Retiring principal Jeanne McCoy is pictured with fifth-grade students of St. Bridget’s Catholic School in River Falls during a pizza party the class won as part of the school’s February gala. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

As the 2018-19 school year comes to a close, so will the career of Jeanne McCoy, principal of St. Bridget’s Catholic School in River Falls.

The Catholic Herald reached out to McCoy for some reflections on the challenges facing Catholic schools and the important role they play in communities.

McCoy accepted the leadership role at St. Bridget’s Parish School in River Falls after a two-year retirement. Starting as a high school math and computer teacher in 1977, the Catholic educator has served for 40 years.

After one year in North Dakota, she taught at Xavier High School in Appleton for nine years. She then became principal of Sacred Heart School in Appleton and after two years, worked in the same role at Seton Catholic Middle School in Menasha.

From 1991-2015, McCoy was principal at St. Francis School in Ellsworth.

Q: What has changed and what has stayed the same in Catholic education over the four decades you have worked in Catholic education?

A: These things have remained the same over the years: Our mission to help students grow in knowledge and in faith; Our commitment to providing opportunities to help students develop their full potential in all aspects of their being: spiritual, mental, emotional and physical; Parents’ deep love for their children; The value of a close partnership between the school and family; The financial challenge to fund the school; Changes during these four decades include: Increase in paperwork and greater attention to legal issues and liability; The change in emphasis from teaching content to teaching how to access and evaluate content; Technology and its use: not as an end in itself, but as a tool for learning; Changes in family structure

Q: What are the most prominent challenges in education at the current moment? And how do Catholic schools respond to that?

A: Currently, I believe we are challenged to develop within students the ability for sustained attention throughout the learning process from draft, reflection, revision and final product. Our society has immediate access to information, but the value and ability to reflect upon, evaluate, and synthesize that information remains a challenge to many. In addition, we continue to face financial challenges, as well as a shortage of qualified teachers.
Catholic schools respond to these challenges through their commitment to quality education, encouragement and promotion of the ministerial aspect of teaching, and continued emphasis on the value our graduates add to our society.

Q: At times, people can wonder if the cost-benefit ratio of maintaining a Catholic school in a rural setting is worth it. From your experience, how would you respond?

A: Similar to any small-scale operation, the value of a Catholic school is worth every cent to the community it serves. The integrity of the student, his/her value-driven life based on Christian principles, as well as the integration of faith into the fiber of his/her being makes a significant positive impact on the community in which the student lives and eventually works as an adult.

Q: Who has been influential for you as a Catholic educator/administrator?
A: I have been deeply influenced as a Catholic educator/administrator by Bill O’Brien, former ACES (Appleton Catholic Education System) administrator, and Fr. Tom Donaldson, former pastor of St. Francis Parish, Ellsworth. Bill taught me about the importance of vision and perspective, and Fr. Donaldson, about the value of being present to people in a pastoral sense, as well as the importance of laughter and joy. I see many of those same qualities in Fr. Jerry Harris, pastor of St. Bridget Parish, River Falls, and am so grateful for the opportunity to work these last years under his leadership.