Published February 9, 2017
ATLANTA—National Catholic Schools Week 2017 was observed in dioceses around the country Jan. 29 to Feb. 4. This year’s theme, “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service,” was focused on the faith building, academic and societal contributions provided by a Catholic education.
The Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta commemorated this year’s Catholic Schools Week with special Masses, various school activities, and the archdiocesan spelling bee.
The observance of the week kicked off on Saturday, Jan. 28, with the annual Archbishop’s Banquet for Catholic Education, held this year at the Hilton Hotel and Conference Center in Marietta. This event includes faculty and staff—including directors, teachers, custodians, principals, administrative assistants, coaches and others—from the 18 archdiocesan and seven independent Catholic schools in the archdiocese. Each year, one employee from each of these schools is recognized as the outstanding employee of the year, chosen by their peers. A principal of the year and preschool director of the year are also honored at the banquet, which marked a decade of celebrations for Catholic educators and their staff.
The following people were honored at the banquet.
Blessed Trinity High School, Roswell
Patti McCarthy is coordinator of campus ministry, serving the high school with an incredible work ethic and a love of serving others. She “inspires students to serve those in need. She is someone our students, parents, faculty and staff all look up to and genuinely appreciate.”
Christ the King School, Atlanta
Andrew Barletta is the school’s technology integration specialist, who helps teachers implement technology throughout their instruction. But he wears other hats with enthusiasm, joy and kindness, including serving as yearbook advisor for several years and as carpool monitor, known for the emphatic way he directs traffic, garbed in one of many hats in his collection.
Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, Atlanta
Former pilot and airlines’ system manager Nick Gentile has had a vision for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta since the 1970s and knew this was worth working toward. A founding member of the Cristo Rey staff and its chief operating officer, he took the lead in renovating its temporary home on West Peachtree Street and is now involved in work on the school’s permanent home in Atlanta.
Holy Redeemer School, Johns Creek
Her colleagues say that Serena Martin “is a gift to our school,” known for her empathy for the plight of others and her willingness to collaborate. She has taught physical education there for 13 years and has also been athletic coordinator since 2006. She incorporates Catholic identity into both her instruction and her own life. Her example guides students to living a life that models Jesus Christ.
Holy Spirit Prep, Atlanta
Since 2003 Marylu Valek has served at Holy Spirit Prep in various positions culminating as executive assistant to the head of school. In each, she devoted herself to the work with attention to detail, patience and commitment. As a school parent she deeply values the faith environment for her daughter. The headmaster describes her as having “one of the most beautiful servant hearts I’ve ever known” who has given countless hours of selfless commitment to the school.
Immaculate Heart of Mary School, Atlanta
After retiring from a career in aviation, David Claussen became director of operations for both IHM parish and school, where he was already deeply invested as a 30-year parishioner and father of four alumni. One of his favorite moments was speaking to students on Veterans Day and connecting with them while they relished modeling his aviator gear.
Marist School, Atlanta
As registrar at Marist School, Susan Mistretta embraces opportunities to organize and participate in events like mission trips, chaperone retreats and debate team travels. On a trip to Catholic Heart Work Camp in Kentucky she found it a joy to see students embrace the opportunity to help others and to hear them commended as hardworking and compassionate. She is a wonderful role model for the students at Marist School because of her generous spirit.
Monsignor Donovan High School, Athens
After 30 years of teaching in public schools, Linda McKown is in her fourth year as a math teacher at Monsignor Donovan, where she is wearing several other hats as chairman of the STREAM department, the accreditation committee and the curriculum committee, while also staffing the Honor Council and math competition. Students like her math classes because of her compassion, willingness to help, and genuine love for her subject matter and her students. Her kindness and generosity are saluted.
Notre Dame Academy, Duluth
Physical education teacher, mentor and coach, Megan Thayer brings a sense of unwavering fairness, high expectations and passion to everything she does. Dedicated to empowering her students and building their confidence, she is a role model as she shows students that the true winners are those who focus on what lessons can be learned from the game. She believes that it is an honor that students allow her into their lives and she respects that honor at all times.
Our Lady of the Assumption School, Atlanta
Tonya Shoemaker has found great truth in the adage “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” As director of religious education/middle school religion teacher, she brings gentleness and conviction to everything she does as she plans weekly Masses and provides cross-curriculum religious instruction. Her ability to inspire belief in others has touched many lives. One of her favorite memories is being outdoors with the eighth-grade class on their retreat, singing the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. It represented the beauty Tonya finds in sharing her faith with her students.
