By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published August 3, 2018
ATLANTA—With the start of the new school year, three archdiocesan and two independent schools welcome new administrators.
Independent schools Monsignor Donovan High School, Athens, and Pinecrest Academy, Cumming, have new heads of school.
Paul Gessner will serve as head of school at Monsignor Donovan High School, and Edward Spurka, Ph.D., will fill the same role at Pinecrest Academy.
Archdiocesan schools with new administrators are Christ the King School, Atlanta, and Blessed Trinity High School, Roswell.
Brian Newhall will serve as principal at CKS this school year, and Cathy Lancaster and Brian Marks will serve the principal/president roles respectively at Blessed Trinity High School.
Monsignor Donovan High School, Athens
A longtime educator from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Paul Gessner takes the helm at Monsignor Donovan.
He discovered his calling to educate young people through service to his church as a religious education teacher.
Gessner studied history and secondary education at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, where he received a bachelor of arts degree in both areas of study. Upon graduating, he had a successful career as a history teacher in the Milwaukee public schools at Rufus King High School. He earned a master of science degree in educational leadership from Cardinal Stritch University and received promotions at Rufus King as both a curriculum generalist and administrator. It was this experience that solidified his belief that all children could learn at high levels.
Gessner’s love of the International Baccalaureate (IB) college-bound program was born after seeing countless numbers of young people excel in higher level courses with a little patience, a lot of love and high levels of structured teaching of critical thought, the importance of service and self-awareness, and their connections to the world around themselves.
In 2012, he became head of school of St. Joan Antida High School (SJA), Milwaukee, an all-girl high school sponsored by the Sisters of Charity.
As a practicing Catholic, Gessner enthusiastically accepted the task of providing the opportunities that his former students at Rufus King enjoyed to the SJA students. He led St. Joan Antida to become the only all-girl IB World School in the State of Wisconsin and 12th in the United States. Under his leadership, SJA also became the only all-girl IB World School in the United States and second in the World to offer the IB career-related program in engineering.
Gessner said that it is an educator’s job to dream for students before they know what to dream for themselves. He looks for every way to empower students to discover their God-given potential and become true leaders in society.
Gessner and his wife, Bonnie Best, have one dog and several cats. They are making their new home in nearby Bogart.
His hobbies are antiquing and playing the card game, Sheepshead, which has Germanic roots and is popular in Southeastern Wisconsin.
He hopes to be part of uniting the Catholic community in Athens to support St. Joseph and Monsignor Donovan as the Catholic schools in the area.
“I am deeply moved by the mission of Donovan and the health of the only Catholic high school in a 12-county area in Northeast Georgia,” he explained. “I look to streamline systems, increase enrollment and be a positive ambassador for Donovan in a highly competitive independent school community. I want to build new community partnerships for the advancement of the mission of Donovan.”
Edward Spurka, Ph.D.
Pinecrest Academy, Cumming
Founding principal at Cambridge High School in North Fulton County, Edward Spurka, Ph.D., becomes the new head of school at Pinecrest Academy.
Spurka began his career in education in Pennsylvania in 1992. He earned two degrees from West Chester University in Pennsylvania, including one in special education.
He moved to Georgia in 1995 to begin work at South Forsyth High School, and later taught at Milton High School, where he was promoted into school administration. He then served as an administrator in progressively larger roles in Gwinnett and Fulton Counties, while also earning his doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Georgia, Athens.
As founding principal Spurka quickly established Cambridge High School as one of the strongest schools in Georgia. He is a four-time recipient of the Governor’s High Performance Principal award. He was twice named Outstanding Principal of the Year by the Georgia PTA.
Having grown up in the Catholic Church, Spurka values spiritual development and focus on the whole child.
He replaces Edward Lindekugel, who served as headmaster from 2016 to 2018.
Lindekugel resigned to pursue opportunities in educational leadership but will serve for a time as consultant to head of school to assist in the transition.
Spurka was chosen from a national pool of candidates through the school’s search process.
“I couldn’t be more excited to join the family at Pinecrest and my initial priorities include building positive relationships with our staff, students, parents and our campus ministry,” he said. “I am excited to collaborate with our staff to enhance our operating procedures and positive communication with our school community.”
Spurka rethought his initial career plan when he was afforded an opportunity to work at a private school called the Glen Mills Schools, which serves at-risk boys in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.
“I changed my plans of going to law school after developing a passion for helping young men from the court system become responsible young men,” he said. “I learned that I could impact others by believing in the spirit of others.”
He is excited to be working with the Cumming school family.
“My family and I look forward to joining and serving this wonderful community,” he said.
Blessed Trinity High School, Roswell
Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell is moving to the president/principal model of administration. Cathy Lancaster was named the principal.
A native of Atlanta, Lancaster graduated cum laude from Georgia State University in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. She earned a master’s degree in education in 2004 from Cambridge College in Boston, Massachusetts. In 2005, Lancaster received a six-year degree in educational leadership from Cambridge College.
