11/07/2023 by Michael Truesdell |

Empowering Leadership: The Role of President and Principal in Catholic Education

two paper cutouts of people holding up a red flag together in support

In the world of Catholic high schools, the President/Principal model often takes center stage, addressing the diverse needs of their school community. Having spent over two decades in this dynamic landscape, I've witnessed the incredible impact of this leadership structure firsthand. It's a bit like a finely choreographed dance where every move counts.

So, what makes this model so effective, and why does it remain a cornerstone of leadership in Catholic schools? Let’s take a look into this empowering leadership approach and how it fuels positive change and growth within Catholic education.

Understanding the President/Principal Model in Catholic School Leadership

As a consultant with over 25 years of experience in Catholic high school leadership, I've often encountered questions about the effectiveness of this model. In both Diocesan-owned and Congregation-sponsored schools, this model has been a cornerstone of leadership. But what exactly is the President/Principal model, and how does it benefit a school, especially given the costs of maintaining two key leadership positions rather than one?

The President/Principal model in Catholic education is a dynamic and collaborative leadership structure. There are two key leaders, the President and the Principal, and they work in tandem to oversee the administration and academic aspects of a Catholic high school. While the President typically focuses on external functions such as enrollment, fundraising, and community engagement, the Principal concentrates on internal academic matters, student development, and faculty management.

Drawing from my extensive background, which includes two and a half decades of service in the corporate world as a senior executive, I can attest to the unique power of this leadership structure. The strength of this model lies in the seamless coordination between leaders, enabling a comprehensive and synchronized method that resonates with all stakeholders. Moreover, it fosters success in areas like enrollment, academic achievement, community service, and extracurricular activities such as athletics. It's a proven framework for fostering positive change and enhancing the overall quality of education in Catholic high schools.

Catalyzing Positive Change: The Impact of the President/Principal Model

This synchronized approach is a catalyst for positive change across various aspects of the school. The model, when executed correctly, produces remarkable results. It thrives on the unity of purpose and a shared vision between the President and the Principal. When these leaders work together effectively, they create a school environment that not only excels academically, but also instills strong values and a sense of community among students and staff.

By celebrating and supporting each other's efforts and showcasing specific examples of success, the President and Principal set a powerful example for the entire school community. A collaborative approach ensures that Catholic high schools remain vibrant centers of learning, character development, and community engagement, while fostering the holistic growth of their students and the institution as a whole. However, it is important to note that the President/Principal model works at its absolute best when the President uses her/his turn to celebrate the work of the internally and academically focused leadership of the Principal. If you are currently in the role of President or aspire to become one, I encourage you to incorporate praise and appreciation for your school's Principal into both your spoken and written communications. Offer specific examples of their contributions and achievements.

To summarize, the President/Principal model, while it may involve the added expense of maintaining two leadership positions, is a dynamic and effective leadership structure that can yield substantial returns in terms of school improvement. The success of this model lies in the power of collaborative leadership, where both the President and the Principal play pivotal roles and complement each other's strengths. By celebrating and supporting each other's efforts, we can ensure the long-term success of Catholic high schools.

Mike Truesdell is a Senior Consultant with our Catholic Schools Practice and also works on consulting projects with schools. From senior leadership positions in both education and business, Mike has successfully invigorated strategic planning, guided fundraising and financing, as well as implemented both governance board and senior organizational restructuring.

Before joining CS&A, Mike served as the President and CEO of Holy Cross High School (NY), President and CEO of St. John’s Jesuit High School & Academy (OH), and President and CEO of Cardinal Newman High School (CA).

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