Principals and Presidents: The new wave of Catholic educators

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – August 3, 2017

As a new school year begins, The Office of Schools welcomes seven new principals and two presidents, each with a unique vision for Catholic education and a passion for the faith that drives their educative efforts.

In an address to the Congregation for Catholic Education, Pope Francis said, “Institutions of education have meaning only in relation to the formation of the person.” These new administrators respond to the pontiff’s call “to be builders of a more united and peaceful world.”

New Principals

Kathleen Falk returns to the Diocese of Orlando as principal of Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School in Indialantic after serving as a principal in New Jersey and teaching and serving as principal for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School in Palm Coast.  She served as assistant superintendent and school principal for the Diocese of St. Augustine for the past two years.

“It is through my love for Catholic education and the appreciation of the sacrifices my parents made to allow me to attend Catholic schools, that I now serve, teach, lead, and love as our Lord Jesus Christ taught me,” said Falk.

Megan Losito, said she believes “in educating the whole child” while “nurturing the mind, body and spirit.” She begins serving as principal of Blessed Trinity Catholic School in Ocala after working as coordinator of the arts for Marion County Public Schools and serving as assistant principal in various capacities while at Lake Weir High School in Ocala. She is a parishioner at St. Theresa Catholic Church, Titusville.

“I am looking forward to learning and growing with this amazing group of teachers and the entire Blessed Trinity Community,” said Losito.  “Everyone here, from the teachers and staff, to the parents, and the students, has been so welcoming.”

Shelley Niswonger was appointed to the position of principal at Sacred Heart Catholic School, after serving as its assistant principal, IT coordinator and media arts instructor. Niswonger has a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Stetson University and extensive experience in graphic design, digital media and media arts. She also has vast knowledge of STEM and STEAM software and previously taught at Father Lopez High School in Daytona Beach.

“My focus as a faith and educational leader is to focus on the spiritual development of our students and their personal connection to the Catholic faith throughout every aspect of their educational experience at Sacred Heart School,” said Niswonger. “I look forward to increasing awareness and inspiring teachers to embrace new technologies and curricula associated with 21st century skills. I am most excited to work with students, teachers, families, community members and other educational leaders on collaborative projects that will make Sacred Heart School the premiere choice for faith and learning in the New Smyrna Beach area.”

David Parker Jr. is the new principal at Divine Mercy Catholic Academy in Merritt Island. Parker holds a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Central Florida. Formerly the director of athletics at St. John Vianney Catholic School in Orlando, he developed athletic and performing arts programs and worked to coordinate everything from an emergency management plan to summer camp.

“My vision for Catholic education is to provide access to exemplary education, spiritual growth and inspiration and a heightened sense of community through service,” explained Parker. “I am looking forward to getting to know and develop relationships with the families, teachers and community members.”

Leigh Svajko moves from Sacred Heart Catholic School in New Smyrna to Father Lopez High School in Daytona Beach. Svajko has spent many years in the diocese as a teacher at Father Lopez as well as director of religious education at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Daytona Beach. Anticipating the new school year, Svajko said, “I am looking forward to being with the students.  They are at the heart of this ministry.  Serving our students is a blessing that I deeply cherish.”

Shawnda Shaughnessy will be the new principal at Our Saviour Catholic School in Cocoa Beach. She has a rich tradition of serving the diocese in Volusia County Catholic schools including assistant principal at St. Brendan Catholic School in Ormond Beach. There she was also the athletic director and physical education teacher. Prior to her work at St. Brendan, she was as a teacher at Basilica School of St. Paul and athletic director. Shaughnessy was awarded Teacher of the Year in 2013 while at the Basilica School of St. Paul.

Dr. Erika Wikstrom has 10 years of experience in elementary, middle and high school education. She holds two master’s degrees from the University of New York and the University of Glasgow in Scotland, a bachelor of arts in humanities from Rollins College and a doctorate from National Louis University in Chicago. Dr. Wilkstrom is the new principal of Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala. She is a former Bishop Moore High School teacher and has worked as program director in the Montessori at Rosebrough School in Mount Dora as well as an adjunct professor at Rollins College. She was also a teacher at Wekiva High School in Apopka.

New Presidents

Lou Pereira will serve as the new president of Trinity Catholic High School, Ocala after serving two years as the school’s principal. He has been involved in Catholic education for 30 years with most of his experience working at the high school level.

“I am enthusiastic about my new role as President at Trinity Catholic because I am excited to bring our community together in a continuing effort to grow our school and ensure that it is in a good position for years to come,” said Pereira.

Pat LaMorte continues his good work at Father Lopez High School in Daytona Beach after previously filling the roles of assistant principal and principal. During his tenure at Father Lopez he has helped implement innovation spaces with applied STEM programs, a television studio and space for robotics applications and technology. His strong background in digital media, imaging and television production have served the school well.

In a letter to families, LaMorte said, “As a Christ-centered Catholic high school, the living of our faith is paramount in everything we teach and do.  Our students display their God-given talents in the classroom, on the athletic field, during their artistic performances and shows, and by serving the community through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, they choose to do. I am inspired, daily, by our students, young men and women working together to achieve excellence and to lead lives of faith and service.  I marvel at their efforts to be the best they can be as students, athletes, artists, and leaders.”