Change in leadership is coming to nine elementary schools in the Diocese of Oakland.
New principals have been announced at seven of the schools. Two of the changes involve principals leaving one diocesan school to take over as principal at another. At another two, teachers at those schools will move into the principal's office.
Schools that are welcoming new principals include St. Jarlath and St. Lawrence O'Toole in Oakland; St. Joseph Elementary in Alameda; Holy Rosary in Antioch; Our Lady of Grace in Castro Valley; St. Bede in Hayward; St. Michael in Livermore; Christ the King in Pleasant Hill; and Assumption in San Leandro.
St. Jarlath School
Rodney Pierre-Antoine, who became principal at St. Jarlath School in 2011, will join the Alliance for Catholic Education as director of the Notre Dame ACE Academies on July 1.
Pierre-Antoine, who was graduated with a master of arts degree in educational administration from the University of Notre Dame's Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, has held leadership roles in urban Catholic schools since 2005.
Two ACE teachers currently serve at St. Jarlath, and a third ACE teacher spent two years there.
Pierre-Antoine described his departure from St. Jarlath as "bittersweet." In his time at the school, its enrollment has increased from 60 to more than 100 pupils.
In his new role, Pierre-Antoine will work with principals and teachers in Notre Dame ACE Academy partner schools in the dioceses of Tucson, Arizona, and St. Petersburg, Florida. Pierre-Antoine will also lead the development of a strategy for replicating the academy model in other communities.
"Rodney is among the most passionate, thoughtful, faithful, and fun people I know, and he brings a deep knowledge of how kids learn, how teachers grow, and how great schools work," said Christian Dallavis, ACE's senior director for leadership programs and founding director of the Notre Dame ACE Academies.
"I am thrilled about the opportunity to cement the NDAA pillars of educational excellence, the experience of community in Christ, and faith formation in the Catholic tradition in our existing schools," Pierre-Antoine said of his appointment. "I also welcome the prospect of expanding this wonderful initiative to diocesan communities who are ready to embrace this innovative model for Catholic education."
Shannon Jordan, who has taught at St. Jarlath School for 10 years, will become the new principal. Jordan knows her way around the school, having taught second grade, first grade, junior high science, middle school religion, seventh- and eighth-grade homeroom, and a kindergarten-first-grade combination. In addition, she was the after school coordinator last year as well as the Title One resource teacher.
Jordan is a graduate of St. Eugene School and Ursuline High School in Santa Rosa. She studied special education at Gonzaga University and graduated with her master's in education administration from Scranton University.
"School was always very hard for me and I worked very hard all throughout my years as a student, which I know has made me a better educator," she said.
As principal, she is looking forward to "being able to work with all the families, students and teachers involved in making St. Jarlath what it is today."
"Keeping the culture and tone of love, hard work, and happiness lies with the principal and I am excited to continue and carry out the efforts that Rodney did for St. Jarlath," Jordan said.
She brings an additional perspective to the roIe of principal: that of a parent. "I think my main challenges will be scheduling and time, giving to all those that need it. I am a single mom (I adopted an 8-year-old boy this past December) and all the students at St. Jarlath I love as my own and care deeply for the emotional, academic, and social growth — so being able to divide my time to ensure everything gets done in a loving fashion, will take practice and organization."
St. Lawrence O'Toole School
During Sally Douthit's three years as principal of St. Lawrence O'Toole School, several initiatives have been completed, and "all benefit the students," she said. Among them are the expansion of technology, implementation of the Common Core, and an increase in enrollment.
"We've put ourselves on the map again," she said.
St. Lawrence O'Toole has a "hardworking, devoted community," she said, "rich in history and tradition. The children are incredible."
Leaving a community that has embraced her is "very bittersweet," Douthit said. "I'm very lucky to be going from one wonderful school to another wonderful school."
Jean Kuznik, Douthit's successor at St. Lawrence O'Toole, says she has spent "30 years acting like a teenager."
For most of her career, Kuznik has worked with high school students. She has spent the past seven years at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School as assistant principal for student life.
This will be the first time she has served as principal. She said she looks forward to being able to "spend more time with younger students and younger families."
From her vantage point in high schools, she has seen the "importance and value" the elementary school years have in building a strong foundation for students, both spiritually and academically.
