When Tracey Rush visited St. Elizabeth School to interview for the elementary school principal vacancy, she expected to be in Wilmington for about 45 minutes. Two hours later, she left campus.
“I decided to give it a shot, and I’m glad I did,” she said on the first day of school. “I left that day feeling hopeful but not wanting to get my hopes up. It just felt right.”
The feeling was mutual, and on July 25, Rush reported for her first day.
Rush returns to building administration after a stint as the director of school support services for Elwyn Early Learning Services. There, she oversaw 100-120 school support specialists, such as reading specialists, therapists and counselors, who worked with local schools in the Philadelphia area. Her program ceased during the pandemic, and she took some time off after that.
When the St. Elizabeth job opened up, she consulted with an old friend from Delaware County, Pa. Tom Fertal, the president of Saint Mark’s High School, told her the Diocese of Wilmington was a wonderful place to work.
She took a look at St. Elizabeth and told her husband, Jack, that there was something special about the place.
“I didn’t know anybody, quite honestly. I was intrigued by a school that was pre-k to 12 all in one building,” she said.
Rush, 51, grew up in Delaware County and attended Archbishop Prendergast High School, then the University of Scranton. She was a teacher in Catholic elementary schools and found that she had a desire to work with students who struggled with academics. She earned a master’s as a reading specialist from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, then spent more than a decade in higher education, working with students with disabilities.
After obtaining a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, Rush taught at the college level before returning to her high school as principal. By then, it was Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast High School. She said St. Elizabeth School has something in common with Prendie.
The architecture of it so much reminds me of Prendie that it immediately reminded me of home. I love all the nooks and crannies,” Rush said.
But it’s the people inside the building that have gotten her attention more. She appreciates all the support the faculty, staff and students have given her in her first month in Wilmington. She has gotten encouraging emails from the faculty.
“Little things like that are just built into the fabric of the place,” she said.
One of Rush’s first goals is to learn the names of the more than 260 students in the elementary school. That includes 75 new students, including transfers. She said the new Vikings are walking around together looking out for each other.
She had the opportunity to meet some families at a meet-and-greet with herself and the new high school principal, John Petruzzelli, in mid-August. She introduced a new seventh-grade student to one of his classmates and asked the returning seventh-grader to show him around. She was encouraged by the reaction.
“He was so welcoming to this new student. That’s just the overall feeling here. It filters down from the adults to the kids,” she said.
Rush has made a few physical changes to St. Elizabeth in the short time since she arrived. One was cleaning out a room to give teachers a more welcoming space where they could go to relax and grab a cup of coffee. For the students, taking away their recess will no longer be a punishment. She wants them to be moving and playing, and she favors discipline over punishment.
“Discipline comes from the word disciple, which means ‘student,’” she said. “So discipline, we should be teaching them how to behave, not punishing them for not knowing how. That’s one change that I felt was really important to make from the very first day of school.
“I’m sure there’s things I’ll tweak throughout the year as I see them.”
Rush and her husband are the parents of two boys, both of whom attend Catholic high schools in Delaware County, where they live. She said she’s at the stage where her social life is dictated by their activities, which she enjoys.
When she does get some time, it’s likely she’ll be doing something related to Harry Potter. There is Harry Potter memorabilia outside her office at St. Elizabeth.
“Harry Potter is my happy place,” she said.