New principals take the helm at three Catholic schools
By Katherine Long
The first day of the school year marked a new beginning not just for the thousands of students enrolled in the diocese’s 22 Catholic schools, but also for three new principals: Martha O’Leary of Holy Cross School in DeWitt, Patty Bliss of Rome Catholic School in Rome and Matt Martinkovic of St. James School in Johnson City. The Sun talked with the new school leaders to find out more about them and more about their plans for the coming year.
Martha O’Leary, Holy Cross School
O’Leary comes to Holy Cross with more than 25 years of experience, having started her career as a school social worker at Roberts School in Syracuse before becoming vice principal at Blodgett School in Syracuse, middle school principal in the Fayetteville Manlius school district and principal of Chestnut Hill Elementary School in Liverpool, a position she held for 11 years.
A product of Catholic education herself, the Most Holy Rosary High School graduate said she has always been committed to Catholic education and that she jumped at the opportunity to lead at Holy Cross. “My passion for education, combined with my love of God and the Catholic religion — to be able to mesh those together, to be able to do what I love within my faith community, is a real blessing,” she said.
While there will be differences between leading a public school and leading a Catholic school, O’Leary said one thing will definitely remain the same: a focus on character and values. “The way I was principal at Chestnut Hill was always to instill values in children, and I had a really wonderful faculty there who strove to do that as well. While it wasn’t a Catholic school, it was a school that instilled values in children regardless of their religion. We were very focused on character education and practicing good character traits,” she said, and the same will hold true at Holy Cross.
O’Leary also plans to remain a “hands-on” principal. “I want to be completely involved in the education of the children at Holy Cross. I can sit in the principal’s office after the children go home, but while the children are in school, I like to be really involved in classrooms and with children,” she said.
O’Leary said she knew the school year and her principalship were off to a good start during the school’s Mass of the Holy Spirit Sept. 6. As teachers and students gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist, “I thought of how blessed I am to do the job I love in a Christ-centered community,” O’Leary said.
Patty Bliss, Rome Catholic School
Like her counterpart at Holy Cross, Rome Catholic’s Patty Bliss has worked in both public and Catholic schools. Her passion, though, lies in educating children in a Catholic environment, a place where “your spiritual faith life and your public life aren’t separate,” she said.
Born and raised in Cooperstown, N.Y., Bliss taught and served as principal in schools of the Archdiocese of Newark in New Jersey for nearly 30 years. She returned to New York in 2008 as principal of St. Mary’s School in Oneonta, a position she held until the school’s closing in 2011. She is thrilled to lead another Catholic school and to meet the students at Rome Catholic.
Among other plans, Bliss said growing pre-K to sixth grade enrollment will be a primary focus for her this year. The school’s grades 7 to 12 program ended last June due to low enrollment numbers. With that in mind, “The children are the priority,” Bliss said. “Showing the children God’s unconditional love is number one. Number two is to provide a quality education — to continue to build on the strengths that Rome Catholic is founded on.”
With the school year just underway, Bliss said she already feels the future is bright for her and Rome Catholic. During morning prayers in the chapel on the first day of school, “As I looked out at the children and teachers, I felt an overwhelming sense of family — that serenity, contentment and peace which can only come from being among family,” Bliss said.
Matt Martinkovic, St. James School
The St. James family welcomes one of its own to the principalship this year — new leader Martinkovic is not only a graduate of the school but, until this summer, was also a science teacher there.
This will be the Seton Catholic Central High School alum’s sixth year working in the Catholic schools of Broome County, having previously taught at St. Joseph’s School and All Saints School in addition to St. James. Catholic education was a “strong tradition” in Martinkovic’s family, he said, and he began teaching in the Catholic school system after a brief stint subbing in the public schools.
With no dissections or other laboratory experiments to direct this year, Martinkovic said he’s looking forward to working on a few school-wide initiatives. “As a teacher, you’re always working to promote classroom change,” he said. “As principal, I want to improve the whole school.”
For Martinkovic, that will mean continuing to build a strong Catholic identity and culture at the school; his staff members were also “full of ideas and passion” on the topic at their first meeting, Martinkovic said. Increasing the school’s commitment to and participation in service activities is just one way he’s hoping to achieve that goal. Martinkovic will also focus on technology this year. “We may be in a traditional building but we can have 21st-century classrooms,” he said. “We have an iPad cart [that travels classroom to classroom]. I want to see technology like that incorporated more into each of the subjects in order to teach to our ‘digital native’ students.”
Martinkovic said he will miss being in the classroom and seeing “the light bulb click on” for a student learning something new, but he plans on being a visible presence as principal. And so far, the transition from teacher to principal has been smooth. “I have a great working relationship with my colleagues, and I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of support from them and from [students’] parents,” he said.
For more information on the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Syracuse, visit www.syrdio.org.