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New year brings new principals, upgrades

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SAN DIEGO — At the diocese’s 46 Catholic schools, about 14,000 students have begun a new year of learning.

Most of the Catholic elementary schools reopened between Aug. 15 and 22.

Among the high schools, Mater Dei Catholic started on Aug. 10, followed by Cathedral Catholic High School and the Academy of Our Lady of Peace, both on Aug. 15; Vincent Memorial Catholic High School, Aug. 17; and St. Augustine High School, Aug. 24.

Returning students at five elementary schools and one high school encountered new principals, and those at three other elementary schools discovered that campus improvements had taken place over the summer.

The new principals include Emily Silady, St. Mary School in Escondido; Josh Englund, St. Mary Star of the Sea School in Oceanside; Chris Moeller, St. Charles Borromeo Academy in San Diego; Faina Salter, Mater Dei Juan Diego Academy in Chula Vista; Jodi Drake, Nativity Prep Academy in San Diego; and Aaron Gonzalez, Mater Dei Catholic High School.

Three campuses received major upgrades, courtesy of grants from the Shea Homes Foundation.

St. Katharine Drexel Academy has new fencing, new windows and blinds, new turf in two courtyards, and a new play structure. The renovations also included stucco repairs, the removal of old drinking fountains, and the installation of a refillable water station.

Over the summer, St. Didacus School added new turf in the playground, resurfaced asphalt, added a new play structure for preschool, replaced chain link fencing with rod iron, and renovated the bathrooms, all through a Shea foundation grant. The school also added new flooring and paint in the school library this summer, made possible through the school’s annual auction fundraiser.

Sylvia Benning, principal of St. Charles School in Imperial Beach, explained that the building that houses the school office and the kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms is about two decades older than the junior high building and had been “showing its age.”

A $1.1-million renovation project — with St. Charles Parish and School each contributing $20,000 and the remainder donated by the Shea foundation — began May 31 and was completed  before the first day of school, Aug. 15.

Among other things, the school received a new, more visible sign at its front entrance, the older school building received an exterior paint job, and outdoor learning spaces were created where classes can be held in the open air.

“I’ve called it a facelift for our old building, but I’ve seen how it’s lifting all of our spirits, as well,” said Benning.

The start of the 2022-2023 school year was preceded by a busy August for the diocesan Office for Schools, under the leadership of its new superintendent, Leticia Oseguera.

There was a two-day Leadership Bootcamp, Aug. 1 and 2, for principals, vice principals and other aspiring campus leaders. This was followed by a New Pastors/Principals Meeting, Aug. 3, for school communities that are welcoming either a new principal or a new pastor this year.

A gathering of all of the diocese’s principals was held Aug. 4. Oseguera said the principals had an opportunity to engage in some community-building activities, reflect on “their why” in education, and set goals for the year.

On Aug. 9, the diocese held its annual Religion Convocation on the University of San Diego campus. The event kicks off the school year by bringing together all of the local Catholic school educators. About 350 attended in-person, while about 200 joined via livestream.

The Office for Schools hasn’t issued any new COVID-19 guidelines. There is no mask mandate, although masks continue to be recommended while indoors.

Superintendent Oseguera said the diocese continues to follow state and county health guidelines, and individual schools are free to “go above and beyond” them. 

“The pandemic is still happening,” she said. “Just like last school year, I think we just have to be prepared … for whatever may come.”

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