She taught social studies, primarily AP United States history, for 14 years in Rockdale County public schools and at Milton High School in Fulton County. She also coached basketball, varsity softball, varsity boys’ and girls’ tennis and boys’ golf.
Lancaster became an assistant principal in Rockdale County in 2007.
She became the assistant principal at Blessed Trinity High School in 2014.
A member and lector at St. Andrew Church in Roswell, Lancaster enjoys spending time with her three daughters and eight grandchildren. She also plays tennis and golf.
For the new principal, it was a group of teachers who inspired her to become an educator.
“I did not have any plans to become a teacher until I went to work as support staff at a public middle school. From the moment I walked into that middle school and I began to work with such an enthusiastic, passionate, group of teachers and students, I began to dream of becoming a teacher and coach,” she said. “I knew it would be a difficult road because of limited financial resources and being a single parent of three young children. However, the teachers at that school were relentless in encouraging me to pursue my dream of becoming an educator.”
Lancaster said it was the teachers’ help and through the grace of God, the dream became a reality.
“I will be forever grateful to that group of teachers who made such a difference in my life,” she said. “Teachers can and do make a difference in the lives of our young students. Educators encourage students daily to ‘dream big’ and give them the skills and confidence to turn their dreams into reality.”
Lancaster said she is honored to serve as principal with the school’s president, Brian Marks. They share the common goal of advancing the mission of Blessed Trinity.
“Our mission is for all students to develop a sense of artistic sensibility, athletic achievement, academic excellence and to grow in their spiritual formation. The new model will allow us the time to use our talents to focus fully on enhancing this mission,” she noted.
Blessed Trinity High School, Roswell
Brian Marks, who has served as principal at Blessed Trinity High School for the past two years, now becomes the Roswell school’s president. The school has adopted the president/principal model for the first time.
Marks is beginning his 23rd year in education, the last 17 having been as a Catholic high school administrator.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics with a minor in English from Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, and a master’s degree in education administration from University at Albany – State University of New York. He holds a Georgia state certification in educational leadership
In addition to having served as principal at Blessed Trinity, he spent 13 years there as assistant principal, the director of admissions and varsity boys’ basketball coach. He was founding upper school principal at Notre Dame Academy, Duluth, a position he held for two years.
Before embarking on a career in education, Marks was employed with Georgia-Pacific.
He and his wife, Mary, have three young sons and enjoy spending family time, both playing and watching sports.
Coaching helped Marks decide to pursue being an educator.
“I wanted to coach high school basketball, so I left my position with Georgia-Pacific to coach basketball and substitute teach for a year. I loved my experience working with students, so I became a full-time teacher and coach,” he said.
Marks realized he wanted to combine business experiences with education, which motivated him to pursue the master’s degree in education administration.
“The combination of being a Catholic school administrator and a coach was extremely fulfilling and I knew I had found a job I was passionate about,” he said. “The most rewarding part is when students come back school to visit me and share their happiness and accomplishments. Seeing them grow up to be Christ-centered individuals who are making a difference in our world is a testimony to Catholic education.”
Goals for this school year are to work closely with principal Cathy Lancaster in mission advancement, to build strong relationships with the parishes, local businesses, alumni, parents and students, and to communicate the good news of Blessed Trinity.
He stresses that a Catholic school education in today’s world is invaluable.
“We strive to help students not only get into college but more importantly we try and help them get into Heaven,” emphasized Marks.
Christ the King School, Atlanta
Brian Newhall, former principal at Our Lady of Mercy High School, Fayetteville, will serve as principal at Christ the King School this school year. Newhall steps in upon the retirement of principal Patricia Ward. A search for a permanent principal will be conducted in the fall, said Superintendent Diane Starkovich.
Newhall has a certificate of advanced graduate studies from the University of New Hampshire, a bachelor of arts from Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut; and a master of arts degree from Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts.
He worked in Catholic education at Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood, Massachusetts, and at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Dover, New Hampshire, where he was principal for 13 years.
Newhall served as principal of Our Lady of Mercy High School from 2012 to 2017. He was a member and chair of the Archbishop’s School Advisory Council. He was also the principal of several large public high schools in the Atlanta area.
Prior to moving to Georgia, Newhall served as chair of the Board of Trustees of Newman School in Boston. He is a native of Massachusetts.
Newhall and his wife, Phyllis, have been married for 42 years. They have three sons and four grandchildren.
His goal for this year is to “maintain the excellence of CKS while enhancing student achievement.”
“CKS is an outstanding school, but I hope to help our students do just a little bit better as they prepare for further education and life. Our motto for this year is ‘Building Catholic Scholars.’”
Newhall is a principal who still enjoys time in the classroom.
“I really enjoy helping people, especially young Catholics,” he said. “Teaching social studies to eighth graders will give me an opportunity this year to personally impact our students.”
It will be Newhall’s first time as leader of an elementary school. He shared his vision with parents and friends of the school in an introductory letter.
“As I learn about the deep traditions at our school, I plan to continue the academic excellence, Catholic identity and spirit of hospitality that was the hallmark of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart who staffed our school for over 53 years,” he wrote.