Thank you to our Diocese of Palm Beach School Principals!

Recently, the Florida Catholic Newspaper wrote an article highlighting our Diocese of Palm Beach Principals.  Thank you to author Linda Reeves for writing such a special piece for our Diocese.  

Starting in January, we will highlight a principal each week on our Diocese of Palm Beach, Office of Catholic Schools Facebook page.  

You can read the article in its entirety below.  

###

"Principals all smiles to see doors open for new school year

Administrators feel called to protect, form and educate God’s children

By LINDA REEVES of the Florida Catholic Staff

PALM BEACH GARDENS  |  Over the years, the Florida Catholic has witnessed great passion and dedication of men and women called to the vocation of education ministry and carrying out the mission of Catholic education, keeping the flame of Christ’s love burning brightly in Catholic schools.

Pope Francis often recognizes educators and commends them for their significant mission. In a recent Twitter message, he wrote, “Thank you to all teachers. Educating is an important mission, which draws young people to what is good, beautiful and true.

In all, 450 teachers and administrators serve the Catholic schools here in the five-county Diocese of Palm Beach, and there are two private schools operating in the region. We thought, as school opens, it was only appropriate to feature principals in the Florida Catholic.

 Before school opened, we spoke to leaders of schools and conversations steered toward their school communities, school missions, and their own dreams and goals to help meet the spiritual and educational needs of the students they serve.

Jill Broz

All Saints Catholic School, Jupiter

Broz is in her fifth year at All Saints Catholic School, which was built as a regional interparochial school to serve the six parish communities in the Jupiter school’s area. The school opened Aug. 13, 2003, with 234 students and today enrollment has more than doubled. The school serves students in grades pre-k to eight.

We asked Broz to describe the community spirit that flows in the classrooms and hallways and out on the sports fields and places of activity. “All Saints Catholic School is a place where all God’s children are honored. Each child is nurtured. God-given talents are fostered, and each child is given the opportunity to excel in numerous ways from academics to sports, the arts and service,” she said. 

She was eager to share news about two new projects that her school is piloting. “One (program) will assess students in the areas of language arts and math so as to best serve all students continuously,” she said. “The school will also begin a new program that centers on relationship building. With technology and social media, face-to-face conversational and community-building skills are being lost. With this program, relationships are built and students move toward supportive classrooms.”

Broz said the theme of the relationship-building initiative is “Getting to Know You and Each Other.”

“With Christ as our guide, we are using our talents to build the kingdom of God on earth,” said an excited Broz.

As far as school traditions, Broz said that All Saints encourages students to look toward Jesus and the saints as role models. Educators also invite students to open their hearts to the Lord, their minds to learning, and their talents toward service to others, she explained. “The school is committed to developing responsible citizens by promoting academic success and preparing students for high school and eternity,” she added.

 All Saints moves forward with continued support of the pastors of the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens, St. Jude in Tequesta, St. Christopher in Hobe Sound, St. Paul of the Cross in North Palm Beach, St. Patrick in Palm Beach Gardens, and St. Peter in Jupiter. 

“I love being in a community of faith which drives our mission,” Broz said. “It is truly a gift to partner with the parents to educate their children’s minds, spirits and bodies. Watching and being part of a child’s growth from pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade graduation is a journey of love and dedication.”

 

Dr. Kevin Hoeffner

St. Anastasia School, Fort Pierce

The diocese’s oldest school, St. Anastasia serves students in grades pre-k to eight. Father Gabriel Ruppert guided construction of the school in 1914, and from 1919 to 1924 the St. Lucie County School District used the facilities free of charge. The school opened to provide Catholic education September 1926 with 52 students.

School enrollment has steadily grown throughout the years, but in the past three years increased greater than ever before. Doors opened this year to serve approximately 535 students. Hoeffner serves as principal of the school that opened with a staff of Adrian Dominican religious sisters.

“Our community is diverse and was founded on hard work and the love for God in one another,” he said. “The Adrian Dominican nuns instilled a passion for truth in the Gospel, a love for following the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and the value of life. The support of very dedicated Fort Pierce families has kept St. Anastasia close to the Church and committed to the mission of the school.” 

On the school website, Hoeffner proclaims, “We pride ourselves on academic achievement, a culture of supportive and dedicated teachers, and setting our national, state and diocesan benchmarks high. However, many other schools can attest to these same goals and characteristics.

“The mission statement of St. Anastasia Catholic School reminds us that we are a part of a large community of believers who are hopeful that Christ’s message will shape the lives of our children. We believe that each child is unique and is created in the image of God. We support our families in the nurturing of more than just the child’s mind. It is our duty to develop the body and the soul of our children as well.

