Reflections of a 17-Year Catholic School Principal

This post is the second of a series of posts during Catholic Schools Week.

By: Mary Pat Schlickenmaier, Principal of Saint Rita School

As we look forward to our annual celebration of Catholic Schools Week, which started Sunday, January 25, we remember that this a time of reflection on both our school mission and the work that is done to keep that mission vibrant and present in the lives of the children entrusted to our care.

It has been 17 years since I was blessed with the position of principal at Saint Rita School in Alexandria, and that journey has been one of great joy for me. I can truly say that even after all of these years, I still get up every morning and can’t wait to get to school!

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Mary Pat Schlickenmaier, Principal of St. Rita, with students.

The role of the principal, along with that of our teachers, has certainly changed in past years, and it has been exciting to take on new challenges and see great progress in both our school and its students. When I began at Saint Rita, we were struggling with enrollment issues and financial challenges, but I quickly realized that all the members of the school community were completely committed to overcoming these challenges – and so we did – together!

What is the most important task for a principal? As we are Catholic school principals first and foremost, the assurance of our Catholic identity is our primary responsibility.

And how does a principal make sure that the school is authentically Catholic? In my case, it has been with the close collaboration and amazing dedication of three pastors – each bringing a unique set of gifts and talents that they shared with complete selflessness. An amazing and dedicated faculty and staff are key to this mission, as well, and I have been so blessed to be able to hire such a faculty and staff.

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Principal of St. Rita, Mary Pat Schlickenmaier, prays the rosary with students.

Academic excellence is another hallmark of our Catholic schools and the principal needs to monitor and encourage growth in the curriculum and how it is presented to the children. Over the years, we at Saint Rita School have added a wide range of technology to the classrooms, broadened our curricular offerings for the students, and expanded our facility to include a preschool. The preschool, now in its fourth year, is a project of which I am most proud, as we started from scratch to build a unique program centered on the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Our little Lambs and Shepherds have the tremendous benefit of this beautiful formation in the faith as part of their daily lives at Saint Rita. We have expanded this program over the years to include Kindergarten and first and second grades, and we hope to continue to bring this program to the older students, as well. We constructed an Atrium, a specially prepared room for Good Shepherd Catechesis and we’ve watched this grow and develop under the guidance of two talented Catechists.

Every principal should be the “master teacher” in their building, and I hope that I have modeled good practices by continuing to teach. I have always taught one class each year, and for the past four years have been the Algebra I teacher. There is nothing like having to do lesson plans, enter grades, grade papers and teach every day to keep you connected to the daily lives of your teachers.

Finally, we have a responsibility to encourage our students to live lives of service. We are very blessed at Saint Rita to have the continuing presence of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. We have a special program with the retired Sisters who live in Pennsylvania, where each class adopts a Sister and sends cards and letters – along with little gifts – to their “Villa Angel.” Our students collect food, raise money and contribute service hours, all in the service of those in need, and with a true understanding of the corporal works of mercy.

My journey as principal has taken many paths over the years, and I am hoping to discover a few new ones in the years to come. I have always loved being the principal of Saint Rita School, and cannot wait to see what God has in store for me, the children, parents, faculty and priests, all of whom I hold so close to my heart.

MarySchlickenmaierMary Pat Schlickenmaier begins year 29 with the Diocese of Arlington and year 17 as Principal of St. Rita School this school year. A graduate of Loyola College, Schlickenmaier began teaching right after graduation at Elizabeth Seton High School, where she taught chemistry, physics and bioethics. In 1985, she began teaching junior high science, math and computer technology at St. Mary’s School, in Alexandria, where she remained for 13 years until 1998, when she was selected as the principal of St. Rita School. Schlickenmaier holds an M.A. from the University of Virginia in School Administration and Supervision. She has a post-graduate collegiate license from the State of Virginia with endorsements in Administration and Supervision pre-K through 12 and Biology, as well as an Advanced Catechist license from the Diocese of Arlington. Schlickenmaier currently serves as the President of the Arlington Principals Association.  She was recently notified that she is a recipient of the NCEA Distinguished Principal Award for 2015, which she will receive at the NCEA National Convention in April in Orlando, Florida.

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