Kathy McGuiness has long had an interest in education and has visited schools all over the state. So when the Rehoboth Beach city commissioner had a chance to serve as Principal for a Day at Holy Angels School in Newark in December, she eagerly accepted the invitation.
McGuiness, a Delaware native and graduate of Cape Henlopen High School, has participated before in the principal program, which is sponsored by the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce. But this was the first time she had done so in New Castle County, and her first at a Catholic school.
She is interested in comparing the needs, programs and outcomes among different schools, and noted that those can vary significantly among schools separated by as little as a few miles.
“Education is such a large part of our budget statewide,” said McGuiness, a member of the board of trustees at Delaware State University. “What are the needs? How are funds used? I’m observing; I’m gathering my perspective, but I can have a better perspective the more information I have. So this is helping to balance a perspective.”
This was the first time Holy Angels had been involved in Principal for a Day, said Barbara Snively, the actual principal who shared her seat with McGuiness. The job is more than showing up in the morning and making sure everything runs smoothly for eight hours. The position involves marketing, fundraising and financial management, along with curriculum and working with more than 400 students, teachers and staff and their individual needs and personalities.
She explained to McGuiness that the morning of her visit, a teacher had called her at 6 a.m. to report that she would not be able to work that day because of illness. So Snively had to find a substitute.
There are meetings with parents and conflicts between students that need to be mediated. And, in a nonpublic school, enrollment and viability are always at the forefront.
“We want to survive and do well, and as I told Kathy, this is a job that is everyday. It’s not just September to June. Years ago, that was fine,” Snively said.
Snively described a partnership with the city of Newark that will give Holy Angels prominent visibility on the city’s website. If people are considering moving to the area for a job, they likely will visit the site to learn about taxes, culture, housing – and schools. She wants them to think about Holy Angels.
McGuiness, who said her mother’s side of the family was “uber-Catholic” and whose father was “Wilmington Greek,” accompanied Snively on a tour of the various classrooms. They listened in on a social studies class, avoided youngsters in the hallways changing classes, and discussed technology with Holy Angels’ computer gurus.
McGuiness said she comes from a family of teachers. Her mother taught in public school, and two of her sisters are also educators. She has two children in college and one in high school.
“I just grew up with that. That’s just a way of life,” she said.
One of the topics Snively and McGuiness discussed was how life has changed for teachers and students. The school has brought in speakers to address new realities for both groups. Students’ moods can be affected by the number of likes their photos get on Instagram, and the teachers need to be ready to deal with that. It’s important that students be able to retain interpersonal skills.
“These are the things since I came into this office eight years ago that are changing dramatically,” Snively said.
“The role of the teacher is evolving every year,” McGuinness added. “You have to wear many hats.”