By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 15, 2013
ATLANTA—Rebecca Hammel is the new associate superintendent in the Office of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. She started in the number two administrative post this summer, moving from serving as a principal in Catholic schools in Texas and Indiana. She answered some questions about her background, experience and new role.
Q. Where did you grow up and can you describe your family’s faith life? What did your mom and dad do?
A. I grew up in Indianapolis, Ind. I am one of six children, so we were a very busy family. For as long as I can remember, the Catholic Church has been an integral part of our family. My father was a teacher, coach, administrator and a principal in the Catholic high school that my siblings and I attended. The high school, Scecina Memorial High School, was like a second home to us. My mother stayed at home for most of our younger years and was a great support to my father, especially when certificates were issued for awards or Dad hosted the teachers and coaches over for dinner. When we were school-aged, my mother drove our Catholic school bus and was always active in school functions. I was blessed to have grown up with such good models of faith. Our lives were centered around school and church activities and events.
Q. When did you realize you wanted to be involved in education? Was there an individual or an experience that encouraged you to pursue education as a livelihood?
A. I grew up wanting to be a teacher and frequently played “school” with my two younger brothers and friends. My father would bring unwanted school supplies, like lesson plan books, home for me, and I was thrilled to have them. When teachers were tossing old workbooks at year’s end, I was first in line to have them. My father was the first to influence my desire to teach; I admired him so! I had a couple of teachers along the way, both Sisters of Providence from Terre Haute, Ind., who inspired me as well. One, Sister Barbara, was my first-grade teacher and the other, Sister Therese, was my high school algebra teacher—both were gentle and kind and built my confidence.
Q. Where was your first teaching assignment? Is there a lesson from the early experience that you believe has shaped your career?
A. My first teaching assignment was in the inner city of Indianapolis. I taught fifth grade at Holy Cross Central School. In fact, my first-grade teacher was my first principal. I absolutely loved teaching and the students I was able to know. Having grown up in the suburbs and being a novice teacher, my first year was an incredible learning experience for me. The Sisters of Providence had established a culture of mission and charity there, and I was deeply impacted by this. I gained a much greater understanding of the Church’s mission in society and of service to others through compassion, love and outreach.
Q. When did you move from the classroom to school administration? Why?
A. I knew fairly early in my teaching career that I wanted to move to administration. Though I loved the classroom, the idea of impacting learning and growth for all of the children in a school enticed me. My father’s example inspired me as well, as did my first principal who encouraged me to begin my master’s degree and principal certification.
Q. What words of advice would you have for first-time teachers as the school year gets underway? What would you tell parents about how they can support the teachers and staff?
A. I would borrow a quote from St. Mother Theodore Guerin, founder of the Sisters of Providence, to advise first-year teachers to “love the children first, then teach them.” We can do many things in the classroom, but if done without love, we have missed an opportunity to fully impart and model the teachings of our faith. We educators have an awesome responsibility to our students and their families. To parents, I would offer an invitation to partner with teachers and staff members in ways that uphold the mission of our schools. When all adult stakeholders are committed to our schools’ missions, learning and spiritual growth remain at the core of our interactions, decisions and messages in the community.
Q. What was your previous position before Atlanta? What attracted you to the position here? What are your responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Atlanta schools?
A. I served as Head of Lower School for two years at St. Gabriel’s Catholic School, an independent pre-K through eighth-grade school in Austin, Texas. Prior to that, I was the principal at St. Maria Goretti Catholic School in Westfield, Ind., for 11 years. I’ve been blessed in my career to have served with wonderful colleagues and have learned a great deal from them all. I was attracted to the Archdiocese of Atlanta for several reasons. First, I have watched from afar the happenings of the schools over the last couple of years and have been inspired by the work that Dr. (Diane) Starkovich has accomplished during her tenure. The schools are strong performing, nearly 75 percent are Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence, and there is a clear commitment to maintain excellence, as evidenced by the financial supports in place to keep the schools affordable and viable. Second, I was struck by Archbishop Gregory’s commitment to the Catholic schools and the leadership he has demonstrated here in the archdiocese and with the USCCB. I consider it an honor to join the Office of Catholic Schools, to work with such effective, committed leaders, and to assist our principals, teachers and families in our schools.