Four leaders, One New Direction

Feb. 23-March 1,2006
Four leaders, One New Direction
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
New Diocese School Administrators Up to the Task

When the Syracuse Diocese announced its plans to close four schools last month, the news was initially met with much resistance. But in the wake of closings, a silver lining is beginning to become apparent to those parents and children who will be adapting to new environments next year.

Michael Colabufo, the diocese’s brand new superintendent of schools, was ushered into the fray as soon as he had taken on the position. The first step was finding four new principals for Bishop’s Academies at the Cathedral International Academy at Our Lady of Pompei School and the Bishop’s Academies at Holy Family, St. Charles Borromeo and Most Holy Rosary. The four new schools were established in the wake of closures for St. Patrick’s, St. Ann’s, St. James and the Cathedral School. Colabufo said that selecting the four new principals was a challenging process. “It was a difficult job. All eight administrators have done an admirable job in the past,” the superintendent said. Colabufo believes the four appointees will be instrumental in implementing the diocese’s plans for the new schools.

“I think the new four will prove to be visionaries,” he said. “They’re going to be a fine team.” Charles LaBarbera was given charge of the Cathedral International Academy at Our Lady of Pompei School. LaBarbera came to the diocesan school district after retiring from the Liverpool School District. He is no stranger to flux in school districts, having been involved with a closure and consolidation effort in the suburban school district to the north of Syracuse. LaBarbera noted that the challenge facing teachers in such schools is executing their daily responsibilities with a question mark looming on the horizon.

“It’s difficult because of the anticipation and the worry and at the same time you have to get your daily work done,” the principal said. He noted that in the case of the Liverpool School District taxpayers they were compensated in terms of their school taxes. LaBabera believes that the consolidation of the diocese’s schools could result in a more cost-effective operation for students and parents. LaBarbera believes that Catholic education is more crucial now than it has ever been before. “It’s important because in today’s society sometimes people are very busy and the kids need to learn values,” he said.

Susanne Donze, the principal at St. James School in the Valley, was appointed to the new post at the Bishop’s Academy at Holy Family. Donze is a product of diocesan schools, having attended Transifguration, Sacred Heart and Bishop Grimes. She has worked in the diocesan schools for 24 years. Before taking the position at St. James, Donze taught at St. Rose of Lima in North Syracuse and St. Mary Elementary School in Clinton. While pursuing her bachelor’s degree in elementary education at SUNY Oswego and then her master’s at SUNY Cortland, Donze always envisioned herself serving diocesan schools. The new principal at the Bishop’s Academy at Holy Family believes that the diocese’s schools are critical in developing community.

“I think the most important thing we do is community building,” she said, adding that parents, teachers, administrators and support [staff members] become a community as they further the cause of the children they are charged with. “We’re all here for the benefit of the kids and it becomes a community.” Donze is all too aware of the pride and tradition embedded in the diocese’s schools. She hopes to retain the traditions established in the new schools and harmonize them within the new environments. “The biggest challenge is bringing a new community together,” she said. “We’re not going to ignore history and tradition — we have to find a creative way to move on and create new traditions.” Rather than homogenizing each school’s legacy, Donze hopes to find commonalities between them.

Barbara Messina’s career in education has often straddled public education and religious education. The new principal at the Bishop’s Academy at Most Holy Rosary has taught for over 22 years beginning with a full-time position at Lakeland Elementary in the Solvay School District. She left teaching in a full-time capacity when her children were young but returned to teach in the Liverpool School District on a part-time basis. She was also the director of religious education at St. John’s Church in Liverpool. Messina graduated from St. Rose of Lima and attended Bishop Grimes for one year before transferring to North Syracuse High School.

She fell into her administrative role through a series of happy accidents. After teaching for several years at Most Holy Rosary, she found herself on the search committee to locate a replacement for a principal’s position, which had been recently vacated. During deliberations, Father Fred Mannara turned to her and asked Messina to consider taking the position. The meeting occurred on the cusp of a 10-day Easter break for the school and Messina spent the time away from Most Holy Rosary immersed in prayer and deliberation and counsel before finally deciding to accept the position. The time since has been a learning process. “I like to think that I’ve grown into it,” she said.

The transformation of the eight diocesan schools represents a revolution of sorts for Messina. “It won’t be a continuation but a new beginning,” she said. During a redistricting campaign in the Liverpool School District, Messina experienced first-hand, as a parent, the problems that can emerge for students. “I understand what the parents are going through,” she said. But she hopes the new era will ultimately benefit the students and that the growing pains are only temporary. “There can be no growth without change and we need to grow and move on even though it’s uncomfortable,” she said. “I’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel and I know you come out on the other side of the tunnel.”

Sister Donna Driscoll, MFIC, has a considerable amount of herself invested in the Bishop’s School at St. Charles Borromeo. In addition to serving as an educator at the school for 22 years, she is a product of its educational system. She also attended nearby Bishop Ludden.

A member of the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, Sister Donna earned her bachelor’s degree in science at Suffolk University in Boston and obtained her master’s in education from Le Moyne College. She worked throughout the country before returning to the school of her youth. Sister Donna is excited about the new future awaiting her school, noting that while she sympathizes with the anxieties of parents, the new structure will benefit the students.

“Any change takes you by surprise,” she said. “But you have to do what’s best for the kids.” The administrators are doing their best to make the transition a smooth one, according to Sister Donna. “We’re trying our best to make people comfortable because it’s always difficult to leave your school,” she said.

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