Marymount provides support at the top

In today's world, the job of a Catholic school administrator is broader than ever.

"Not only are they the spiritual leaders of their schools and responsible for teacher supervision, they're facing a lot of other issues," said Sister, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Patricia Helene Earl, who runs the master of education in administration and supervision program at Marymount University in Arlington. The program is designed to help administrators face such challenges as marketing, development and recruitment, along with keeping teacher salaries competitive while keeping the cost of tuition down.

Forty-one students from 13 states and Honduras recently attended an intensive two-week summer session at Marymount U. The schedule provides flexibility for educators with busy lives: The bulk of the 36-credit hour program is completed online over a two-year period.

Participants complete the course in a group - or cohort - supporting each other and sharing experiences and insights. Courses are designed to help them grow spirituality and improve their leadership.

"Half of the students are already principals or other administrators," Sister Patricia said. "The other half are teachers identified for leadership positions. It's a wonderful mix."

One major change she's seen over the years is the background of educators.

"In the '50s and '60s, 96 percent of the faculty and administration was composed of the Religious brothers and sisters," she said. "Now I'm guessing that 98 percent comes from the laity."

Sister Bernadette McManigal, diocesan superintendent of schools, said Marymount's program is extremely valuable and is the primary way teachers in that system learn to become principals.

The program begins with the six-credit summer residency. During the school year, students connect with colleagues through online chats and collaborate on projects.

"Participants have a shared Catholic school background and common interest," Sister Patricia Helene said. "They build community very quickly. Not only do they form a bond while they're here, they stay in touch and support one another after they graduate."

Students return for another two-week session and six credits of coursework the following summer. During the second school year, they complete online coursework and prepare for a six-credit project, internship or thesis.

The program provides the values and perspectives essential to fostering Catholic unity and identity within a school community. It focuses on church history, teaching and moral perspectives. One component is the history of Catholic education. Another is community building.

Begun in 2001, the program has drawn students from as far away as Hawaii, France and Uganda.

"I have done other graduate courses online, but there is such a huge difference when you know exactly the people in your class, even if they are located all over the country," said Anne Saied, a fourth grade teacher at Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Vienna. "Being together for the first two classes enabled us to bond very quickly. Our cohort is awesome, and I feel as if I have made professional and social connections that will last a lifetime."

Karen Tessier, who teaches seventh- and eighth-graders at St. Joseph School in Herndon, was drawn to the way the program allows professionals to communicate, share ideas and grow intellectually and spiritually.

"Marymount is providing me with a phenomenal opportunity to work with other educational professionals to extend our faith beyond our classrooms and into our communities, carrying out Jesus' mission to serve others," said Tessier.

Both women praised Marymount's Catholic setting.

"Being able to assist young people on their faith journey is a strong calling, and being the best Catholic leader that I can be is why I am at Marymount," Saied added.

In addition to the Catholic component, the master's is approved by the Virginia Department of Education for licensure with an endorsement in administration and supervision PK-12.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015