This month, Kalix Marketing talks to Sister Patricia McCarron, SSND, Ph.D., Headmistress of Notre Dame Preparatory School, an all-girls Catholic school near Baltimore, Maryland.
Kalix: What is the most important leadership quality for a head of school?
Sister Patricia McCarron: Without question, it’s a heart of love. For me as a member of a religious congregation, it’s about the love of God and my love relationship with God as primary in my life and in my leadership. [Sr. Patricia is a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.] I am a head of school because that’s where God calls me to be. My love of our students, teachers, parents, alumnae and mission is central. Love is what gets me up early in the morning and gets me through the late-night events. [Being head of school] is a vocation of love that gives you the ability to see the goodness in all that’s around you, to empower people to use their gifts and contribute to the school, community and world.
It’s making sure that students are the center of the school and every decision we make. When it’s a leadership of love, it becomes a leadership of service and joy. There are challenging times but recognizing the love in our community makes the good times even better and the challenging times more manageable. At Notre Dame Preparatory (NDP), we are blessed as a community of love, faith and joy. I have the best job in the world. We have incredible girls, teachers, staff, parents and alumnae, and I get to watch love in action every single day. It doesn’t get any better.
Kalix: What is the most underrated quality?
Sister Patricia: It’s the ability to pivot. You move at a pretty fast pace from one thing to another. The great part about the privilege of this position is that there is such great variety of things to do and individuals to meet. You move from sitting at a board finance committee meeting to a fire drill to the student who forgot her blazer and needs to borrow one to talking with a teacher about a curricular issue then to meeting with a donor. I try to listen with a loving heart, ears and eyes – to give undivided attention to each person and greet each moment with the same level of attention. I recognize that whatever conversation I am having is so important to that individual.
The key is to prepare for what you can prepare for, knowing that you can be certain there are things in your day you cannot prepare for. Know when to delegate and empower other individuals. The initial encounter may be yours, but you might not be engaged with the next step or the long-term solution. [As heads] we transition so quickly. You have to enter into whatever you are doing with the same passion and commitment. There are many surprises in a day, but all are invitations to become a better person, collaborator, problem solver and leader. The lens through which I view interruptions is that everything is an opportunity to further our mission.
Kalix: What was your first job at a school, and what did it teach you about leadership?
Sister Patricia: My first job was teaching math at NDP. I was at other places in between before returning 14 years ago as headmistress. It was in my first year of teaching that I learned to appreciate the value of the pure gift of a faith community and a community that works together on a mission and for the students. This has had a profound impact on my ministry in education. That year, I [also] coached and served as student government moderator. By getting engaged and involved, I learned that in giving, we receive so much more. The joy I got that year from the amazing, gifted faculty and students helped me grow tremendously.
Kalix: What’s your best advice for independent school leaders?
Sister Patricia: Love what you do and who you are with. Work hard. Have fun. It’s not really work when you love what you do. I think that’s absolutely key. Yes, heads are involved in the important work of strategic planning and vision, curricular work, campus improvement and more, but these initiatives all stem from this. And, ultimately, this job is a lot of fun. As a community, we work hard and challenge each other, but we have a lot of fun doing it. Everything is done with great care and great respect for each other and the gifts we have each been given. Love compels us to action and empowers our students to reach the fullness of their potential and help them be their very best. Mother Theresa Gerhardinger, who founded the SSND, said, “Love will give everything gladly.” This is true in the small and large things we do at NDP.
The ninth headmistress of NDP, Sister Patricia began her leadership tenure in 2005, at the same institution where she started her educational career three decades ago as a math teacher. As headmistress, she has overseen NDP’s expansion of its academic and extra-curricular programs; implemented two strategic plans; renovated several campus spaces; and increased annual and endowment giving. In 2012, NDP was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School and as a Top Engineering Source School by the University of Maryland Clark School of Engineering. Additionally, NDP has been named a Baltimore Sun “Top Workplace” each year since the inception of the program and, most recently, has been named an “Emerging Leader for 2018” by the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland.
Prior to serving as headmistress, Sister Patricia was associate academic dean at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and held administrative positions at Maryland’s Bishop Walsh Middle/High School and The Seton Keough High School. A national speaker on Catholic identity and Catholic school leadership, she is a three-time recipient of Baltimore’s Daily Record’s “Top 100 Women in Maryland” and, in 2014, received the National Catholic Education Association’s Educational Excellence Award. She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Policy from the Catholic University of America and an M.Ed. in Education Management and Supervision from Loyola College; she earned her undergraduate degree from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.
Sarah Achenbach is Communications Lead for Kalix Marketing.