November 10, 2010
St. Mary’s teacher becomes school principal
Denise Hall was starting her 10th year as a sixth-grade teacher at St. Mary’s School in September when she received a call one weekend that changed her career plans.
The Rev. Mark Kaminski asked her to take over as the school’s principal, effective that Monday. Principal Susan McInvale had resigned to deal with a family situation.
Hall had already planned to become a principal at some point. She was halfway through classes for her administrative certificate at Le Moyne College.
“I never thought it would be this soon,” she said Tuesday about her taking over as principal. “I had closed up my classroom that Friday, and the next week I was here, in this office. I’ve loved it. I like having an impact on 250 students instead of 20.”
Hall graduated from Cortland High School in 1986 and received an associate’s degree from Mohawk Valley Community College, in human services.
She married her husband, Michael, started a family and did not continue her education at that time.
But working as a teacher’s aide at Virgil Elementary School caused her to fall in love with teaching. She enrolled part time and then full time at SUNY Cortland, receiving her elementary education degree in 2002.
“It was tough,” she said of balancing college with family life, “but I did it. I knew teaching was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I continued with my family life — I had my youngest, Maggie, while I was getting my degree.”
Hall assumed she would find a job at a public school. She became a teacher at St. Mary’s, where her older children were students and where her husband was an alumnus, almost by accident.
“My son Adrian was here at St. Mary’s,” Hall said, “and I fell in love with the school — the principal, Sister Harriet, said, ‘You belong here.’ I liked the atmosphere the minute I walked in the door. It was the greetings from the children, they were so polite, and the teachers were so nice. It was like a family.”
“Denise was the first choice I would ever make, in this situation,” Kaminski said. “She has an excellent rapport with teachers and students, and with the larger community of alumni and parents. People feel drawn to her.”
St. Mary’s School, founded in 1928, has been thriving lately, Hall said.
The school went up to 12th grade until 1970, then dropped seventh and eighth grades in 1986. Its enrollment — which peaked at about 600 — now spans grades kindergarten to sixth grade and remains steady at 250, backed by tuition costs and aid from its foundation and the Diocese of Syracuse.
‘We are right at the top of schools in the Diocese, for being successful,” Kaminski said. “Denise has a very positive outlook on Catholic education and the future of our schools.”
Hall said this fall marked the return of a uniform dress code for students. They do not wear uniforms but must conform to a dress code, with boys wearing dress shirts or polo shirts and girls wearing skirts.
Hall said such dress codes ended in the 1988-89 school year at St. Mary’s but returned now because parents were concerned with the rising divisions among students over what they wear — how expensive their clothes are and what is fashionable.
“The uniform dress code helps to ease all of that,” Hall said. “It takes away the baggage associated with clothes. Students have enough to worry about.”
The change was recommended by a committee of parents and teachers.
Hall said Catholic schools remain viable because people want the high standards and expectations they impose.
“Students know what’s expected, parents know what’s expected,” she said.
Maggie Hall is now a fifth-grader at St. Mary’s. Adrian is a senior and Hall’s middle child, Bethany, is a sophomore at Cortland High School.
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