Founder of Junior High retires after 25 years of work
After over 25 years as the junior high principal, Dr. Carol McNamara is retiring, leaving behind a community shaped by her leadership.
May 26, 2015
“You know, people think you’re crazy if you work in junior high, but they don’t understand what a fantastic age it is,” Dr. Carol McNamara said.
Every morning without fail, McNamara can be found at the entrance of the junior high, coffee in hand, saying hello to every young student who enters the hall. After a quarter of a century of working as the Benilde-St. Margaret’s Junior High Principal, Dr. Carol McNamara is retiring.
McNamara led the formation the BSM Junior High in 1989, but the process was not smooth sailing. “The idea was brand new to the high school,” McNamara said, “the idea of some shorter, little kids running around, less mature––they had to wrap their heads around that.”
Once the idea of the junior high was accepted, McNamara faced the challenge of actually building a school from the ground up. “We had to create rules for dances, we had to make a handbook, figure out how to communicate to parents, curriculum, what kind of grading system we would use,” McNamara said.
After the school was established, four parishes––Good Shepherd, Holy Name, St. Bart’s and Holy Family––disbanded their 7th and 8th grades and sent their graduating sixth graders to BSM. “Bringing those people together from different parishes, that [was] also a bit of a challenge,” McNamara said.
McNamara has played an instrumental role in the school as the principal, an English teacher, and a leader. “I work with teachers and parents on academic aspects. I work with [Mr. Dave] Platt on some disciplinary stuff. It’s important to be a spiritual leader as well as an academic leader. We are a Catholic school; faith is important to who were are and who I am,” McNamara said.
McNamara also started the Little Knights program at BSM to help teachers with young children. “Little Knights has been going on for about 10 years. We started it, there were a number of teachers that had brought it up before saying ‘I wish we had this,’ so it finally got to the point where some people had done some solid work on a proposal and looked for approval. And the leadership team said, ‘Well, we would need to have an administrator for that,’ and I said ‘I will.’ I don’t think any of us realized how much we would gain from having them here,” McNamara said.
The Junior High has continued to evolve over its 26 years of operation. One of the biggest changes came with the introduction of laptops. “In those days, you had carts you wheeled around. You got a laptop. Sometimes it worked, sometimes didn’t,” McNamara said. The demand for new technology being high, McNamara and the administration went through the long and controversial process of supplying the students of the BSM junior high with laptops.
Every decision McNamara makes is for the benefit of the students and the improvement of the community. “She’s been the leader and face of the junior high since the beginning and to me she has been a mentor, a good friend, a confidant. We always know she supports us, always know she has our back––never doubted that ever…Always good at putting students above everything else,” junior high history teacher Mr. Dave Kuntz said.
The staff of the junior high will miss McNamara’s unwavering support the most. “I’ve always known that I could make mistakes and she would be able to have a conversation with me about it, and I could learn about it. We always knew the kids were her priority… When people say ‘goodbye,’ we tend to say nice things about them because you have to. But we don’t have to do that. She is a good model for a leader in a Catholic school,” junior high English teacher, Mr. Dan Sylvester said.
McNamara isn’t quite sure what the future holds, but she knows exactly what she loved about being principal and what she’ll miss. “The people. There’s no question. The people. Students, teachers, and parents. I love working with this particular group of people–they are amazing,” McNamara said. “I can’t even think about how I am not going to be an educator. I just don’t know how I’m going to do that. I don’t know who I am outside of being an educator. I’m going to wake up and think ‘okay, who am I?’”
The 2015 school year will begin with Mrs. Claire Shea in the position of junior high principal. McNamara had some advice for her successor. “The most important thing is what does it mean to be a leader, how to become a leader. You have to put your head and heart together. If you have one without the other you’re out of luck––visionary and practical. Don’t make any decisions without both of those being involved,” McNamara said.
As the junior high continues to grow without McNamara, she hopes it will continue to put the students’ needs first and provide a safe and encouraging community for young students. “Part of our philosophy is that it is a school within a school. BSM is more than just grades 7 through 12. It’s two schools side by side and interacting. [Junior highers] need their space, they need their teachers, they need a curriculum geared to them that will prepare them for the next stage. I hope that it won’t get lost. It sounds to me that the leadership of the school is committed to making that happen,” McNamara said.