vision for Catholic education is inspired by the Gospel readings where Jesus fed the multitudes with a just a handful of bread loaves and fish. “Jesus multiplies our offerings,” said Dr. Thompson.
Previously a religion teacher and technology coordinator at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Melbourne, where she taught for the last 10 years, Karen Tinter is the new principal of Our Saviour Catholic School in Cocoa Beach. “We need to integrate our Catholic identity in all our subject areas—I believe that educating the whole child body, soul and mind is a community effort,” Tinter said when asked to describe her vision for Catholic education. “Educating students in a parish school is such a supportive and caring environment to grow our Church.”
With a total of 14 years in the education field, Dr. Christopher Benedetti is the new principal of Resurrection Catholic School in Lakeland. Dr. Benedetti returns to the Diocese after being an administrator in Orange County Public Schools. Before obtaining his Doctorate degree, Dr. Benedetti was Assistant Principal at St. Joseph Catholic School in Winter Haven. His goal is to “provide a rigorous, relevant instructional program that is infused with our faith,” and looks forward to the opportunity of bringing his faith to an educational setting once again as he returns to Catholic education.
Leigh Svajko is the new principal of Sacred Heart Catholic School in New Smyrna Beach. Prior to taking her new position, Svajko taught for six years at Father Lopez Catholic High School in Daytona Beach, and she has also worked as a religion teacher and Director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Daytona Beach. “My vision for Catholic education is to integrate Catholic faith and values with learning and life,” said Svajko. “I look forward to getting to know the individual students and families that make up the community of Sacred Heart.”
A recent transplant to Orlando from the Diocese of Knoxville, TN, Dr. Pamela Bernards is the new principal at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Orlando. Dr. Bernards is a product of Catholic education, having attended Catholic schools in Florida, Tennessee, and North Carolina and receiving her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Dayton. “When thinking about my vision for Catholic education, I think of the words of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI when he reminds us that all the work we do should be with the focus of helping students grow in friendship with God,” said Dr. Bernards.
Claudia Stokes is the new principal at St. Joseph Parish School in Palm Bay, where her son will be a third grade student. Stokes held the position of Director of Lifelong Faith Formation at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Community at the time she was hired, and she was also a middle school teacher at St. Joseph Parish School from 2006 – 2009. Stokes says she is looking forward to “utilizing the gifts God has entrusted to our community to foster the continued growth of the St. Joseph Catholic Community and beyond.”
As the new interim principal at St. Mary Catholic School in Rockledge, Sandra Basinger has served the school and parish in the capacity of a middle school teacher, assistant principal and part-time Director of Religious Education. “My vision for Catholic Education is to continue making our schools relevant in the 21st century without losing our Catholic identity,” said Basinger. “I look forward to working with my wonderful staff to implement the Cambridge Program in grades K-8.” The Cambridge Program is a curriculum framework developed by Cambridge University to develop English, Mathematics, and Science skills.
Mary Ann Staley is the new principal at St. Paul Catholic School in Leesburg, and she comes to the Diocese of Orlando from the Diocese of Kansas City, KS, where she was a principal of two Catholic schools over the course of nearly two decades. Staley says she looks forward to “becoming acquainted with a wonderful parish family and to work collaboratively with parish staff, parents and teachers for a very productive school year.” Her vision of Catholic education involves three S’s—to educate every child Spiritually with an additional emphasis Scholarship and Service.
The new high school principals for the 2011-2012 school year are:
Thomas Armstrong is the new principal of Central Catholic High School in Melbourne. Armstrong is a graduate of Ascension Catholic School in Melbourne —where all three of his children are students—and Melbourne Central Catholic High School. With 30 years of experience in Brevard County schools, Armstrong comes to the Diocese of Orlando from Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, where he was the assistant principal. Armstrong’s vision for Catholic education is “that every student is given the opportunity to grow intellectually and spiritually and to be excited about the journey.”
The new principal of Father Lopez Catholic High School in Daytona Beach is Lee Sayago, who attended Catholic elementary and high school in the Diocese of Orlando and began his career as a teacher at St. James Cathedral School, in the same classroom where he was a student. Most recently, Sayago was Assistant Principal at St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando. Sayago anticipates “being a part of a vibrant community full of activity and service,” and envisions “providing an environment where students are able to develop their Catholic identity and academic potential.”
Entering into his tenth year at Santa Fe Catholic High School in Lakeland, Matthew Franzino will start the 2011-2012 school year as the new principal. Franzino served as Assistant Principal at the school before accepting the position as principal. His sons attend Resurrection Catholic School in Lakeland (where his wife is assistant principal) and Franzino looks forward to “leading the wonderful students at Santa Fe and helping them to be successful.” Franzino’s vision for Catholic education is “to provide a top quality education promoting the development of the whole child, and to lead students deeper in their faith.”
Kurth is the communications manager for the Diocese of Orlando.