WILMINGTON — Bethann Higley was looking for a change a few years ago when a local high school — where her daughter was a senior — had an opening. She just wasn’t sure it matched what she had to offer.
But Higley’s husband, Tom, encouraged her to apply for that position at Padua Academy. She has discovered in the nearly two years since she took the job that it was the right place for her and her workplace experience.
“My daughter had just graduated from Padua,” Higley said recently in the school store. “I loved the mission of this school. She had such a great experience and really grew so much as a person. I just loved seeing her transition. That transformation experience that (principal) Cindy Mann talks about truly happened with her. I respect Cindy a lot, and I wanted the opportunity to work with her and the staff here.”
Her business leadership class has just seven seniors and encompasses economics, management and leadership. The girls also run the store, taking care of everything from designing and pricing merchandise, managing inventory, and deciding on profit margin. Higley is there for advice, but she lets the students do the work.
The team checks numbers each month, comparing sales against the previous year and whether they are meeting their sales goals.
“Not only do we run them, but then we look at the metrics. Did it work? How many people responded to the email?
“We’re very productive. Each of them gets an opportunity to do everything, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s really hands on and experiential. They have the responsibility to run the store everyday,” Higley said.
Higley, a native of Exton, Pa., has her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from St. Joseph’s University and worked in retail marketing, advertising and buying. She stayed home for 10 years raising her four children before going back into the workplace. She became an adjunct professor at Goldey Beacom College for four years, and she worked in the college’s career services department part-time before the Padua opportunity arose.
She wasn’t sure she would fit what Padua was seeking, which she describes as somebody with “a business-slash-history background.” But she took a chance, and it has paid off handsomely.
“I love it. It’s a great environment. I tell the students they’re lucky. They’re lucky to be in such a positive environment where they can truly learn. And they want to be here. They want to learn. It makes it easy to teach,” she said.
She sees the excitement in the faces of her business students. They have introduced new items to the school store and are open to changing their methods to help reach their goals.
“This class, this was Cindy’s brainchild, to have them really involved in the store and have it be their store. And they’ve come up with some pretty creative things. Building on the real retail world. Our online business, we’ve seen it grow,” she said.
She has also seen the growth in her students. “I had one of the girls tell me last year, ‘Mrs. Higley, I learned so much in the class, and it never really felt like we were learning.’ You just do it. You learn as you go. You hear it in our conversations throughout the year. They’re using that vocabulary.”
“That’s kind of neat to see. The development of the team is nice to see. It’s a small class, which is great. They really work well together.”
She and her husband have four children, two boys and two girls. One daughter graduated from Padua; the other is in seventh grade at St. Mary Magdalen.
Three of her students — Caroline Melia, Katie Buczik and Victoria Steinhoff — nominated Higley to be profiled. In their letter, they described her as a mentor willing to go “above and beyond to provide her students with tools they will use” in high school, college and beyond.
“She will always go out of her way to help someone who is struggling and will be there to lend her advice,” the girls wrote. “She is widely appreciated throughout Padua Academy and should be recognized for having such a positive impact on her students.”
Higley said she was humbled and grateful.
“This being only my second year, I’m learning in this environment. Am I doing the right thing? Am I being impactful and being effective, teaching them what they need to learn? I was honored.
“It’s a good fit. I’m happy to be here.”