Pileggi started part-time at Perryville school, was given new responsibilities until she now leads school
PERRYVILLE, Md. — When Good Shepherd School found itself needing a new principal following this past school year, the search did not take them too far. The successor was sitting in an office next to the retiring Sharon Hodges – that is, when she wasn’t teaching health and physical education or instructing students in computers.
Jenifer Pileggi has been a “jill” of many trades at the small Cecil County, Md., school, starting nine years ago as a phys-ed teacher two days a week. She used her degree in health education to introduce that into the curriculum as well. The school asked her to add computers to her responsibilities a few years later, adding a third workday to her week. It wasn’t long before she assumed the assistant principal’s role, filling out her five-day week.
Just one job
For the first time since she began at Good Shepherd, Pileggi will have just one job.
“Yeah, it’s going to be easy, right?” Pileggi joked recently at the school.
Enrollment is the main challenge at Good Shepherd, but Pileggi says the school has many positives going for it. It has tremendous support from the pastor, Father Jay McKee. It has learned to stretch every dollar and operate as efficiently as possible. And it has a community of students, families and parishioners that embrace the school.
“It’s a wonderful community,” Pileggi said. “It’s very much a family atmosphere, and everybody supports everybody else. So that’s what’s kind of kept it going. Parents who love the community and love the school are working hard to keep it open.”
Pileggi was a member of that community as a parent before she started working there. A Perryville resident, she and her husband, Dominick, had enrolled their oldest child, Josephine, now a sophomore at Padua. Her other two children, Gabriella and Dominick Jr., are entering seventh and third grade, respectively. She checked with them before accepting the principal’s job.
“We had a family dinner, and we talked about it. My son said it would be really cool, so he’s happy. I told them if they get in trouble, they go to the pastor. They usually don’t get in trouble; they’re pretty good kids,” she said.
Pileggi, 42, grew up in Severn, Md., and attended Archbishop Spalding High School and the University of Maryland. She and her husband, a graduate of Archmere Academy, met there as teammates on the cheerleading squad.
She took a job teaching high school in Montgomery County, Md., where she started a cheerleading program. A few years later, she became a charter member of the Baltimore Ravens’ cheer squad, which led to some interesting moments in her classroom.
“I have to say it was a little awkward at first because when I first started cheering and I had my students and they’re seeing me in this little outfit, that was a little weird for me,” she said.
After two years cheering, with marriage and children on the horizon, she became a coach with the Ravens. During her 15-year coaching tenure, the team won two Super Bowls, and Pileggi was able to travel to some interesting places with the team.
“I was on the sideline for every game for 17 years, two Super Bowls. Wonderful experience.”
She changed her major at Maryland a few times, but she isn’t surprised she ended up in education. She recalled playing teacher as a young girl, and her brother would have to be her student.
‘A little nervous’
As she transitions full-time into administration, Pileggi will have to adjust to doing observations and job evaluations for people who were her equals a few months ago. She said Hodges has been helpful; Hodges was also a teacher at Good Shepherd before becoming the principal seven years ago.
The school is introducing a new theology curriculum this year, and there are a few new faces on the faculty, but Pileggi said she doesn’t want to make a lot of changes.
Her familiarity with Good Shepherd is a positive, she said, because she knows what works well for the community.
The butterflies built as the opening of school approached, but Pileggi expects that to disappear once the doors open next week.
“I’m a little nervous. It’s the same feeling I had 17 years ago when I first started teaching. That feeling like, ‘You’re not a student teacher anymore. You don’t have that person with you. This classroom is yours.’ But then you go in, and you teach, and you’re like, ‘I have this. I’ve trained for this. No problem.’ So that’s the nervous feeling I have. I’m hoping the first day of school it will go away.”