St. Rita principal gets surprise sendoff

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The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) selected Mary Pat Schlickenmaier, principal of St. Rita School in Alexandria, as one its 2015 National Distinguished Principals.

She is one of 59 principals who were honored; one from each state, the District of Columbia and schools operated by the U.S. Department of State and the Defense Department. She was one of three private school principals who received the award this year.

The NAESP has been honoring elementary school principals with the award for 32 years.

"Only a school principal can lead a school to success and positively impact an entire learning community," said Gail Connelly, NAESP's executive director in a statement. "That is why I am so pleased to congratulate this year's class of National Distinguished Principals - they richly deserve this honor and many more."

Ceremonies and a banquet for the principals were held Oct. 15 and 16 in Washington.

To give her a special sendoff before the official ceremonies, teachers and staff at St. Rita School planned a surprise Oct. 14 ceremony. Students made posters with congratulatory messages, and flowers and gifts were bought.

After morning Mass, and on the pretense of announcing the winners of the student government election by Father Daniel N. Gee, pastor, students grabbed signs and waited quietly for Schlickenmaier to congratulate the new student government members.

After the election results were announced, students were given the signal to hold up their signs as Schlickenmaier was given flowers and gifts by Student Government President Julia Hart and Vice-President Owen Peters, both eighth-graders.

This was the second honor this year for Schlickenmaier. In April, she received the National Catholic Educational Association's Distinguished Principal award. The NCEA nominated her for the NAESP award.

Schlickenmaier said she was surprised and delighted to see the outpouring of support from the faculty, staff and students.

"I'm quite overwhelmed," she said. "It's important that Catholic schools are recognized as the academic leaders they are, in addition to their (work in) spiritual formation."

Father Gee said he was surprised by the surprise too. He said that with Monday being a holiday and a priests' meeting Tuesday, he didn't know this was happening.

"She is, and always has been, a tremendous principal who puts the Catholic faith first," he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015