Catholic Free Press

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Feeding the spirit, mind & body

Posted By August 23, 2012 | 1:08 pm | Lead Story #1
8-24 Olson_6726WEB

Guiding principal starts ‘new career’ at St. Mary’s

By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – Next week the principal of St. Mary Junior/Senior High School goes back to school – again – with students and teachers.
But in one way it’s a first for him.
“I’m starting my 39th year in education,” Thomas R. Olson told The Catholic Free Press recently. “The first 34 were at the Wachusett Regional School District. I started in September 1974 as a guidance counselor in the town of Rutland – Naquag Elementary School.”
Mr. Olson said he was guidance counselor the past four years at St. Mary’s, and most of the previous years at Naquag, with a brief stint at teaching there to help him better understand teachers and students.
He was guidance counselor at Wachusett Regional High School for 10 years, during the time James M. Pedone was assistant principal. On July 31 Mr.  Pedone became principal of St. Mary Elementary School, a separate school physically attached to St. Mary’s Junior/Senior High.
Mr. Olson said he wasn’t looking for the principal’s job, but was asked to consider it by Michael Dudek, St. Mary’s former principal, and Father Thaddeus X. Stachura, headmaster and pastor of the parish, Our Lady of Czestochowa. On July 1 Mr. Olson became a principal for the first time in his life.
“I’m excited,” he said. “This is a great little school – small class sizes, a very dedicated small staff. The school’s more like a small community of family, and that’s why I like it here. Seniors sometimes will play on a team with junior high students and be a mentor to them.”
At Wachusett High there were four lunch periods with 500 students each, Mr. Olson said.
“Kids would graduate without even knowing their classmates,” he said. “Here seniors know the seventh-graders by name and they all eat lunch together. In my four years here I’ve never seen a fight between two boys … between two girls. It’s just a nice, close-knit community.”
Traditionally the school was made up of members of Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish, but now is diversified, said Mr. Olson, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Rutland and chairman of the parish council there. All St. Mary’s students, of whatever faith, are required to take religion classes and attend First Friday Masses, and Stations of the Cross the Fridays of Lent, he said.
Mr. Olson said he’d like to recruit more students.
“I’d like us to continue to build our Catholic identity,” he added. “I’m just starting to think about that. We do a good job with that.” They start and end the day with prayer over the intercom for the whole school, and ask teachers to open each class with prayer, he said.
His own children did not attend Catholic school, but the oldest is now a Jesuit.
“They were in school with me throughout their lives,” at Naquag Elementary and Wachusett High, he said.
Mr. Olson said he’s married to a wonderful woman, Marsha Olson, a nurse practitioner in cardiology at UMass Medical Center.
Their 32-year-old, Thomas, is entering Boston College, preparing for ordination as a Jesuit priest, he said. Adam, 30, is married and working as an intensive care nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Timothy, 24, is a financial analyst for J.P. Morgan in New York City.
Mr. Olson himself changed his career a bit – temporarily. He was a guidance counselor for kindergarten through grade 8, and later, grades 5-8, at Naquag Elementary. F or three of his years there he taught social studies to grades 6 and 7. He said he asked to teach because he felt it would give him a different perspective about what students and teachers were dealing with in the classroom. He figured it would make him a better guidance counselor.
“It gave me more credibility,” he said. Before that, he was advising teachers on problems he hadn’t dealt with.
“I liked teaching, but I absolutely loved the guidance,” he said.
Now he’s changed careers again. Succeeding him as St. Mary’s guidance counselor is Kimberly Adam, who previously taught English there, he said. Succeeding her is Joseph Fusco, a St. Mary’s graduate.
Mr. Olson himself graduated from Tahanto Regional High School in Boylston. He got his bachelor’s degree in history at Worcester State College (now University) and his master’s and certificate of advanced graduate studies, both in counseling, from Assumption College.
“You know what I think a good principal does the first year – not make too many changes,” the new principal said. But one thing he wants to do is help students gain respect for themselves, their education and one another.
They return to their journey together next week.
Mr. Olson said the faculty and staff come back to school Monday and Tuesday, grades 7-9 Wednesday, grades 10-12 Thursday, and the whole school comes together Friday.