New SSPP elementary principal settles in, sets goals
— 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.
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.