“School liturgy, daily prayer, religious education, Catholic sacraments, service days, retreats, competitive athletics, family picnics and many other formation opportunities all contribute to an environment that is guided by the Spirit and not by governments or the random demands of our society.”

Hoeffner is excited about the new academic year and he hopes that as the school year begins, he and his staff will “embrace what it means to be disciples of Christ, continue improving service to the community, fully utilize the new ‘Greenhouse of Blessings’ built this summer, and help our families and students set concrete goals for spiritual, intellectual, social/emotional and physical growth.”

He told the Florida Catholic, “I believe that God is present in our students and families and that the hope for our community is found in the relationships that we foster with each other and with Jesus. This position allows me to share my faith through service and through example, and the rewards for loving Christ through the children and families help me to remain joyful in my vocation.”

 

Susan Demes

St. Ann Catholic School, West Palm Beach

Located in the heart of West Palm Beach, St. Ann opened in 1923 as the first parochial school in Palm Beach County. It welcomed 91 students back then, and this year, there are approximately 270 students. The school serves students in grades pre-k3 to eight.

“What I enjoy most about being principal of St. Ann Catholic School is greeting the children every morning in the car line,” Demes said. “I love to see their faces and their smiles, to wave hello and to hear them say good morning.”

St. Ann serves the communities that surround downtown West Palm Beach as well as the western and northern areas of the county. The school’s mission is “to provide excellence in education and Christian spiritual development through a strong curriculum rich in Catholic tradition, academics, international awareness, the fine arts, physical development and life learning skill.” The school is authorized as an International Baccalaureate World School that “guides students to become global-minded citizens,” said Demes, a longtime educator here in the Diocese of Palm Beach.

When asked about the St. Ann School spirit, Demes said the members of the school community are close-knit, faith-filled people. “St. Ann Catholic School is a faith-based family community. We are a small school, which allows all of the students and families to know each other by name. We are always there for each other both in good times and bad.” 

As far as school vision, Demes wants to continue to increase catechetical efforts this year. “My vision for the new year would be aligned with the theme for Catechetical Sunday (Sept. 17),” she said, aiming to encourage her team of educators and staff to become and “live as missionary disciples, encouraging each student to take up their baptismal role in leading others to Jesus Christ.”

 

Candace Tamposi

Sacred Heart School, Lake Worth

Marching into the new school year with the theme  “With Jesus in our hearts, we can do anything,” Tamposi is at Sacred Heart’s helm, encouraging students along their educational path.

The longtime educator has served as a principal in diocesan schools for the past 25 years. Her principal post at Sacred Heart, a school that serves pre-k to grade eight students, and especially children from low-income households, spans the past 14 years. When asked about what she enjoys the most about her vocation, she responded by saying, “facilitating students in their attainment of life goals and preparing them for life, college and heaven.”

Sacred Heart School was founded in 1983 with an enrollment of 56 students. The school’s mission statement proclaims that the institute is there to “provide all students of diverse cultures and abilities an education of excellence in a Christ-centered environment, encourage living the Gospel values and prepare them for success in higher education and life.”

Over the years, the school has continued to grow, experienced ups and downs, struggled and got back on its feet with Tamposi at the head. Today, the school is advancing and enrollment has exploded. The school has added facilities and is moving forward with the support of generous donors. “We will have a waiting list in most of our classrooms for an estimated 255 students,” said Tamposi about enrollment figures just before school opened. “Not bad for a school that almost closed six years ago.”

What is her vision moving forward? “Our vision is to continue to heighten our expectations, but to provide the students the tools they will need to achieve such expectations. This year, we have applied for the National School Land Program to provide lunch and breakfast for all of our students at no cost. We will work with an organic food vendor approved by this program. We have also tripled the size of our organic vegetable and fruit garden.”

Tamposi also explained that the school’s faculty members have achieved teacher certificates over the summer months. She also pointed out that “as a team, we are working toward our school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) accreditation.”

 

Ana Fundora

Executive director of Holy Cross Catholic Preschool and Center, West Palm Beach

On the first day of March 2004, doors opened at Holy Cross Preschool and Center, established through the generosity of a donor to serve families and their children, especially immigrants, migrants and refugees families. Founding director Holy Cross Sister Yvonne Arcand welcomed 14 students on that historic day. 