Although most of her years as an educator have been spent in high schools, including De La Salle and Carondelet in Concord, the last seven have been at a high school with a vibrant elementary right next door in Alameda.
She has coordinated joint liturgies with the elementary school, and seen their energy and enthusiasm on a daily basis.
Kuznik attended Catholic elementary and high schools in Santa Barbara, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in zoology from UC Davis, and with a master's degree in educational leadership and an administrative credential.
St. Joseph Elementary School
The search for a new principal is underway at St. Joseph Elementary School in Alameda. Monica O'Callaghan had served as principal.
Holy Rosary School
At Holy Rosary Parish in Antioch, Tim Hooke has been a student, alumnus, teacher and parishioner. Soon he'll take on a new role: principal.
After three years as principal of St. Michael School in Livermore, where he guided the school through its 100th anniversary celebration, Hooke is going home.
"I'm excited to be going back," Hooke said. "I have a great love for the parish and school. I know we can continue to do great things there."
Kimberly Cheng has served as principal at Holy Rosary for one year.
Leaving his present position was not an easy choice. "I love St. Michael's," he said, noting the parents, teachers and students. "It's been a joy to be here."
In his three years at the Livermore school, Hooke said, much had been accomplished to bring the school up to date, particularly in technology. He found the parents welcoming, and the staff embraced change. "It's tough to leave a group I've become close to," he said, noting his departure is "very bittersweet."
The opportunity to return to his alma mater won out. "Any other school I'd have said no," he said.
"I feel like I'm going back to big expectations," Hooke said.
Sally Douthit, who has served as principal of St. Lawrence O'Toole School in Oakland for the past three years, will become principal at St. Michael.
For Douthit, St. Michael's is familiar territory. Before her Oakland assignment, she served for four years at St. Isidore School in Danville, where she has taught fifth and seventh grades.
Our Lady of Grace
"After 10 years in elementary school, I finally get to graduate," said Ryan Brusco, who has been principal of Our Lady of Grace school for the past four years.
Brusco is graduating to Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward, where he will become assistant principal for instruction.
Both of his aunts are Moreau Catholic graduates, said Brusco, whose parents are Bishop O'Dowd alums.
Before Our Lady of Grace, Brusco served five years at St. Catherine of Siena School in Martinez; three of those years were spent as vice principal. The previous year he had been a student teacher.
The decision to leave the Castro Valley school was not easy; it occurred after "I met the folks at Moreau."
"The people that are there — teachers, administrators, parents, students — I've always been impressed." he said of Moreau Catholic, "It's a logical extension of what we do here," he said.
The new position "takes all the things I love about administration and instruction and puts it into one position," he said.
In addition to curriculum development, teacher training and professional development, Brusco said he had a fondness for accreditation.
"I enjoy the process and what it yields," he said.
Being part of a team is appealing, he said. "Being principal in an elementary school can be a one-man show," he said.
As for Our Lady of Grace, he said the school is focused on the Augustinian values of "unity, truth and love,"
The Augustinian charism defines who we are," he said.
"I'm happy here," he said. His departure is made easier by the fact that kindergarten teacher Jennifer Fischer will become the interim principal.
"She is a go-getter," he said of his successor, who came to the school in 2007. "She is amazing." Calling her a "natural leader," Brusco said teachers and parents look up to Fischer, who has developed the transitional kindergarten curriculum for the school.
"I believe in fostering a strong home to school connection, and building partnerships with each family for the success of their child," Fischer wrote in a letter to parents. "I am looking forward to serving the Our Lady of Grace community, continuing the school mission, and fostering our strong Augustinian core values!"
Fischer, who was graduated from St. Felicitas School in San Leandro, has degrees, credentials and certificates in early childhood education and special education.
"I have dreamed of being a kindergarten teacher since I was a little girl," she said in a statement on the school website.
St. Bede School
Antoinette Cosentino has been at St. Bede School in Hayward for the past 17 years. She taught kindergarten for six years, and second grade for five before becoming principal six years ago.
She departs as principal after leading the school through a major technological upgrade. "My biggest achievement is the 1-to-1 laptop program for fifth through eighth grades," she said.
"All the students, fifth through eighth grade, have their own MacBook Air."
What's more, "the kids get to keep them," she said.
