Catholic Education
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Issue Date:  March 25, 2005

Program trains Catholic school principles

Catholic News Service

Several years ago Michael Gnat was unhappy with his job as a sales manager for a fire alarm system, so he began working as a substitute public schoolteacher. He enjoyed teaching, and in 1998 he began teaching science and computer science to fifth-graders at a Catholic school in Fredericksburg, Va.

A few years later, he entered the Catholic School Leadership Program at Marymount University in Arlington to earn his master’s degree in education administration.

“Usually the principal’s role is mainly managerial, but [Marymount’s program] dealt with the spiritual aspect of leadership,” said Gnat, who is currently principal of Holy Family School in Dale City.

One concept he learned from the program was that God’s presence in education is “not just in religion class. He is the education. Marymount really brought that home for me,” he said.

The university, which was founded by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, began the two-year program four years ago with about a dozen students. Fall and spring classes are taught online, while summer classes are held on Marymount’s Arlington campus so that students can get to know one another and their professors.

Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Patricia Helene Earl, former assistant superintendent of schools for the Arlington diocese, was hired in 2003 as the first full-time director of the program.

Earl said Marymount’s program is unique because of the mix of on-campus learning and online courses that meet “the needs not only of the Arlington diocese, but particularly areas where there are no Catholic universities.” Allowing students to spend two weeks together in the summer “encourages collegiality,” she said.

The program includes classes typical of any master’s in education degree program, but with a Catholic perspective. For example, a state school might teach a class on budgeting by focusing on state and federal funds, while Marymount’s program emphasizes the role of tuition and working with pastors.

The program was created to “infuse into others not only what they need to run the schools but also how to integrate faith into what they offer the teachers and the students,” Earl said.

There are currently 37 students enrolled in the program. Of these, 15 are from Arlington, with others from elsewhere in Virginia, as well as Maryland, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, Rhode Island, Colorado and Texas.

Earl’s job includes teaching several classes, recruiting, and working on gaining official recognition for state licensure so that students from other states can more easily transfer credits.

National Catholic Reporter, March 25, 2005

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