Willkens Leach has worn many hats since she began as a teacher at Monroe BOCES #1 in 1979. She is currently the principal of both Nazareth Hall Middle School and Nazareth Academy.
According to the Catholic Courier story,
"I am delighted at the opportunity to serve as superintendent and to help our Catholic schools thrive," Willkens Leach said in a statement. "I have a deep faith and a strong, strong feeling that Catholic schools must and will thrive and grow."
Thrive? Grow? Haven't we heard this and similar songs before?
You bet we have. Take, for example, an April 12, 2001 D&C story reporting on the hiring of Sr. Elizabeth Meegan as the new MCCS Superintendent:
"In the last 10 years we've really stabilized the Catholic school system, and we need to take it to the next level," said Rosemary Haller, chairwoman of the Monroe County Catholic School Board ... The diocese oversees 30 schools in Monroe County.
Or a November 12, 2004 DOR Press Release dealing with the Meegan-Clark tuition restructuring plan:
“We really believe this [tuition] model will help preserve the treasure of Catholic education for future generations of families in our diocese,” said Bishop Matthew Clark.
Or the same DOR Press Release, this time dealing with the closure of four schools:
Sr. Elizabeth Meegan ... also announced that three schools ... would be merged with neighboring Catholic schools as part of the long-term plan to strengthen the system ... Another school, St. Helen, ... will cease to operate.
"The decision ... is truly in the interest of maintaining a healthy system that will meet the needs of young people in the years to come."
And so I am skeptical about promises of growing and thriving schools. Given the history of MCCS management blunders that are largely responsible for the closure 19 schools in 7 years and the departure of thousands of children from the system, I believe this skepticism is well justified.
Willkens Leach may just be able to deliver on her promises and actually truly stabilize and ultimately grow the system. To do that, however, she will have to depart from recent MCCS practice and give parents a real voice in the operation of the system. Parents are going to be critical to the success or failure of what's left of the MCCS System and they are going to need a genuine sense of ownership before they become her allies and not merely her customers.
Successful business leaders learned this lesson years ago, while most educational management types remain clueless on the topic. We should learn soon how Willkens Leach will approach this critical subject.