Fundora, a parishioner of St. Ann and president of the parish council, currently serves as executive director of the school, which serves children 3 months old to pre-k 4. She has been part of the school since its beginnings and on our visits to the school observing her connection with the children and families, it is obvious that Fundora is passionate about the school, students and the families she serves. 

“What I enjoy most about my principal position is the interaction with the families, getting to know them and watching our students bloom and grow,” she said. “It’s wonderful how we all become one big Holy Cross family.”

Today the school serves about 100 students. “Our families represent families from throughout the world. The array of cultures is fabulous. Also, to see the children carried in as infants and seeing them walking out the doors a year or so later is a very special feeling.”

The school’s stats are good as far as enrollment. “At Holy Cross we will continue to blossom and grow, literally and figuratively, this year,” Fundora said. “We are at capacity with enrollment and have an extensive wait list. We continue our mission of providing affordable, high-quality child care and preschool education focusing on faith, family and the foundation of community through family literacy, adult basic skills and after-school homework help for elementary students. 

“I have been blessed to be a part of Holy Cross, leading a phenomenal staff and guiding them to make Holy Cross a premiere early learning center where the students are safe, nurtured and their lives are enriched spiritually, intellectually emotionally, socially and physically,” she said.

 

Dr. Christine Higgins

Cardinal Newman High School, West Palm Beach

Higgins, a parishioner of Our Lady Queen of the Apostles, has served Cardinal Newman High School for the past five years. The school, one of three diocesan high schools, was founded in 1961 to serve parishes and families in central Palm Beach County.

Cardinal Newman is a four-year, coeducational institute offering a “challenging and varied curriculum” that includes an International Baccalaureate program, Advanced Placement courses, dual enrollment credits, honors and regular level classes, and a learning strategies program, according to the school website.

This year, nearly 500 students are enrolled at the school that was originally a branch of St. Ann Catholic School in West Palm Beach. Over the years the school has expanded in programs and opportunities for young people in grades nine to 12, but leaders have held steadfast to the mission “to educate the whole person: spirit, mind and body; and to help all students develop their God-given talents according to the Gospel values of Jesus Christ.”

When asked to describe the spirit of the school, two words came to Higgins’ mind: “family community.” “Pope Francis once said, ‘Everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others and whatever our role is in the school, we support and care for one another,” she said.

As the new school year begins, Higgins’ vision moving forward is clear. “My vision for this school year is that we teach and model learning and serving; that we are intentional in our rigorous academics and in being empathetic servant leaders,” she said.

The school is now busy with various community activities, academics, sports, programs and daily liturgies and prayer. We asked Higgins about her favorite aspect of ministry and this educator did not hesitate to answer.

“The kids! I love being with them,” she said,” whether in the classroom, watching them perform or compete, or simply listening to how their day was. It’s about building relationships over the four years and beyond.”

 

RITA KISSEL

St. Clare Catholic School, North Palm Beach

Kissel is beginning her second year at St. Clare School. “I am excited for the new school year and the challenges it will bring,” she said about the school in sessions now and off to a good start. “Our enrollment is on the rise, and our focus is on challenging and meeting each child’s needs every day.”

St. Clare School opened in 1964 under the direction of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine. At that time, the sisters welcomed 170 students with open arms. Over the years, the school facilities have changed and continued to develop, programs have expanded and classes have been added. The religious sisters left the school in 1971, but enrollment has continued to rise. This year, St. Clare is serving nearly 450 youngsters.

Kissel said several school initiatives are planned for this year. St. Clare is enhancing the school with some “important security upgrades to ensure the safety of our students and faculty,” she said. The St. Clare team is also continuing to work with parents “to ensure our children have the tools they need to be successful models of our Catholic faith.”

When asked, Kissel describes the school community as “lively, caring families very focused on giving their children the best Catholic, academic experience possible. I have been overwhelmed by the giving spirit of our families, our alumni and our parish.”

The educator eased into her principal position last year, becoming immediately comfortable with her new school family and feeling at home in her new surroundings.

“The principal position at St. Clare is definitely challenging, but after my first year I truly believe God put me here for a reason. Working with the talented and dedicated staff is a privilege, as they challenge and encourage me every day. I am mostly thankful we are able to praise God every day for the many blessings he has bestowed.”

 

CAROLINE ROBERTS

St. Joan of Arc Catholic School, Boca Raton

We put Roberts on the spot, asking her what she enjoys the most about her work as principal of St. Joan of Arc School, and she responded without hesitating.

“I enjoy most the honor and rigor of analyzing and creating plans with teachers and parents on how to best guide each child to meet and often exceed his/her spiritual, emotional, academic and physical potential in a nurturing Catholic setting,” she said. “I love the laughter and joy one feels in a school environment. Each new school year brings unique challenges and I welcome them.”

Roberts is beginning her fourth year as principal of the Boca Raton school, which was established in 1960, opening the doors with 70 students.  This year, St. Joan of Arc serves nearly 570 students, a big jump in enrollment.

As far as initiatives going into the new school year, Roberts is focused on building on the school’s “Catholic identity.” Catholic schools here continue to strive to make students’ education and environment authentically Catholic. As part of that endeavor, faith is shared in all aspects of the day, and Christ is at the heart of everything that takes place in the Catholic schools here.

Along with challenging students academically with new approaches, she also hopes to prepare “them for lives of service to others,” she explained. St. Joan and other schools continue to encourage young people to live their faith daily and to reach out to help brothers and sisters in need.

Roberts believes it is the multicultural people of the parish and school community that makes St. Joan of Arc unique. The parish, founded in 1953, was the first Catholic parish in Boca Raton and has continued to grow in diversity.

Roberts described the community as “Christ-centered.” She added, “The community of St. Joan of Arc has proven itself to be forthcoming and all encompassing of everyone’s challenges and generous beyond belief. The St. Joan community constantly strives to evolve in order to serve its stakeholders while maintaining a commitment to high standards in all endeavors.”

Roberts explained that the school will continue to emphasize “the four R’s — reading, ’riting, ’rithmetic and religion. Addressing the entire student to be a vital contributor within both a technologically savvy and spiritually motivated world creates additional challenges. Therefore, this year we are actively implementing a program which specifically addresses ethics, etiquette, anti-bullying, and human rights within each aspect of the curriculum.”

As far as other interesting programs, St. Joan is offering as a part of regular, daily in-school curriculum, “Geometry Honors” for high school credit, and age-appropriate after-school Chinese I club sessions for kindergarten through eighth-grade students.

“We continue to build upon our Spanish program for both heritage and nonheritage speakers,” she continued. “Each will challenge students accordingly, and all will benefit from a more individualized learning environment.”

Roberts is excited about the parish’s spacious new facilities opened this year, that feature space for school activities. “The parish school community is thrilled to be able to fully utilize the new Mercy Center which includes a state-of-the-art theater, music hall, art studio and fine arts room as well as the renovated gazebo, playground and long-awaited athletic field.”

 

DEBORAH ARMSTRONG

St. Jude Catholic School, Boca Raton

Armstrong is celebrating a 25-year anniversary at St. Jude Catholic School, which she calls her home away from home.

“St. Jude is a community rich in unity and support of each other. That is the main reason I have remained here for over 25 years,” she said. “I think it is the combination of parish support, Carmelite priests, amazing staff and supportive families. We have a beautiful combination of rich cultures, each bringing their own beauty to our campus. When at St. Jude, one is on holy ground for sure.”

St. Jude Parish was established in 1979 and the school was founded in 1985. Beginning enrollment was 160 students. Today, the enrollment is about 350.

On school visits, the Florida Catholic has witnessed Armstrong’s great love for the children of the school community. She knows the name of every single child and works well with the families. “My deepest joy always comes from the children, at every age. When times are challenging or tiring, a child always renews my spirit and encourages me. They help me refocus and remind me why I do what I do. I love them all,” she said.

As school doors open, the campus is undergoing some upgrades and security changes. Technology enhancements are also priority.

“We have a great team ready to roll out wonderful experiences for our students, their families and our entire community,” said Armstrong about moving forward in the new school year, but remaining steadfast on the school’s mission. “I like to believe that we guide children and their families to a closer relationship with Christ and in doing so, we all get a little closer to heaven.

“It is hard work and it requires a lot of prayer and reflection. Our mission is to educate the whole child — mind and spirit — and in doing so, if we are open, we educate ourselves as well.”

 

KATIE KERVI

St. Juliana Catholic School, West Palm Beach

Kervi is going into her fifth year as principal of St. Juliana Catholic School, and she said every day is unique and interesting.

“My job is different every day,” she said. “I think it is a really unique position, in that I am teaching and learning from so many people each day — from our students to our teachers to our parish community members. It’s a blessing for me to encounter so many people who are invested in making sure our Catholic community grows and thrives.”

St. Juliana School began in 1952 with 320 students. Today the school serves about 350 youngsters.

We asked Kervi to talk about the school spirit at St. Juliana. “Our school community is unique in that we truly do have a sense of being a family. We are together often and share our ups and downs with one another. We have the chance to pray and worship together several times a week. It is something very special to watch not only children grow in their faith, but whole families grow together on this academic and faith journey.

