Dr. Andrew McLaughlin, who officially became the first superintendent of elementary education for the archdiocesan Office for Catholic Education on Feb. 1, oversees the parish and regional elementary schools of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
He brings with him impressive experience in the fields of elementary and special education with the past 18 years of it in administration, most recently as director of special education K-12 for the archdiocesan schools. Time has not diminished his enthusiasm for his chosen field.
McLaughlin is a Philadelphia native of St. Carthage Parish (now St. Cyprian) in West Philadelphia, the son of John and Sarah McLaughlin, both immigrants from County Donegal in Ireland. He is a 1980 graduate of then-La Salle College where he earned a degree in special education.
A year later he met his future wife, Bridget, during a family visit back to Ireland. She was the daughter of a good friend of his dad and eventually they got engaged, married in Ireland and settled in the Philadelphia area.
He and his wife are now active members of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, West Chester, where he has been a member of the Advisory Committee for Schools. They have two now young adult children, Megan and Maire.
Over the years Andrew picked up a master’s degree in education from La Salle University, several administrative certificates from Penn State and a doctorate in educational leadership from Widener University.
His first decade in education was as a special education teacher at suburban public school districts. At first he taught students with disabilities in the elementary and middle school grades and then spent seven years supporting special needs students in vocational programs at the high school level.
“I was attracted to special education and I enjoyed working with kids,” he said.
This was followed by 18 years as an administrator including three years as a principal of an alternative school for high school and middle school students, three years as a middle school principal and 11 years as an elementary school principal at Pocopson Elementary School in the Unionville-Chadds Ford District. During that time his school was named a Blue Ribbon School of Achievement by the U.S. Department of Education.
McLaughlin left public education in 2015 to come to the Philadelphia Archdiocese as director of special education in the elementary and high schools within the archdiocese.
Now he is taking up the challenge of overseeing all the Catholic elementary schools in the archdiocese.
Certainly his years of teaching and administrative experience will be of invaluable help. But perhaps two of his hobbies will also play a role — fly fishing and woodworking. The former takes enormous patience and the latter requires attention to detail. Both hold true with all levels of education.
“It used to be failure was the student’s fault,” he said. “Today we don’t accept that. Now we try to do everything possible to make the student successful. The mindset has changed. As an administrator, that also holds in dealing with the schools themselves,” he believes, and that is what he intends to do.
Certainly education itself has changed in many ways. Computers just started coming onto the scene a few years into his career. Now they are essential.
“They are super tools that have changed the way we teach,” he said. For instance, what students used to learn in fifth grade, they are now learning in third, McLaughlin said.
“It used to be the teacher taught and the students listened. Now they are much more involved and work with each other. It’s not just lecturing, there is much more demand on students and expectations have become higher,” he said. “Down the road there will be even more technology.”
Catholic schools, like all nonpublic schools, face another challenge. Without tax funding as in public schools there is the constant need to raise tuition prices as education costs increase. McLaughlin points to the successful EITC program in Pennsylvania, through which businesses can offset state taxes with donations to scholarship organizations, which has been especially helpful to parents paying tuition.
Many schools hold class reunions but mostly on the high school level. But Catholic elementary schools, he believes, are unique in the loyalty of their graduates and in the number of schools that do have class reunions, and that can be tapped for support as well, he suggests.
Aside from radical changes in curriculum that have happened to all schools, public or private, Catholic schools do have a special quality.
“At Catholic schools we try to have a culture where everyone is kind and charitable and accepting,” he said. “That can be focused on every day, and I thinking making children good Catholics is what we are trying to do. That’s one of the great benefits we have.”
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