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Tricia Barber starts her 25th year as principal at St. Francis of Assisi School in Triangle

First slide

Tricia Barber, principal of St. Francis of Assisi School in Triangle, hit the ground running when she started her job 25 years ago. She was knee-deep in the school accreditation process and construction of the school building within a month of being named principal.


Every weekday, Barber arrives at school by 5:45 a.m. and sets about opening up. “What I really love is to see when the teachers and the students arrive with a smile on their face,” she said. “Their joy is my joy.” 


Traditions she began or maintained include a Labor Day picnic, candy bingo potluck and St. Francis Day in the Park at Locust Shade Park in Triangle. This year it’s set for Oct. 2, and celebrates the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. There’s also a spaghetti dinner and other activities.


Many activities involve the entire family. “If we say that parents are the primary educators, we need to assist with that,” said Barber. “I’m finding that the days of having a meeting where you bring in parents is difficult, particularly when some parents are not arriving home until 7 p.m. or have difficulty finding childcare options. We try to focus on activities that the whole family can enjoy.”


Barber said she gets the sense from the faculty that they don’t find the work to be a career, but rather a vocation.


“I believe that if someone were to come here and want to be part of it and it was only for a job, they probably wouldn't be happy here because the other teachers do not feel that way,” she said. “I do believe our parents can sense that with us, too.”


Barber has seen changes over the years, including the student demographic and increased enrollment of the school and the addition of a full-time pre-K this year. Prior to becoming principal, she was on the PTO board.


“When I first started, we had one minority student in the school. Currently we are 45 percent diverse minority,” she said. “That is part of the nature of being Franciscan. There are students from all over the world and that has been such a plus. I feel it’s so advantageous to the dynamics of being a Franciscan Catholic school.”


Barber said she feels as though parents are looking specifically for a Catholic school and not a private school.


“That's so important when you want a faith-based Catholic curriculum and religion classes, but you can still have them be inclusive.”


Barber’s daughters were in second and sixth grade at St. Francis when she began as principal.


“My daughters were rooted in their faith and well-prepared coming from here,” she said.


Franciscan spirituality is ingrained throughout the school.


“Religion is not a one-hour class during the week,” said Barber. “From the minute the students walk in the door to the minute they leave to go home, it's a complete day of evangelization from our office staff and for our faculty at the school.”


Commitment to outreach is a piece Barber has seen grown over the years. She doesn’t believe in dress-down days where the students pay $1, though it would be an easy way to raise money. Instead, she makes sure the outreach is more hands-on, including working with the Francis House ministry, which helps clients with food, rent, utilities and other services.


Over the past few years, the school has done a “Pennies for Peru” fundraiser raising $25,000 for a sister school in Peru, to improve electricity and running water in the school.


Even after the students have graduated, they aren’t far from Barber’s mind.


“I do believe in keeping in touch and they keep in touch now through social media,” she said. “I'm just so pleased to see that, and I always love to hear about their accomplishments.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019