By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
Northborough – St. Bernadette School Principal Deborah O’Neil started her 15th year in her role at the school and, recently, her many achievements in Catholic education were nationally recognized.
O’Neil was one of only 27 to receive the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) Lead, Learn, Proclaim Award at its annual conference held in Chicago in April. In addition, the NCEA nominated her for the National Association of Elementary School Principals for the National Distinguished Principal Award, which will be presented officially in Washington, D.C., Friday, Oct. 11. Of the 68 nationwide recipients of this award, she is one of only three non-public school program principals to receive it.
She was surprised and humbled when she was notified of the awards.
“Like any principal, we don’t walk this path by ourselves,” O’Neil said. “Staff and parents are also invested in quality education for our students and how to prepare them for success in life. The recognition received is a way for the message of Catholic education to be out there. It is great to be recognized and affirmed, but the award is not about the individual.”
When O’Neil assumed the role of principal at St. Bernadette’s in 2005, there had been a lot of administration changes in a short period of time.
One of O’Neil’s accomplishments is the addition of support personnel to the school’s staff. When she arrived at St. Bernadette’s, there weren’t any specialists to support students with learning differences. There are now two reading and two math specialists providing services to students in Grades 1-8. This is unusual in Catholic schools in the Northeast.
The school has seen significant growth in numbers and in diversity. There are 94 new students enrolled at the school this year and currently there is a wait list for seventh and eighth grade as O’Neil strives to keep the class size to about 20. About 10 percent of the student body is on an Individualized Education Program (IEPs) or 504 plan.
“We are prepared to identify and address any new challenges that come to us,” she said. “We are fair and open about our limitations as to what we can do and accomplish.”
Technology is also a priority at St. Bernadette’s. Each student in grades 6-8 is issued an iPad, which are used as a complement to the curriculum.
O’Neil said an obstacle that so many find in Catholic education is an understanding of what is needed to stay strong.
“We are able to provide what students need as well as what they deserve,” said O’Neil. “We strive to maintain academic excellence for all students. We want to make sure they are prepared.”
St. Bernadette School is a Roman Catholic school with 45 teachers in pre-K to eighth grade. The student body is diverse representing 34 local communities. More information on the school can be found at www.stb-school.org.