Start­ing Out

New SSPP el­e­men­tary prin­ci­pal set­tles in, sets goals

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­pub.com

— As Dr. Faye Schilling set­tles into her new role as prin­ci­pal of Sts. Peter & Paul El­e­men­tary School, she brings her Philly street smarts, am­bi­tious plans and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the unique op­por­tu­nity she has to shape the ed­u­ca­tion of chil­dren in the Mid-Shore area.

“My first im­pres­sion is what a won­der­ful place to ed­u­cate and raise a child,” Schilling said.

“I’ve met all the staff, and ev­ery­one — from the front of­fice staff to the teach­ers to fa­cil­i­ties (per­son­nel),” Shilling said. “They are just beautiful peo­ple who have the best in­ter­ests of chil­dren in mind.”

“And when you have that, when you have that foun­da­tion, you can fix, you can en­hance and im­prove any­thing, be­cause you have a solid core of good peo­ple who are in this for the right rea­sons,” Schilling said.

“We’re just very blessed to have her,” said the Rev. James Nash, pas­tor of Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church. “She has lots of great ideas and lots of en­ergy.”

Schilling, 37, com­mutes from Mil­ton, Del., where she is a mem­ber of St. Ed­mond’s Catholic Church. She and her hus­band Wil­liam have two sons, Gus, 11, and Mack, 4.

Both par­ents are mov­ing into new po­si­tions. Faye Schilling has about a 45-minute com­mute. “For me, it’s ac­tu­ally a nice ride on pretty straight, ru­ral roads,” she said.

Her hus­band, how­ever, “had a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to re­turn to his alma mater (in Philadel­phia), and al­though, ide­ally, he would like to shorten his com­mute, he just couldn’t turn it down,” Schilling said. “He’s just thrilled to be back at Fa­ther Judge High School for Boys.”

“I’m hon­ored that I can bring my chil­dren here and raise them at Sts. Peter & Paul,” Schilling said. “I can’t pro­mote a prod­uct and say, ‘Send your chil­dren here,’ if I don’t send my own here. I have to be­lieve in what I’m in charge of or what I’ve been blessed to do. I would be a fraud if I didn’t.”

Schilling brings to her job and vi­sion an amal­gam of her life­long love of Catholic ed­u­ca­tion, her up­bring­ing in Ju­ni­ata Park and her school­ing in a tough sec­tion of Philadel­phia.

An ath­lete even at the col­le­giate level at Gwynedd

Mercy Univer­sity, Schilling said com­pet­i­tive­ness and a quest for ex­cel­lence “is just in­grained in (Catholic stu­dents), from the time we’re in kinder­garten. But it re­ally flour­ishes and blos­soms from mid­dle school into high school,” Schilling said.

“(You know that) the only way you’re go­ing to make the world bet­ter, the only way you’re go­ing to make your­self bet­ter, is through an ed­u­ca­tion and all that comes with that, whether in sports, clubs or ex­tracur­ric­u­lar el­e­ments,” Schilling said.

“It’s al­ways within me, whether it’s on a play­ing field — or now it’s in my pro­fes­sion — to be at the top, at the peak of what I’m do­ing, at the pulse of things,” Schilling said. “If I’m go­ing to ask kids to ed­u­cate and em­power them­selves, I bet­ter model that be­hav­ior.”

As Schilling de­scribed her­self and her goals, her cell­phone rang. A clown car tin horn sounded as the ring­tone.

As she moved quickly from one idea to the next, she talked fast and pep­pered her speech with “and” to keep her ideas con­nected. She cracked her knuck­les, too: “A ver y bad habit,” she said.

Schilling said grow­ing up in north Philadel­phia and be­ing ed­u­cated in Catholic schools, first at Holy In­no­cents and then at the all-girls Lit­tle Flower Catholic School, were for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ences that shaped her ed­u­ca­tional phi­los­o­phy and work ethic.

“I’d like to ac­quire as much knowl­edge as pos­si­ble, so I can in­cor­po­rate that in what­ever in­sti­tu­tion I’m work­ing within and bet­ter stu­dents and make sure we can de­liver an ed­u­ca­tion that is com­pa­ra­ble to, if not bet­ter than, any pub­lic school,” Schilling said.