Our Lady of Victory School, Tyrone
Cori Nardozza found the balance of work and family she sought at Our Lady of Victory School. Parent of a son who was frequently ill, she prayed for a position where she could work and still meet her son’s needs. Beginning as a teacher assistant, she has served in different roles, most recently as the administrative assistant and part of the school’s emergency response team, hospitality committee and as director of admissions. She exemplifies the school’s mission by truly living her faith while fostering an environment in which children can thrive.
Pinecrest Academy, Cumming
For the last 19 years, Joe Neiner has made the safety of students and staff at Pinecrest his top priority. A former policeman, detective and security manager, he is vigilant in his role as security and transportation manager. No area is too insignificant for his attention, whether it is conducting school fire drills or driving the football team to a game. Key to understanding Joe is understanding the philosophy he lives by: “There is dignity and honor to every school job when the work is done to the best of your God-given ability.” He embodies the mission of the school by the example he sets.
Queen of Angels School, Roswell
One of Queen of Angels’ founding teachers, first-grade teacher Vickey Hall shuns the spotlight, but each year as graduating eighth-grade students share their favorite memories, she is paramount in their tales of support and kindness. A lifelong learner, she completed her education specialist degree in curriculum/instruction in 2012, adding to her impressive arsenal of strategies to engage students. Her gentle nature, educational knowledge, and natural ability to share Christ’s love for each child make her deserving of recognition.
St. Catherine of Siena School, Kennesaw
First-grade teacher Kelly Wood is known for her motto: “The one thing that is not allowed in my classroom is to not be learning at all times.” She organizes special theme days so her students can demonstrate some of what they’ve learned as they dress in costume and engage in a variety of hands-on centers. Her enthusiasm and energy and her dedication to sharing her relationship with God with the students in her classroom each day make her the special teacher that she is.
Sister Beth Bauer
St. John the Evangelist School, Hapeville
Fifth-grade religion and math teacher Sister Beth Bauer has been at St. John the Evangelist School for 10 years. Growing up, her life goal was to become a doctor, marry and have eight children. But after medical school and a few years in practice, she felt drawn to education and then to the novitiate, professing her vows in 2003 in the Franciscan Sisters of Mary. Her classes are as interesting and inventive as her life, infused with music, movement, technology and creativity. Outside the classroom, her eighth-grade Spiritual Swat Team joins her in bringing their faith to all.
St. John Neumann Regional School, Lilburn
The third-generation in her family to attend Catholic schools, Laura Taylor deeply valued that tradition as she and her husband sent their children to St. John Neumann School and then she began teaching there. Middle school literature teacher for 16 years, she brings enthusiasm to the classroom that students remember long after leaving. A strong advocate of technology, she enhances her lessons with innovative instruction and volunteers for activities that help students develop greater skills, such as oration. Her students demonstrate the poise and confidence she has instilled in them.
St. Joseph Parish School, Athens
Middle school science teacher Laura Ward emphasizes experimentation, believing the best lessons are those that can be made tangible. A memorable one let students observe microorganisms’ reproduction in a capped bottle filled with pond scum. They could see colonies of life form in this contained environment. They also learned the unexpected lesson that gasses from this process will build up and cause the bottle to explode! A box is filled with 25 years of heartfelt notes of appreciation from her students. Each touches her heart and fills her with the joy of knowing she has made a difference.
St. Joseph School, Marietta
A good first-grade teacher needs to be creative, energetic, patient and kind. These are all words that have been used to describe Stacee Schwab. Students in her class look forward to coming to school, arriving with smiles on their faces, anxious to begin writing, playing math games, and discovering how much fun learning can be. She is equally caring with others around her, working to organize the faculty and staff to serve breakfast as part of the local ministry. She lives her life as an example of the light of Christ in everything she does.
St. Jude the Apostle School, Atlanta
Mary Gould is in her 10th year as technology coordinator at St. Jude the Apostle School where she has guided the introduction of many innovations in software and hardware to staff and students. She particularly enjoys helping teachers find interesting ways to use technology to improve classroom instruction. A career highlight was when she was asked to make a presentation at the National Catholic Educational Association’s annual convention on the use of iPads in classrooms at St. Jude. But one of her favorite things to do is to attend a school Mass, surrounded by all of the students.
St. Mary’s School, Rome
Realizing the importance of applying her lessons within a real world setting, Julie McCormick takes her sixth- and seventh-grade science students to outdoor education classes, where she can supplement their curriculum while teaching students to appreciate the wonder of God’s creation. She has involved the entire school in her appreciation for the environment by spearheading recycling efforts with the help of the Environmental Club and helping to construct St. Mary’s School Walking Trail and outdoor classroom. She enthusiastically supports the Next Generation Science Standards program with its experiential learning approach that is consistent with her love for science application.
St. Peter Claver Regional School, Decatur
Inspired by her mother, a retired teacher who encouraged her to find what she loved and make that her career, Erica Jones is vital to the community at St. Peter Claver School. She teaches a combined class of pre-K and kindergarten students, serves on the school’s administrative team, tutors after school, and assists with the school running club, Kilometer Kids. Yet she always has time to help her students and colleagues. In her class, teacher and students often talk about what it means to be made in the image of God. She is honored for helping them grow in faith.
St. Pius X High School, Atlanta
As executive assistant to the president and principal at St. Pius X, Marsha Free handles a myriad of activities to ensure the school runs smoothly. Despite the many demands on her time, she is always mindful that her actions reflect both the school mission and emulate the life of Christ. She believes it is vital that all who work with students lead by example. She and her husband have also coached the Academic Quiz Bowl Team for a decade, a labor of love as they enjoy the competition and camaraderie with students. Working with her is a true joy.
St. Thomas More School, Decatur
After receiving and humbly declining five years of nominations for honoree of the year, Andy Scantlebury’s principal, Jerry Raymond, decided to pull rank and require him to accept the honor. Each day, he can be counted on to challenge his students to probe more deeply into Scriptures to find meaning. As middle school religion teacher and coordinator, he encourages all around him to think critically about their faith and to find a relationship with God that is truly unique and personal. He has had an interesting and layered life journey. The common denominator has been faith. He hopes to help his students to recognize the blessing present in their own lives.
Sophia Academy, Atlanta
Fifth-grade teacher Theresa Payne is someone whom you would want to lead your team to victory, whether on the field or in the classroom. Calm and confident, she stepped in to support an entire level of students when their teacher left the school mid-year for a family emergency. She covered additional classes, created lesson plans, communicated with parents, and reassured students. She assists with the intramural and after school sports teams and has acted as camp director for many summers, filling the students’ days with education and fun. Her balance of warmth and firmness has gained her the respect and love of her students.
Parish Preschool Director of the Year
St. John Neumann Parish Preschool, Lilburn
Marti McLeer was selected as this year’s honoree because she has “continually enhanced the program with innovative ideas, great communication with parents, and the innate ability to hire creative and caring teachers.” Described as “a comfort, a confidant, and a great cheerleader” for parish preschools, she began directing the preschool program at St. John Neumann in 1985. Throughout her 31 years, she has consistently found joy in her work with the children and a source of support in the relationship she has with other preschool directors across the archdiocese. The destruction of the preschool during a flood in 2009 led to a highlight of her career. With the support of the pastor and parish community, she and her teachers worked together to rebuild the space for the children. To her, this experience embodies the Scripture passage, “for the body is not one member, but many” (1 Cor 12:14).
Principal of the Year
St. Thomas More School, Decatur
Jerry Raymond was selected by his colleagues as the archdiocesan 2016-2017 Principal of the Year. Completing his fifth year of service to the archdiocese, he has had a very successful career in education, including serving as a Catholic elementary school teacher and Catholic high school teacher and assistant administrator, both in Louisiana. Following a 19-year career in Gwinnett County schools, he became the principal of St. Thomas More on July 1, 2012. He holds a bachelor’s degree and a master of education degree from Southeastern Louisiana University and a specialist degree in education from the University of Georgia. In returning to Catholic schools, he commented that every child needs a safe, secure, caring and stimulating school environment in which to grow and mature. In a Catholic school, learning must occur in a nurturing, Christ-centered setting where the teachings of the Catholic faith are integrated into the daily routines of the school so that students learn about Catholicism and how to put these lessons into action. Jerry and his wife, Maria, are members of St. Stephen the Martyr Church, Lilburn, and have three sons and two grandchildren.