When Glenda McFadden began as the principal of the Nashua Catholic Regional Junior High School in 2013, she knew that drastic changes were needed to prepare students for new rigors of high school and beyond.
Having served the school as a theology and math teacher for fourteen years prior to becoming principal, she recognized the need for higher teacher morale and collegiality among staff. Using a transformational leadership style designed to promote teacher and staff empowerment, she employed programs and practices to establish a clear mission, strengthen teacher practice, provide opportunities for growth, and foster collaboration.
The first two goals Principal McFadden set were team building and developing trust. By supporting leadership and professional development opportunities for staff, she saw a path to shifting the overall culture of the school toward improved academic, social, and emotional outcomes. With nothing significant in place when she took the role, she quickly implemented several programs to meet the needs of all staff. She developed a mentoring program for new teachers in the school, which served as a job-embedded opportunity to instill trust among teachers. She also sought and received Title II funding to support long-needed professional development training to staff based on the school’s specific needs.
Slowly, teachers were empowered to provide in-house workshops to colleagues and to create new programs for students, including a STEAM program. Boosting professional development opportunities were only part of the plan. Principal McFadden put systems in place to foster collaboration and sharing. For example, she updated the format and framework of curriculum and instruction lesson plans, connected plans to in-depth yearly assessment reviews, and created planned grade and department meetings.
She connected with feeder schools and area Catholic high schools to ensure vertical alignment and continuity. She also implemented the use of a comprehensive survey to learn more from parents, students, teachers, staff, and board members about what was working with the school and what needed to be improved.
As leader of a school with limited resources, Principal McFadden was eager to build school capacity using what was available until grander plans could be realized. In lieu of being able to hire an assistant principal, for example, she created leadership opportunities for staff through the Aspiring Leadership Institute. She currently has a team of two lead teachers who support the work of the school, including supervisory duties and support for academic programming. She has also leveraged a partnership with the school district to meet the needs of students with IEP and 504 plans. Unique to many Catholic schools, she also hired a part-time guidance counselor.
While teachers received the supports they needed to strengthen their skills, Principal McFadden also implemented numerous supports for students. Specifically, she put students at the center and worked to provide interventions to support the unique needs of adolescents. Teachers were guided through book studies to implement instructional and classroom management techniques that support adolescent brain development and better prepare them for high school experiences, such as leadership, student choice, self-awareness activities, peer learning, affective learning, kinetic learning, metacognitive strategies, and real-world experience. She worked with teachers to differentiate instruction to meet individual student needs and incorporated opportunities for movement and stress reduction techniques, which have all helped to reduce the number of written demerits and eradicated office detentions. She also introduced needed resources to the school, such as, a computer lab, student resource center, and a student leadership classroom.
Principal McFadden could see the need to strengthen academic programs at Nashua Catholic and raised the bar by imposing higher standards, higher expectations, and instructional supports to make it possible.