“I think that all rests with me, and I have stay on the pulse of ed­u­ca­tional trends and theor y,” Schilling said. “Ed­u­ca­tion is so evolv­ing; it changes minute to minute, day to day, and if you kind of sit back and rest on your lau­rels, the world of ed­u­ca­tion will pass you by, and ul­ti­mately our stu­dents suf­fer.”

“Teach­ers are so over­whelmed. There’s so much they’re re­spon­si­ble for, and now it goes be­yond aca­demics, into so­cial and emo­tional learn­ing. They play mul­ti­ple roles in ad­di­tion to be­ing an ed­u­ca­tor,” Schilling said.

“It’s my re­spon­si­bil­ity to go through re­cent data, re­cent trends, current the­ory and prac­tice, dif­fer­ent and current in­struc­tional meth­ods, and bring that to them in a con­densed, con­cise and sim­pli­fied man­ner that will en­hance their prac­tice, and at the same time en­able them to get through their days, get through the grad­ing, and get through the par­ent emails. And I find great joy in finding out what’s current and bring­ing it to them in a sim­pli­fied man­ner,” Schilling said.

Schilling fol­lows the 32year ten­ure of for­mer prin­ci­pal Con­nie Web­ster.

“It’s re­ally im­por­tant to honor the tra­di­tions that have been es­tab­lished here by Mrs. Web­ster, and also by teach­ers and stu­dents in the past,” Schilling said. “That’s re­ally im­por­tant never to lose that. I think at the same time, it’s im­por­tant to marry and blend to­gether new forms of tech­nol­ogy and new meth­ods of en­hanc­ing in­struc­tion.”

“But I think one of my big­gest goals is re­ally to unify our kinder­garten to 12th grade, and to work side-by­side with my part­ner (SSPP high school prin­ci­pal) Jim Nemeth to have a clear, con­cise K-to-12 cur­ricu­lum, be­cause he and I will only make each other bet­ter and make the legacy of Sts. Peter & Paul thrive and con­tinue to ex­ist if we work to­gether. We are one school, and that’s my ini­tial, main fo­cus,” Schilling said.

The new prin­ci­pal wants to take time “to build re­la­tion­ships with teach­ers and es­tab­lish a sense of trust and open com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” she said.

That in­cludes re­la­tion­ships with the wider Tal­bot County ed­u­ca­tional com­mu­nity.

Tal­bot County Pub­lic Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Kelly Grif­fith “has al­ready reached out wel­com­ing me, which is won­der­ful,” Schilling said. “I look for­ward to work­ing with her and for­mu­lat­ing part­ner­ships to help ... our schools.”

”Fol­low­ing that, I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant that we tweak our current in­struc­tional tech­nol­ogy, and even­tu­ally go to one-on-one de­vices and to use all types of in­no­va­tive meth­ods through Google and through dif­fer­ent learn­ing man­age­ment sys­tems to en­hance an al­ready very solid prod­uct,” Schilling said.

”I don’t like to in­cor­po­rate tech­nol­ogy just for the sake of do­ing it,” she said.

Schilling will be help­ing teach­ers get fa­mil­iar with Chrome­books, “a more af­ford­able lap­top,” she said.

“The theme this year in kinder­garten through eighth grade is tech­nol­ogy in­te­gra­tion and us­ing that as the driv­ing force be­hind our in­struc­tion,” Schilling said. “I want our teach­ers to feel com­fort­able; I want them to feel as though they can nav­i­gate the de­vice and all the re­sources out there, and that they’re at the top of their game with the tech­nol­ogy and feel com­fort­able with it be­fore we roll it out to the stu­dents.”

Schilling said she wants to give teach­ers a “good, solid foun­da­tion, a good five months be­fore they get in­un­dated with ques­tions and all the com­plex­i­ties that go with rolling out one-to-ones to stu­dents.”

“It will cost money, but ul­ti­mately, we owe it to our stu­dents,” Schilling said. “It’s a mat­ter of cre­atively bud­get­ing and set­ting themes for the year, and if we stick to a par­tic­u­lar theme, we can chan­nel our money more ef­fec­tively. We can be fru­gal in cer­tain ar­eas and be a lit­tle more elab­o­rate in oth­ers. We can use the tremen­dous re­sources we al­ready have here for pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment.”

