Catholic Free Press

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  • Aug
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St. Bernard Elementary principal plans to lead and serve

Posted By August 28, 2014 | 1:23 pm | Lead Story #3
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By Patricia O’Connell
CFP Correspondent

FITCHBURG – A stained glass panel from the old St. Bernard Parish on Water Street hangs in the lobby at St. Bernard Elementary School on Summer Street.
Newly hired principal Deborah W. Wright points to the panel, as she remarks that it seems to fit perfectly in this space.
With her deep roots in the parish, she seems like a good fit as well. She was recently hired as principal at the elementary school, founded by the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1886.
Ms. Wright was educated by sisters from this order. (Sister Pauline LeBlanc, PBVM, still works there, and she’s usually the first face visitors see when they arrive at the school.)
Also, Ms. Wright’s daughter, Elizabeth Paquette, attended St. Bernard Elementary School as well as St. Bernard Central Catholic High School, and, later, St. Anselm College.
Although Ms. Wright lives in Gardner with her husband, Attorney Jerold G. Paquette, she still belongs to St. Bernard Parish in Fitchburg on Mechanic Street.
“We are long-term members of this parish, so we never lost contact with this school,” Ms. Wright explains.
After learning that former principal, David Farnsworth, was retiring, Ms. Wright said she felt called to the school. She credits her husband with being supportive of her decision, and she believes her background has prepared her perfectly for leading the school.
In her youth, Ms. Wright attended the former Holy Family School on South Street, also run by Presentation Sisters.
“So I think they’re very pleased that I’m here because I certainly know the Presentation Community well,” she stated. “They were my teachers. I count among their community many good friends.”
Although she’s familiar with the community, stepping into her new position will come with challenges.
Enrollment, she said, currently stands at 200. But Ms. Wright said this could fluctuate up or down.
Retaining students has been a priority for Catholic schools around the country. Ms. Wright said she doesn’t have an “easy answer” to this problem.
“If there was an easy answer, it would have been done already,” she said. St. Bernard Elementary School, she noted, has a “beautiful facility” and “wonderful faculty.”
She believes that “getting the word out” will help more families see the benefits of enrolling their children there.
Looking ahead, she said she plans to get more ideas from the St. Paul Consortium, formed to support the five Catholic elementary schools in the North County.
She referred to the other parochial schools as “sister schools,” and said everyone needs to work together to build Catholic education in the region. Ms. Wright said she also plans to lean heavily on the St. Bernard Elementary school board for advice.
“I don’t want to be presumptuous and think that smart people haven’t already thought of these things,” she noted about boosting enrollment, adding, “I think we have the wherewithal to move this school forward in a positive direction.”
Although school year hadn’t started yet the day we spoke, Ms. Wright said she’d already met a number of parents. She described them as “very welcoming.”
She also said they spoke highly of retiring principal David Farnsworth. Ms. Wright said she has “deep gratitude to him for what he has done in his 30 years.” Mr. Farnsworth spent this time at St. Bernard both as a teacher and then as principal.
Ms. Wright believes it’s important to continue in the tradition of the school, which she pointed out is the oldest Catholic elementary school in the diocese.
“So what I have been tasked with is continuing this tradition and looking at how we can expand upon this curriculum,” she added. “I’m old-school enough to believe that the best instructional tool in the classroom is the teacher.
Although she’s following in the footsteps of a popular outgoing principal, Ms. Wright believes she’s fully prepared for the job ahead. She’s spent 37 years as an educator, with 25 of those years in the Winchendon Public School District.
Immediately prior to accepting the position at St. Bernard, she was an eighth-grade science teacher. At one point, until the position was eliminated, she served as chairman of the system’s science and technology department.
“I had a very diverse department,” she said, adding that during her tenure, a sixth-grade science and physics honors course was offered. ‘We were a very talented and diverse group.”
Ms. Wright said she plans to be available to help other members in the community.
“I see my role here as leader,” she said. “I’m here to lead, but also to serve.”