Under programs at some schools, Cosentino said, students turn in their computers when they graduate. Not so at St. Bede. "The parents worked with me," she said. Some parents lease, some pay yearly and some purchase the computer outright, she said. The key is that Cosentino selected a program that made the laptop affordable. A three-year lease cost $48 a month, she said.
At the end of the lease, "the students give me $1 and it's theirs," she said.
"We made it happen," she said. "Students love to use the laptops," she said.
The school is building its online resources. New math textbooks are arriving next year; the students will use workbooks for one year. The textbook will stay at school.
From electronics to anti-bullying to integrity education, Cosentino points to the programs in place at the Hayward school, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.
"We have a lot of strong policies in place to protect kids and families," she said.
Among the school's hallmarks are a robust sacramental program. "We have a strong Catholic identity in the school," she said. They pray the rosary as a whole school, and go to the church for Stations of the Cross weekly in Lent. For the May crowning second-graders are invited to wear their First Communion clothes.
Cosentino is also proud of the strides the school has made academically. "Even when I was in kindergarten and second grade, I made the curriculum more challenging," she said. As principal, "standards were raised all through the school."
Among the ways they know it's working: "Our kids are doing better at Moreau," she said, with fewer needing to attend summer school.
Cosentino will become principal of St. Leo the Great School in San Jose. Her successor at St. Bede has not yet been named.
"I'm going to really miss it," she said.
St. Michael School
After three years, Tim Hooke is departing as principal of St. Michael to return to Holy Rosary School in Antioch. His successor is Sally Douthit, who has been principal at St. Lawrence O'Toole School in Oakland for the past three years.
Hooke is returning to the school from which he graduated, and later served as a teacher. Leaving his present position was not easy. "I love St. Michael's," he said, noting the parents, teachers and students. "It's been a joy to be here."
Hint to St. Michael's students: If your new principal looks a little familiar, it may be that you have seen her in church.
Prior to becoming principal in Oakland, Douthit taught at St. Isidore School in Danville. Her move to St. Michael School brings her closer to home.
"I'm looking forward to being part of the school and community," she said. "I'm very lucky to be going from one wonderful school to another."
For additional information, see the principals' comments in the listings above for Sr. Lawrence O'Toole and Holy Rosary schools.
Christ the King School
"I'm a firm believer in 'it's time,'" said Kathy Gannon-Briggs, who is leaving as principal of Christ the King School in Pleasant Hill.
"Father Brian is leaving, too," she said, noting that the longtime pastor, Father Brian Joyce, is retiring this fall. "For me, it's time."
Gannon-Briggs has served as principal for 22 years — and 44 as a teacher. "It's been great life," she said. "I'm very blessed."
She has served in "suburban, inner-city, a lot of nice variety," Gannon-Briggs said. During her time as principal at St. Bernard School in Oakland, she welcomed children to school in fall 2005 who had come from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Soon after she was named interim principal at Christ the King, she was diagnosed with a serious melanoma, and needed to take the months of January and February for chemotherapy and recovery.
"The first day on the job," she recalled, "Bishop Cordileone came to say Mass."
Her response: "Rise and shine. We can do this."
She's been doing this — educating children — for most of her life. She started her career in Michigan, where she taught for six years, followed by an additional six in Florida.
St. Mary in Walnut Creek; St. Martin de Porres, St. Bernard and St. Augustine in Oakland; St. Isidore in Danville; and Carondelet High School in Concord are among the places in the Diocese of Oakland where she has been serving students and families.
"Take a deep breath," she said. "Be open to the spirit."
(She does say that she will not return to being a principal full time.)
Gannon-Briggs leads a women in transition spirituality group.
They laugh, she said, telling her "Now it's your turn."
She might take a cue from them. "Some are very involved in wonderful things," she said, including hospice work and tutoring children with special needs."
Her interests might include hospice work, and a return to the board of Family Aid — Catholic Education.
But there is an interest that is very dear to her heart, and close to home for the educator who took eight years off to raise her four girls.
She had five grandchildren when she took the Christ the King post. Seven have joined them in the last five years.
They're "anxious to see me a little more," she said.
The educator leaves with no regrets. "I've always had the joy of doing everything I love."