While Schilling is at the helm of the Mid-Shore’s only Catholic el­e­men­tary school, she will con­tinue to teach an un­der­grad­u­ate sem­i­nar for stu­dent teach­ers at Tem­ple Univer­sity one night a week dur­ing the fall se­mes­ter. She also teaches pri­mar­ily on­line, blended grad­u­ate cour­ses at Holy Fam­ily Univer­sity in Philadel­phia.

“I’m very well rested,” Schilling said. “I take naps. I cher­ish week­ends with my chil­dren. It’s re­ally im­por­tant that we recharge our bat­ter­ies.”

She was a class­room teacher for six years. Her con­tent area was mainly English and so­cial stud­ies, but she said she has taught ever y grade.

“As an ad­min­is­tra­tor, I al­ways taught at least one class a year,” Schilling said. “I love be­ing con­nected with kids. I love to teach.”

”For some­one in her 30s, it’s amaz­ing what she’s been able to ac­com­plish,” Nash said. “We’re ex­cited, very ex­cited.”

”I just do. I just make it hap­pen; I don’t dwell on how much work it is or how cum­ber­some it may be. I jump into it, and I do it,” Schilling said. “I was raised not to com­plain. If you want some­thing to hap­pen, and you want it badly enough, you work harder than ev­ery­body else, and you just do it, and ev­ery­thing else falls into place.”

“I was raised in very small com­mu­nity in Philadel­phia called Ju­ni­ata Park. I was an only child, but I was not raised as an only child. I was raised more like I was one of 10. (My par­ents) were not soft on me,” Schilling said.

“(My friends) and I had a very sim­ple up­bring­ing, but we made our own fun be­cause we had no other choice,” she said, laugh­ing. “We didn’t have glitz and glam, we didn’t have Shore homes, we didn’t have fancy cars. We hung out at the park, and we made our fun there, and you know, some­times, sim­ple is bet­ter. I think it makes you a stronger per­son, a bet­ter per­son. It helps you to ap­pre­ci­ate things more.”

“I’m very for­tu­nate that I had the up­bring­ing I did, and street smarts cer­tainly help, too,” she said.

“It was a rough — very rough — neigh­bor­hood. We had troop­ers that went right to the school door, or — if you were like me — I had to be the first one in the door be­cause I loved be­ing there. They were ahead of their time in terms of safety — we al­ways felt safe. You had to just think on your toes and be very, very aware of your sur­round­ings. It was very dan­ger­ous. It made you very street smart, very savvy, very alert,” Schilling said.

“There was a lot of crime, and then there was this bea­con of Lit­tle Flower. It was like there was a lit­tle glow around it, and you got there and for­got where you were. It was like you were in heaven for six hours of the day,” Schilling said. “And they are thriv­ing now. In Philadel­phia, the best schools are in the worst ar­eas. It’s ironic.”

“I have a won­der­ful pool of child­hood friends. We went from kinder­garten straight through high school. They’re still my friends; we can pick up right where we left off,” she said.

“You go to Catholic school — and I’ve been in pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion — but you have such pride in your school that you want to make your­self bet­ter be­cause you rep­re­sent that school,” Schilling said.

“I can’t de­scribe it, it’s just a feel­ing when you walk into that alma mater or another Catholic school. There’s just this tremen­dous feel­ing of safety, of com­fort, of fond and happy mem­o­ries,” she said. “If you’re not ed­u­cated in Catholic schools, you re­ally can­not un­der­stand that.”

“When I walk into Sts. Peter & Paul — al­though this is not my school from my child­hood — it doesn’t mat­ter, it’s like walk­ing into your own school. And it’s the smells, it’s the per­son­al­i­ties, it’s just the feel­ing that wraps its arms around you. And you think, ‘Oh my good­ness, I’m home. What a won­der­ful feel­ing.’ And that’s how I felt when I first came here, and ... al­though it’s dif­fer­ent names, a dif­fer­ent place, a dif­fer­ent state — when you talk about Catholic ed­u­ca­tion, there’s just a uni­ver­sal feel­ing of pride in your school and a sense of se­cu­rity in that,” Schilling said.

