By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published May 4, 2006
Holy Redeemer School in Alpharetta, a flourishing regional Catholic elementary school that opened in 1999, will receive a new principal July 1, Dr. Eric E. Westley.
Succeeding the school’s founding principal Mary Reiling, Westley has been serving in administration at St. Bernard Academy in Nashville, Tenn., for the past two years. He has over 25 years of experience in education, including eight years as principal of St. Scholastica School in Detroit. He has been a teacher and principal in public, private and Catholic schools.
St. Bernard Academy is a co-educational kindergarten through eighth-grade school with an enrollment of 260. He was the assistant director and academic dean there from 2004-2005 and interim director from 2005-2006. At St. Bernard’s he facilitated accreditation of the academy by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and by the Southern Association of Independent Schools and served on accreditation teams and as team chair for Nashville independent private schools.
St. Scholastica, where he was principal from 1991-99, is a co-educational preschool through eighth-grade school with an enrollment of 400 to 500.
Holy Redeemer has been at its capacity of 500-plus students in kindergarten through eighth grade since its inception and has a 100 percent Catholic student body.
It is on the same campus as St. Brigid Church, which started in 1998 as a mission and now has over 2,900 Catholic families. Yet as a regional school, Holy Redeemer serves families from a variety of parishes, including St. Brigid.
The new principal said the “uniqueness of it” as a regional school is one of many aspects he likes.
“ I was very pleased that they found me an acceptable candidate,” Westley said in a telephone interview April 30.
“It’s a great school. … It’s been very well established. It has a great foundation. … It has a good plan for the future, a good, strong Catholic identity.”
The school has just established its second five-year plan, which provides a positive opportunity for a new administrator to come into the school and assist in moving forward and building upon what has already been put in place, he said. “It is close to the best of all possible worlds.”
He said the physical plant, where classrooms of similar age groups are located off shared teaching areas, offers exciting teaching opportunities and underscores the connection between faith and community.
Westley is a strong supporter of Catholic education and noted that Holy Redeemer clearly has a strong Catholic identity, from the religious icons throughout the facility to the full-time staff person responsible for liturgies and Catholic practices, religious education coordinator Rosanne Bowen.
“Everybody when I spoke with them valued that and held it in high regard,” he said. The Catholicism in the school is “noticed, supported and valued.”
“It seemed to me that there was no doubt that was the kind of school that it was and, of course, that is the kind of school it should continue to be—and that is one of the major responsibilities of the chief administrator of that school to make sure that is maintained.”
He said his “commitment to not only education, but Catholicism … is the result of a very conscious choice I made. I look upon it as my vocation. It is a very important part of my life overall—not just my professional life.”
Westley holds a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in educational administration from Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Mich.
After teaching and becoming a middle school principal in Michigan public schools, he left the field of education and spent a period of years in the business world.
What he refers to as a “good swift kick in the pants by God” led him to the conclusion he had gotten off track. He made a commitment to Catholic education, returned to teaching and then became a principal. As a part of his commitment to give his best to Catholic schools, he also pursued a doctorate in education, which he was awarded from Wayne State University in Detroit in 2000, specializing in administrative and organizational studies.
“It has been tremendously gratifying,” he said, of his return to education.
“I genuinely like what I do. I get up and go to school every morning happy and generally leave happy too, pleased with the opportunities I have to impact the lives of children and their families,” Westley said, adding “hopefully it will end up getting me into the promised land.”
He and his wife Barbara, a guidance counselor who is currently working for the Nashville library system, have two grown children, Stacey, an art teacher, and Matthew, a financial analyst. “We are very proud of them and very thankful they managed to grow up as well as they did.”
The Westleys visited Alpharetta over Easter and went to St. Brigid for Mass. The incoming principal made his first official visit to Holy Redeemer May 1 and 2.
As founding principal, Mary Reiling interviewed all prospective families applying to the school, which received 1,000 initial applications, and interviewed and hired approximately 45 faculty and staff members. Among the accomplishments of her eight-year tenure, she cited a teacher enrichment endowment she established, which reached $1 million within five years, and an intricate technology plan and commensurate curriculum in the school where a wireless environment is maintained. Additionally, liturgical education and faith formation has been a hallmark as remarked by many of the priests who have celebrated with the school community, Reiling said.
She also cited “an extremely successful early intervention program which remediates learning issues, particularly in the area of reading, for primary-aged children thereby virtually eliminating the need for developmental coursework in the intermediate and middle school. HR does not have any pull-out programs for remedial education.”
“It has been a joy to serve the community at Holy Redeemer and to be a part of the Archdiocese of Atlanta,” she said. “I look forward to new and exciting opportunities in Catholic education.”