New leaders at South Jersey Catholic Schools

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South Jersey Catholic Schools welcomes seven new school leaders, who share their Catholic faith and a commitment to the mission of Catholic schools. They all bring enthusiasm, experience and impressive skills to their new positions. 

Sister Olga Cano is the new principal at Bishop Schad Regional School in Vineland. A sister of the Missionary Daughters of the Most Pure Virgin Mary, Sister Olga comes to Bishop Schad from the Diocese of Yakima in Washington state, where she served as principal of Saint Joseph School, Wenatchee, for 10 years. Originally from Mexico, Sister Olga sees the move to Vineland as a homecoming. “Coming back as principal makes me happy because New Jersey was my home when I was a junior sister. I taught kindergarten for five years at Saint Mary Magdalen in Millville,” she said. Acknowledging how welcomed she has felt since her arrival, Sister Olga said a primary goal for her is making sure everyone feels welcomed at Bishop Schad school.

Dr. Tom Farren, new principal at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, brings nearly 20 years of experience from Saint Joseph Preparatory School in Philadelphia. There, he served as a teacher, coach, department chair, Middle States Accreditation coordinator, and in campus ministry. He has also taught as an adjunct professor at Montgomery County Community College and Chestnut Hill College. Dr. Farren said he loves the energy and enthusiasm in the Holy Spirit community. “People are energetic and engaged. The enthusiasm is moving people in the same direction… everyone believes in the school and mission,” he said. Dr. Farren also said several families have shown interest in transferring to the school over the last few weeks. He is especially excited about the school’s upcoming 100th anniversary in 2022. “I’m a big fan of tradition,” he said. “Holy Spirit has that. It’s been a great 100 first years, and I can’t wait to help welcome the next 100.”

Philip J. Gianfortune has joined Saint Michael the Archangel Regional School in Clayton as principal. He has been an educator for more than 14 years, most recently as headmaster at Bishop Eustace Preparatory School, Pennsauken. From teachers and staff, to families, to board members, Gianfortune said he has been inspired by the way the Saint Michael’s community values the school. He also said he appreciates the way principals in other schools throughout the diocese network, sharing experiences and best practices. Although he loved teaching and sometimes misses the classroom, Gianfortune said a desire to make the biggest possible difference for students led him into school administration. He is eager to help the school develop a truly personalized learning experience for every student.

Elizabeth Martino is the new principal at Our Lady of Hope Regional Catholic School in Blackwood. With the Society of the Holy Child Jesus she taught fourth grade and spent several years in professional development with urban Catholic schools. She was also the founding director of Arch Street Preschool in Philadelphia. Martino’s first few weeks before opening day were especially busy with construction activity and deadlines as a wing of the school was being restored after a March 1 fire. Martino said a highlight of the first week of school was the arrival of a student who wanted to read to her. “I am special. I can love and lead like Jesus,” said the second grader, reading from her own writing. Martino, whose primary goal for the year is to build a culture of kindness in the community, was thrilled. “The students are paying attention,” she said.

Diana Rodriguez has joined Saint Anthony of Padua, a Catholic Partnership School in Camden, as principal. Rodriquez is bilingual (English and Spanish) and has a background in both social work and education. A Catholic school parent, she joins Saint Anthony from the Philadelphia public school district with expertise in instructional leadership, budgeting, grants and strategic planning across multiple grade levels and schools. “The families are amazing. … Our parents are the partners. I could really see that,” said Rodriguez at the end of her first week at the school. She also said the teachers had been very welcoming, and she noted her appreciation for Father Jaime Hostios, pastor of Saint Joseph Pro-Cathedral, for his presence and support. “I want him to be here, to be a spiritual leader. … It’s important for kids to see that connection, she said.

Dr. Julie Shively is the new head of school/principal at Bishop Eustace Preparatory School, Pennsauken. With more than 20 years’ experience as an educator, Dr. Shively most recently served as principal of Saint Mary’s Springs Middle School/High School Academy, Diocese of Milwaukee. She has several advanced degrees in education and served as a pilot in the United States Air Force. She also worked as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow with the United States Department of Education, where she consulted with federal policy makers on education. “Over the past few weeks, I’ve witnessed the incredible strength of our students, parents, administrators, faculty, staff members, and alumni — everyone who breathes life into the Bishop Eustace of today. … [Our] students and what we can help them achieve are my highest priority,” said Dr. Shively in a letter to the school community.

Carol Spina has joined Our Lady Star of the Sea Regional School, Atlantic City, as principal. An education advocate with several post-graduate degrees, she has worked as a teacher and leader, primarily in New Jersey charter schools. Making the switch to Catholic school, Spina has been impressed by the community atmosphere, especially the way people volunteer their time and donate resources. “I see how happy people are [here],” she said. Continuing to build a family environment and providing teachers with professional development are among Spina’s primary goals. She is focused on increasing enrollment and is developing marketing materials in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.