“There’s some­thing to be said for tra­di­tions. It’s a com­fort­ing feel­ing. I think that’s why so many alumni here send their chil­dren back here: They want them to live and ex­pe­ri­ence what they ex­pe­ri­enced,” Schilling said. “What a tremen­dous honor that is that they have such pride and love of their school that they make fi­nan­cial sac­ri­fices, all kinds of sac­ri­fices to send their chil­dren back to where they were born and raised. It’s a priv­i­lege for me and a tremen­dous honor for the school to have those chil­dren of alumni.”

“(Sts. Peter & Paul) is a hid­den gem,” Schilling said. “And I think if more peo­ple knew about what’s in their back­yard or a short drive away, they would come. We will have a prod­uct that will en­tice peo­ple to want to be a part of this learn­ing com­mu­nity.”

“We as Catholics do so many won­der­ful things, and per­haps it’s part of our na­ture to be hum­ble and re­served, but we don’t pro­mote our­selves nearly as much as we should,” she said. “There are so many great things go­ing on now and in the fu­ture.

“There’s a change in Catholic ed­u­ca­tion, there’s a move­ment, there’s a re­vival,” she said.

“I think it has a lot to do with the so­ci­ety we live in to­day,” Schilling said. “Peo­ple are crav­ing the struc­ture, the tra­di­tions, the or­ga­ni­za­tion, the re­li­gious val­ues, that sense of com­mu­nity that can re­ally only be found in a Catholic school. And I think peo­ple are re­al­iz­ing that it’s time to re­turn to their roots and what made, I guess, them­selves and the world a bet­ter place.”

“And I think at this time, more than any other time in our his­tory, we need our faith, and we need our God, and we need some­one and some­thing to be­lieve in to keep us bal­anced and to keep us grounded,” Schilling said. “That’s why there’s a re­turn to Catholic ed­u­ca­tion, now more than ever.”

”Sts. Peter & Paul is a lit­tle school, but some­times lit­tle schools are the most pow­er­ful in meet­ing in­di­vid­ual stu­dent’s needs and re­ally get­ting to know and re­spect and ap­pre­ci­ate one another,” Schilling said.

“At the same time, we’re go­ing to be mar­ry­ing to­gether the tra­di­tions of Sts. Peter & Paul, a tra­di­tional Catholic ed­u­ca­tion, modern tech­no­log­i­cally-ad­vanced pro­grams and re­sources and in­struc­tional ma­te­ri­als. And we’ll ul­ti­mately be­come the premier ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion here on the Eastern Shore.”

Schilling said she sounds con­fi­dent be­cause “con­fi­dent is the only way it can be. Par­ents have en­trusted me with their chil­dren, and it’s my job to treat them as if they were my own flesh and blood. So we can’t just sit back and coast along.”

“We have to stay current, we have to stay on the pulse of ed­u­ca­tional trends to bring new and in­no­va­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties to our stu­dents that set them apart and, ul­ti­mately, as they go through kinder­garten to eighth grade, and then to high school, to make them the most mar­ketable to se­lec­tive col­leges and in­sti­tu­tions,” Schilling said.

“If you’re not in it to make your in­sti­tu­tion and your stu­dents the best, then why are you do­ing it? Peo­ple are pay­ing a lot of money, and they de­serve a su­pe­rior prod­uct,” she said.

Schilling’s desk is or­ga­nized with neat stacks of pa­pers and note­books. Laugh­ing, she said she loves her two com­puter mon­i­tors, es­pe­cially the one that sits ver­ti­cally.

“I’m not quite moved in yet — I have some things to hang up, and I cer­tainly have to plug in my Keurig,” Schilling said.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter @con­nie_s­tar­dem.

PHOTO BY CON­NIE CON­NOLLY

Sts. Peter & Paul El­e­men­tary School fifth-grader Danielle San­til­lan, left, and her sis­ter Anna, who is en­ter­ing first grade, meet new prin­ci­pal Faye Schilling at “Pop­si­cles with the Prin­ci­pal” on the front lawn of the Catholic school at 900 High St. on Thurs­day, July 13.

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