NEWARK — The drive to work takes her in a slightly different direction, but for Mary Elizabeth Muir, the destination remains the same. Muir is the new principal at Holy Angels School in Newark after four years in the same position at All Saints Catholic School in Elsmere. All Saints closed in June, a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.
As was the case at All Saints, Holy Angels serves a diverse population of students. There are just more of them. The enrollment this year is around 360, down a bit from last year. Muir said that also can be attributed in large part to the virus. All Saints finished last year with 215 students. No matter what the number, the way she goes about her job will not change.
“I don’t think my approach is any different because my approach is that it’s all about each individual child. You need to know every child, that’s very important, to know them by name, to know their family and to know that they are connected to the school,” she said.
One of the differences is the physical size of the schools. Muir was told Holy Angels was “double the size with half the space,” but she has been impressed with the creative manner in which that space is used.
Since arriving in Newark in July, Muir and her staff have been busy getting ready for the return of students, who will attend one week at a time. She has met one-on-one with the faculty, one of whom, Esther Howard, came with her from All Saints. Approximately 20-25 students transferred as well, so Muir and Howard will have some familiar faces in the hallways as they get to know everyone else.
The teachers and staff who have been at the school are very important, Muir said, because they know how everything works. She wants a collaborative relationship with them.
Muir is happy to be working with Holy Angels pastor Father Stanislao Esposito. All Saints had a board of specified jurisdiction that set policy, but Holy Angels does not work under that model. There is an advisory board, but Father Esposito has the final say.
Muir said the priest has expressed confidence in her to make the right decisions for the school.
“He’s already told me that he trusts me, and decisions are mine to make,” she said. “We certainly want to work in partnership. I think we’ll work in partnership really well. I think we have similar perspectives.”
Father Esposito has a background as a teacher in the Diocese of Wilmington at St. Edmond’s Academy and St. Peter the Apostle School in New Castle.
“He knows what it is to be in the school as a teacher,” Muir said.
There are similar concerns in every school, none of which should come as a surprise to the new principal.
“I’m not surprised by anything in Catholic education. I’ve been a lot of places. Catholic education is a wonderful thing. It’s universal. It’s the mission. I don’t think anything overly surprised me,” she said.
“Financial challenges remain the same. Every principal in every Catholic school worries about finances, especially now because of COVID. It doesn’t change from school to school.”
The bottom line is she’s at Holy Angels now and “thrilled to be here.
“It really is about the individual children. Yes, we educate them, but you can’t educate them if you don’t know them.”