“Our parents and teachers are the driving force behind our successful students,” she continued. “With priests, parents and teachers who support you in so many ways, it’s easy to see why the sky is the limit for our children.”

Kervi and her team of educators are aimed at academic excellence heading into the new school year. She explained that the school is using the most advanced technology tools including a 1:1 ratio of tablets to help students with studies. 

“The students are provided an academically challenging education which focuses on core subjects, but also includes service and an emphasis on technology. Students are holistically prepared to be active members of the Catholic community, while preparing them for the global society we all live in today.”

As far as the St. Juliana School mission, faculty and staff are dedicated to educating “the whole student in mind, body and spirit, and fostering an environment that prepares them for high school and a global society through the implementation of rigorous academics and the use of technology.”

Building Catholic identity to reflect the practices of Catholicism inside and out of classrooms is also an ongoing initiative. “Faculty and students are encouraged to live their faith in Jesus Christ, reflecting the Gospel values and teachings of the Catholic Church,” said Kervi. “I love that I am able to teach our children using my Catholic faith as a foundation.”

Kervi praised the school’s students and alumni, giving everyone high marks. “St. Juliana graduates are academically prepared and inquisitive, physically aware and respectful, and spiritually enriched and engaged Catholic members of our society. We are very proud of our students and alumni,” she added.

 

AMY LOPEZ

St. Luke Catholic School, a Notre Dame ACE Academy, Palm Springs

St. Luke School is serving about 200 students this year, and at the helm is Lopez in her second year. She has a definite big plan and vision that she hopes to carry out with her team as school sessions are off to a good start.

“Our focus is on Catholic identity, advancement, and teaching and learning,” she said adding that student achievement is also a priority along with increasing enrollment, updating technology and improving facilities. 

“I plan to work alongside the teachers at St. Luke to close the achievement gap by attending to multiple dimensions of schooling, including but not limited to, curriculum, instruction, assessment and Catholic school culture.”

Raised in Catholic schools right from the very beginning of her studies and early education years, Lopez has also worked in schools as an educator for the past 13 years, serving the diocese as a principal for six of those years.

St. Luke School opened in 1962 with 198 students in grades one through five. Over the years facilities expanded, grades were added and programs and opportunities were enhanced.

In the past years, the school in collaboration with the University of Notre Dame holds the distinguished title, “Notre Dame ACE Academy.” St. Luke is part of a special Notre Dame academic outreach program. The program is established to help strengthen and sustain existing parish and diocesan Catholic elementary schools using methods proven to be highly effective in addressing every aspect of schooling.

 “I am looking forward to our second year in partnership with the University of Notre Dame as an ACE Academy,” said Lopez. “The Notre Dame ACE Academies are an innovative model of Catholic education established to strengthen and sustain Catholic elementary schools. They assure to provide a quality Catholic education to as many children as possible in underserved communities. 

“Our school’s goals are simple: college and heaven,” she explained. “Our root beliefs are: the love of Christ compels us; stewardship is love in action; we are always learning; effort unlocks potential; and excellence happens on purpose.”

 

BEN HOPPER

John Carroll Catholic High School, Fort Pierce

The St. Lucie County high school serves students in the northern end of the diocese. Hopper, who as a youngster attended sister school St. Anastasia, located near John Carroll, has served as principal of the high school for the past 12 years.

“The thing that I enjoy most is the opportunity to engage with and invest in young people every day, knowing that they are the future leaders of our country and Church,” said Hopper when asked about enjoyable aspects of his vocation.

John Carroll High School is strongly linked to St. Anastasia School which was constructed in 1914. In 1932, St. Anastasia added its first year of high school. Grade levels were added and by 1936, St. Anastasia had all four grades of high school, and five students composed its first graduating class.

In the fall of 1962, St. Anastasia High School was renamed Central Catholic High School. When a new high school was built on the present Delaware Avenue site in 1965, the new high school was named John Carroll High School in honor of Pope John XXIII and Bishop Coleman Carroll of Miami.

This year, the school is serving more than 400 students, and Hopper describes the school community as “unique because we truly live our mission on a daily basis. Guided by our Catholic faith and tradition, we recognize Jesus Christ as the model for the whole person we see to develop. We gather as a faculty each morning to begin the day with prayer.”

Students also attend spiritual retreats, regularly participate in scheduled Masses and prayer or penance services, and join in efforts in a variety of service projects designed to give lessons on the importance of