Principals of Faith: Catholic schools invest in their own future with leadership program

By Christina Gray

This June, the first wave of locally trained and certified Catholic school principals will be prepared to start K-8 school leadership positions in the fall.

These are individuals with years of service in our Catholic school system who have discerned that the next step for them professionally will be to take on a principal position in a Catholic school within the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

“Being a leader of a Catholic school is very different than being a leader of a public school,” said Tara Rolle, associate superintendent for Continuous School Improvement and director of the St. Clare Initiative of Leading and Learning. “Catholic school leadership means loving and living your faith in addition to having all the standards and expectations of administrative service.”

Local Catholic school leaders say they have dealt with a scarcity of candidates who are fully and faithfully prepared for Catholic school leadership.

That’s why the Department of Catholic Schools decided to take charge of the formation of its future leaders by creating the Catholic Administrative Services Certificate Program. Focused on Catholic K-8 leadership, the program was specifically designed for archdiocesan educators who feel called to serve as a Catholic elementary school principal.

It is one of the linchpins of the St. Clare Initiative for Leading and Learning, a proprietary professional development program developed in 2019 by the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Department of Catholic Schools.

The two-year Catholic Administrative Services Certificate Program is built on the standards for the state’s Administrative Services Credential offered by colleges and universities but with modifications and additions for proper preparation of leaders in a Catholic school context.

“It is important that our candidates receive everything that they would have had if they had gone through an external program, but in a really special way that emphasizes Catholic identity and Catholic leadership,” said Rolle.

Currently, there are seven candidates in the program. Applicants must have served five or more years in Catholic education, with a minimum of three years at a Catholic school within the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Their principal must recommend them, and they must be an active and practicing Catholic in good standing.

Candidates spend 80 hours in their first year, split between coursework and in-class practice. Major projects include building budgets, a case study portfolio and a formation program.

A distinguishing feature of the Catholic Administrative Services Certificate Program is the focus on administrative issues uniquely important to Catholic school administration. This includes maintaining Catholic identity, managing the parish-school relationship and budgeting and managing tuition-based institutions.

Fieldwork is the priority in the second year. Candidates move into mentored assistant principal roles at their respective schools and also shadow other local principals to observe a variety of different leadership styles.

Roderick Harrison, now completing his final year in the program at St. Raymond Catholic School in Menlo Park, commented about the value of observing seasoned Catholic principals in their day-to-day jobs.

“I find this really fascinating and helpful as I am able to see many different styles of leadership while molding my own,” he said. “I highly recommend this program to anyone who wants to be a Catholic school principal.”

Christina Gray is the lead writer for Catholic San Francisco.

Learn more about how we train our Catholic school principals: