Volume 74, Number 17 | August 25 - 31 , 2004

Back to School, Part I

A special Villager supplement.

New Pompeii School principal is hands-on, caring and committed

By Melanie Wallis

Since 1926, Our Lady of Pompei Church has been an integral part of the Village community, which the new principal of its attached Catholic school is recently finding out.

Sister Colleen Therese Smith, 41, started her new role on July 1, coming from the Sacred Heart Academy in Connecticut, where she taught religion and English to grades 11 and 12, for four years. In her new role as principal she will be in charge of running the school, which includes pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds, kindergarten and grades 1 through 8.

Warm with an open smile, Smith appears to be settling into her new job, as well as her new living quarters in the church with its well-known, three-tiered steeple, with a domed top. Smith is living in the church’s convent on the fifth floor of the building, situated right above the school at Leroy and Bleecker Sts.

The new principal said she feels completely at home in her new surroundings. “People in the neighborhood are so friendly and welcoming and other local parishes have taken the time to call and welcome me,” she said.

Born in St Louis, Mo., she has lived in many different places throughout her career, although never before in New York City. Smith says she finds the city “exciting” and is enjoying the Village’s ambience. “I love the part of the Village with the brownstone houses, and the charming restaurants and family-run businesses,” she said.

As well as exploring her new environment, Smith has been busily preparing for the new school term starting Sept. 8. She is looking forward to meeting all of the 216 enrolled pupils with their parents. “I can’t wait to meet the kids,” she said. “I’m intending to spend the first week of school in class with the children.”

With 19 years experience in education, Smith is well qualified for her new role. Yet, Smith says that while she is excited about her new position, she did not aspire to become a principal. “We are here to serve, not to tout position,” she said. The hierarchical system that people face in most careers, including education, is what Smith explains as “foreign to my way of thinking.” She said the higher up the chain one goes, the further he or she is from being involved with actually helping children learn. “I see my role as principal as not just behind a desk, but in the classrooms,” she noted. “I believe learning is where my first responsibility is.”

Although it is not a prerequisite for a child to be religious to go to the school, religion is a key element to the school’s curriculum and philosophy. “I hope to remind people why they are here. Not just to get an ‘A’ in science or to fill a space in a building, but remembering that we’re God’s children,” she said.

Smith is also keen to create a warm community in which the children can learn. “I want to give the children a sense of belonging. That they’re loved, cared for and nurtured,” she stressed. “I want them to learn that it’s O.K. to make mistakes and pick up and start again.”

Smith said she is also eager to involve the parents in the everyday workings of the school. “I hope to help the parents to be a part of the educational process. Studies show that children perform better when parents are involved,” Smith explained. As well as putting on special one-day events that include parent participation, Smith is also offering parents volunteer opportunities within the school, such as in the library and office.

Smith has definite plans for the school’s future, including forming a technology committee. “There is good technology in the school. We have a computer room with Internet access, but it is becoming outdated,” she noted.

She also intends to maintain the already strong links with the community by approaching local businesses to donate gift vouchers as prizes for a new incentive program she is introducing called The Student of the Week Award.

Smith is dedicated to achieving her goals and plans to be around long enough to achieve them. “I hope to be here for six years at least,” she said. “I am excited and think I can make a difference.”

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