Christopher Caban is leaving "a wonderful school with great children" to become principal at Christ the King, 2,000 miles away.
"I'm very proud of my graduates," he said of the students at St. Jerome School in Chicago. "They're academically well-rounded but they're also kind, thoughtful and respectful." They are headed to some of the best high schools in the area, but he's equally proud that "they can also throw a ball and tell a good joke."
He leaves Chicago, he said, "with a heavy heart."
"But it is an exciting opportunity to move west. It's great community, a strong parish," he said of Christ the King.
He's anticipating a bit of culture shock. But he and his wife — they were married last September near Lake Tahoe — have family in the Bay Area ready to welcome them. It was after the wedding that he began conversations with the Diocese of Oakland about opportunities here.
Although he has worked in an urban school — and called on a network of friends to help out from time to time — he knew he didn't have the resources to do so in the Bay Area.
A long phone call with Christ the King vice principal Jeanne Bucci, followed by a long conversation with Father Brian Joyce, led to a Skype interview with the school's search committee.
"I felt like I was having coffee with friends and having a great discussion about Catholic education," he said.
On Palm Sunday, he visited Christ the King parish. It was his first look at the school.
"Everything was new," he said. "There was a prayer garden, and chickens, and there was a nice level of technology," he recalled.
Although he thought he was going incognito, he was pressed into service in the Palm Sunday procession. Caban was happy to discover that he blended right in. If he hadn't decided by then, the vibrant community made the difference.
"This is definitely meant to be," he said.
Caban, who grew up in Northwest Indiana, studied history and economics and started his career in the banking industry.
"I thought I was happy," he said. He was working as a recruiter when he had what he described as "a moment of clarity." Despite his professional success, something was missing. He told his dad that he thought he'd like to be a teacher.
"My dad said, 'I always thought you'd be a teacher.'"
Making a "180 degree turn," he began his studies to become a teacher. Among his mentors was an assistant superintendent in the Diocese of Chicago. A two-week assignment as a substitute teaching junior high math and science was the gateway. "I just fell in love," he said. At the end of his training, Caban was pressed into service as a P.E. teacher. "It wasn't exactly what I wanted to do," he said. But he did it, and then spent two years teaching social studies.
That's when representatives of the Big Shoulders Fund approached him to consider becoming a principal. He had just three years in the classroom, and said no. Representatives returned the next year.
He entered the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, through the Alliance for Catholic Education, at the University of Notre Dame.
He describes his work in education as a thank you for himself and his family. His grandfather emigrated from Slovakia, worked for 57 years and sent his children to Catholic school; Caban's father is the first in his family to graduate with a college degree.
Caban said he's looking forward to "listening, learning and getting to know the community."
"I have loved my nine years as principal of Assumption School," said Pamela Lyons. "The strong sense of community: parents, pastor and staff working together for the betterment of our students is what I will remember most about my time there. The dedication of the teachers and staff, the school's strong bond with the parish, and my partnership with the pastor, Father Vince Scott, has made working at Assumption a complete joy."
The collaborative environment was something her successor, Joseph Petersen, recognized in his interview with the panel.
"There was a great feeling around the table during the interview process," said Petersen, vice principal of St. Elizabeth Elementary School in Oakland. He noticed, too, the pastor's enthusiasm for the school. "I really enjoyed the energy of Father Vince (Scott)."
Petersen said he left the meeting "feeling that these are people you want to collaborate with." The feeling was mutual. Quickly, the offer was made and accepted.
Petersen returned later to tour the school with the pastor. Father Scott took him into every classroom — even the soon-to-be-departing eighth grade, — and introduced the new principal to the students. "He knows every kid by name," Petersen said.
He is saying goodbye to the St. Elizabeth Elementary community, where he has served for 13 years. Petersen has been vice principal for seven years; before that, he taught language arts to special needs students in the junior high.
His mentor in administration was Principal Sister Rose Marie Hennessy, OP, who now serves at the Dominican Motherhouse in Mission San Jose. "Her mentoring was thoughtful and deliberate," Petersen said. "I know some things she planted in me I'm not going to get for 20 to 40 years."
Petersen has taken a thoughtful approach to his departure from the Fruitvale District School.
"Everybody graduates," Petersen said. "I'm moving on to the next stop in my journey."
Next Front Page
back to top