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When the Archdiocese of Philadelphia went looking for its two newest school superintendents, church officials launched a national search. But the women chosen in July to fill the posts were found close to home, and both have strong ties to Immaculata.
For years, the title of Archdiocesan superintendent of schools was held by one person. But now Dr. Carol Cary, who received her doctoral degree in educational leadership from Immaculata in May 2010, holds the title of superintendent of secondary schools, and Jacqueline P. Coccia, who earned a master’s at IU in the same field in 2008, is the new superintendent of elementary schools.
“The Archdiocese of Philadelphia undertook an extensive, national search and looked to outside counsel to ensure that we selected candidates that best exemplify the skill set needed to lead the students of the Archdiocese in the 21st century,” said Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, who oversees Catholic education in the Archdiocese. “Dr. Cary and Ms. Coccia have demonstrated their commitment to instructional innovation, academic excellence and Catholic values that are central to our schools, and [to] the strongest possible future for Catholic education.”
Cary is a Wallingford, PA native and current Exton, PA resident whose background includes working in retail at her family’s business, R.A. Pucci Bridal & Formal Salon. After changing careers, she taught middle school and served as principal at St. Anastasia School in Newtown Square, PA. Since 2007, she’d been the Archdiocese’s director of secondary curriculum, instruction and professional development.
Regarding her promotion and the start of a new school year, Cary, who oversees 17 high schools attended by more than 15,000 students, said, “It’s pretty exciting. It’s a great time to be in this new role, because with the Faith in the Future Foundation, change is on the horizon, change that will provide long-term benefits to our students and to the Greater Philadelphia region. Who would not want to be a part of that?”
The foundation she mentioned recently pledged to raise $100 million in the next five years for Catholic education in the Archdiocese.
Coccia, a Wayne, PA native and Paoli, PA resident who, by coincidence also once earned her living advising brides, said she came to education “a little later in life.” In college, she studied physics and had what she described as a “great interest in the sciences. Then I worked as a bridal consultant and in jewelry appraising, but after I had my daughter, I became interested in education.” She began teaching at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Bridgeport, PA in 1999 and later became its principal, also holding that post at St. Denis School in Havertown, PA. Two years ago, she joined the Archdiocese Office of Catholic Education as director of elementary education.
“Not only do I have experience teaching and being principal of a regional school,” she noted, “but I have also been through the painful process of closing a school.” Her current job has Coccia overseeing 123 schools, and she said her day-to-day responsibilities vary greatly.
“I spend a lot of time speaking with principals both on the phone and through email,” she said, “and I serve on committees with the Archdiocese and within my own office, so there are daily meetings that I’m attending. And I’m out at least once a week to a school.” Interacting with children, she said, “is my favorite part of the job. I do my best to try and attend as many special events in the schools as possible.”
As those children advance towards ninth grade, Cary predicted the Archdiocese “will really have a world-class school system in the next five to ten years.” Among the programs of which she is most proud is Diocesan Scholars, through which top-achieving students in the system are able to take college-level courses while still in high school.
“Local Catholic colleges and universities have been gracious to provide our top-performing students the opportunity to apply in January of their junior years,” Cary said. “Then in their senior year they are assigned to a college or university to take up to two courses per semester. They can earn up to 12 credits before college.” These are not online courses, she emphasized.
“You actually go to the school and take the classes, and your high school courseload is adjusted,” Cary said. “They go to college evenings, before school and after school.”
One of the keys Coccia said she sees to success for the Archdiocese’s younger students is the regionalization taking place in some locations.
“A Blue Ribbon Commission was created to look into this,” she said, “and many of the recommendations have been implemented. A few schools were struggling, and we felt we could pool resources and bolster programs.” As an example, she pointed to the opportunity to “make the best use of the best in technology by consolidating some of the schools. And maybe one school wasn’t able to offer fine arts instruction, or it was only being offered by volunteers. By consolidating, we can continue to offer quality Catholic schools.”
Both women said that while it’s a challenging time to be at the helm in Catholic education, it’s also an era of new legislation and innovative funding sources that they and their colleagues plan to make use of in their efforts to increase enrollment.
Cary noted, “It’s an exciting time in Catholic education. I love change. I’m a change agent—I embrace new ideas.”