The New Girl at St. Simon School
Writer / Suzanne Huntzinger
There’s a new girl in school at St. Simon the Apostle this 2014-2015 academic year. With a winning smile, she greets the students as they enter the building. Overwhelmed, but anxious to meet all of them, she introduces herself, “Hi, I’m Mrs. Cathlene Darragh, your new principal.”
Overwhelming indeed for the former Principal at Muncie Burris Laboratory School. Previously, she served as Principal at Cold Spring Environmental Magnet School, after a 24 year stint with IPS. Now, after 28 years in education, Mrs. Darragh is leading the faculty and student body of St. Simon. She’s definitely the new fresh face in school, but Darragh says, “It’s not so new. I’ve been an administrator for six years. I’m confident in the expectations of the job.” This is Darragh’s first experience as administrator at a private school. Though many aspects of the environments are vastly different, she says the transition to St. Simon has been a smooth one. “The professionalism of the faculty in this building is outstanding and they’ve made it very smooth for me,” she begins. She adds that Vice Principal, Laura Mates, has been a tremendous help bringing her up to speed on procedures, and all the ins and outs.
In the short time since her arrival, Mrs. Darragh has certainly established herself as an effective communicator. Her first action item on the list? Improve communication. She explains that she’s not characteristically a person who makes snap decisions. Instead, she likes to hear all perspectives, learn all about the issues and determine how they affect everyone on a larger scale. Darragh has already put her communication plan in motion. She says she requires the faculty to keep a communication log, noting any issues that arise in the classroom or with parents. “I want to check those logs periodically so I can identify any trends. I welcome and value input whether it’s positive or negative,” Darragh adds.
Darragh also has a goal to focus on maximizing each individual child’s learning experience. “As far as your children are concerned, maybe they think they’re here just for academics. But I like to find out what motivates them to learn. All of our arts programs are designed to support the child’s entire learning experience and find their true passion,” she explains. Darragh smiles proudly as she explains that the beautiful artwork adorning her walls is from her students.
Helping bring out the best in students is something Darragh has been doing for years. During her tenure at Cold Spring School, she was part of an initiative to teach children how to improve things. She explains how as part of a cross curricular project between fourth grade social studies and PE, she wrote a grant for the school to receive 30 mountain bikes for students and it was approved. The bike rides turned in to lessons which integrated safety, health and nature. Together with community partners, Darragh was also part of a project to develop The Indiana Garden at Cold Spring which still stands.
Education through biking and gardening were just a few of the programs Darragh was a part of. During her 24 year tenure at IPS, Darragh devoted her time to service to the students and the needy in the community. Not only did she and her staff provide for the students’ educational needs, they offered programs that provided for other needs like food and clothing. She says, “I loved IPS because, every day I was a part of providing for the needs of the poor.” Darragh continues to explain how the school offered programs for the adults as well. “A Parent Liaison and I coordinated weekly sessions for the adults inviting them to attend a presentation about a variety of topics, all dealing with improving their lives. One week the topic might be job search tips, another week, a speaker may come and talk about avoiding jail. The purpose of these sessions was always to demonstrate that in life there is no room for excuses.” While they were learning, Darragh and her parent liaison did their part to combat hunger by offering food for the guests to eat donated by community restaurants like Panera.
As fulfilling as it was to have a job dedicated to service, Darragh left IPS and went to Muncie Burris Laboratory School. She gained two more valuable years of experience as an administrator. The job was an excellent opportunity for career growth, but 90 percent of her job was management. After two years, she found herself hungry for a role in service again. She says, “I prayed a lot for an opportunity to be able to articulate and embrace my faith and serve others.”
That opportunity came in disguise last December. Darragh explains she actually interviewed at a Catholic High School for a Principal job. She was disappointed when she wasn’t chosen for the job, but what happened next was like divine intervention. “Some time after the job interview, I ran into the man who interviewed me, and he told me he hopes I don’t mind but he recommended me to the Archdiocese for future job openings.” A short time later, she got the call about the job as St. Simon, and the rest, as they say, was a matter of fate.
Darragh says, although the environment at St. Simon is a new experience, “I love that every grade level has some type of service project. They walk the line of faith and school. You see it at work, you see the children immersed in it, and I always want to find ways to see that students aren’t removed from their service. I want it to mean something, to see how it impacts people and makes a difference.”
For now, Mrs. Darragh, the students and faculty are getting to know one another. But before class is dismissed, she has a lesson to kick off the school year, “I have an open door policy. If you have an issue that needs to be addressed, bring it to me. I can’t react to it or make a difference if I don’t know about it.”