Archdiocese welcomes not one, but two new superintendents of schools
The one shall become two.
Former archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools Mary Rochford, who retired at the end of the school term in June, is succeeded by two women in a position that splits the responsibilities Rochford held.
Dr. Carol A. Cary is the new Superintendent of Secondary Schools and Jacqueline P. Coccia is the new Superintendent of Elementary Schools, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office of Catholic Education (OCE) announced July 19.
Cary, 57, will lead the Archdiocese’s 17 Catholic high schools that teach more than 16,000 children. In addition to experience running a retail business, Cary’s educational background includes positions as principal at St. Anastasia School in Newtown Square and since 2007, archdiocesan director of secondary curriculum, instruction and professional development.
Coccia, 47, will be responsible for the education of 55,000 students in 123 Catholic grade schools. She began teaching at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Bridgeport in 1999, where she later became principal. She was also principal of St. Denis School in Havertown before joining the OCE administration as director of elementary education over the past two years.
“The Archdiocese of Philadelphia undertook an extensive, national search and looked to outside counsel to ensure that we selected candidates that best exemplify the skill-set needed to lead the students of the Archdiocese in the 21st century,” said Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, who oversees Catholic education in the Archdiocese. “Dr. Cary and Ms. Coccia have demonstrated their commitment to instructional innovation, academic excellence and Catholic values that are central to our schools, and the strongest possible future for Catholic education.”
Despite the near closure of four archdiocesan high schools early this year and a steady decline in Catholic grade school enrollment that has led to closures and consolidations of parish schools, both women were excited by what they described as a bright future for Catholic education in the Archdiocese.
Coccia noted that the trend toward regionalization of struggling parish grade schools into consolidated schools appears to be paying off. She is encouraged by signs that enrollment is rising in such schools, especially in Chester County, which she attributes to “focused efforts on marketing and development.”
“It’s an exciting time for all our schools because with the restructuring and pooling of resources we really are able to provide the best for our children,” Coccia said. “This is an opportunity to see growth in more of our schools.”
The optimistic view of Coccia and Cary counters an impression that Catholic schools might be in a downward spiral of higher tuition, lower enrollment and more schools threatened with closure.
“I feel that with new legislation, funding sources and new models of governance, our schools will be stronger” in five to 10 years, Coccia said.
“There might be more restructuring needed as we evaluate how the new regional schools are progressing but I think we’re moving in a good direction.”
Cary agreed, emphasizing the support of the Faith in the Future Foundation that last winter pledged to raise $100 million in five years for Catholic education.
She also described “a whole new view of how we do education,” citing educational innovations and policies by OCE such as online learning, college and career readiness training and the opportunity for more high school students to take college-level courses through the Diocesan Scholars program.
“We will really have a world-class school system in the next five to 10 years,” Carey said.
A major push toward that goal, Cary and Coccia believe, is the enactment this month by Gov. Tom Corbett of expanded school choice in Pennsylvania through educational improvement tax credits. Together with support from the aforementioned foundation and parents and teachers, “we’re at that point where the future looks bright,” Cary said.
While acknowledging that it may take time until the newly available tuition assistance makes a significant impact on school enrollment, she said OCE officials are seeing current high school enrollments above projected levels.
“The momentum is there, the parents are interested and there is a renewed sense of enthusiasm about Catholic education,” Carey said.
Carey thinks the splitting of the superintendent’s position into two will enable her and Coccia to visit the schools and administrators for which they are responsible.
“I’m very excited to be able to work with Jacqui through this process as the position has been made into two,” she said. “That’s going to provide an opportunity for us to be more of a presence in the schools, more of a support to schools.”
She described the secondary school system’s evolving approach toward student-centered education. One example of the approach is the use of Grade Connect, a system that allows high school students and their parents to check grades, test scores and assignments from home on a computer.
Implemented through Cary’s efforts four years ago, the system helps students see in which areas they need to concentrate their efforts. As a result, students’ achievements increased, she said.
“More kids were on honor roll as a result because now they knew where they stood and what they needed to do to get higher grades. We also saw a reduction in the number of failures,” Cary said.
To emphasize the Catholic identity in all forms of Catholic education, Coccia works closely with the archdiocesan Office for Catechetical Formation. That office is responsible for faith formation programs, especially the Parish Religious Education Programs (PREP) in which an increasing number of Catholic children are taught the Catholic faith outside of traditional Catholic schools.
Both that office and OCE in the past year have developed educational materials for the classroom and for use by parents at home among elementary- and secondary-age children.
Not only does the work “support our administrators and teachers in their mission to be centers of evangelization,” Coccia said, but it also focuses on “working with children to have a deeper understanding of their faith and we’re expanding upon that for the coming year.”