Stay Sharp

A back-to-school conversation with local principals and leaders

It seems summer has only begun for many, but it will be time to return to the classroom before you know it. We know how most high school students feel about their summer break – and its inevitable ending – but how do administrators deal with the back-to-school blues? We spoke with six local educators to learn what they love about their work, how they used to spend their summers and what they do to prepare for the coming school year.


Kent Martin

Photo provided by Kentucky Country Day School.

Director of Upper School, Kentucky Country Day School

Do you have any personal connection to the school where you are employed?

I started at the school in 2002 as a science teacher. I have taught physics, chemistry, biology, bioethics, human biology and ornithology. I did leave for three years to teach at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina, but missed the community and relationships that were created at KCD. My 4-year-old son will start in JK at KCD next year!

What is most fulfilling about your role?

Seeing young people succeed in something they didn’t think they could. Also, creating meaningful and lasting relationships with the students and their families.

When you were the age of the young people you serve, what did you enjoy most about your time off for the summer?

Working and making money that I could spend on my own, as well as spending time with friends. Some of those arduous and somewhat unpleasant jobs that I had then have made me who I am today.

How did you prepare to go back to school?

Playing sports, watching movies and reading books allowed me to alleviate stress and anxiety from the previous school year while preparing me for the upcoming year.

What advice can you offer to students as they prepare to head back to school?

Get yourself ready for a full school year by getting your rest in now so that you have energy, curiosity and stamina for the academic year. As the beginning of the year approaches, try to get your sleep cycle adjusted before the first day of school. Summer reading is always valuable as it promotes life-long learning and mental exercise. Duolingo is a great (and free) resource to freshen up your world language skills before school begins.

Any subjects that you think will be difficult and give you anxiety, I would suggest trying to read ahead or use online resources such as Crashcourse or Khan Academy to get acquainted with the material before the class even begins. Summer internships and career shadowing opportunities serve as a way to see if you might be interested in a particular field. These are tough to do during the school year. Finally, try to exercise and incorporate some mindfulness as you head into the school year. Remember, you are the future and you can do anything!


Becca Noonan

Photo provided by Presentation Academy.

Principal, Presentation Academy

Do you have any personal connection to the school where you are employed?

Yes! I’m a proud Pres alum. I graduated in 2000 and after working as a Catholic school administrator for several years in Chicago, it’s wonderful to be back in the hallways at Fourth & Breck. When I was a student, Pres played such an integral role in helping me find my passions, and the faculty and staff empowered me to believe that I could really make a difference in this world. Some days, it feels surreal that I now get to be part of that faculty and staff. It’s great to play a part in helping to support, challenge and empower today’s Pres girls.

What is most fulfilling about your role?

I love seeing how much students grow, learn and change. I love meeting students and seeing how much they learn about themselves, their passions and their place in the world. It’s incredible to watch how that changes over the course of their time in high school and beyond. And I’m convinced that teenagers have the best sense of humor – they can always make me laugh.

When you were the age of the young people you serve, what did you enjoy most about your time off for the summer?

I loved – and still love – the pace of the summer. Everything slows down a bit, and there’s more time to travel, to read and just to enjoy each other’s company.

How did you prepare to go back to school?

Shopping for new school supplies was always the most exciting part about going back to school. Even now, there’s something about having blank notebooks, new pens and organized folders that makes me excited about a new beginning.

What advice can you offer to students as they prepare to head back to school?

Remember that every school year is a completely fresh start. Go into the new school year refreshed, motivated and excited about all the changes ahead. And it doesn’t hurt to be really organized!


Martha Tedesco

Photo provided by Assumption High School.

Principal, Assumption High School

Do you have any personal connection to the school where you are employed?

I am a 1990 graduate and have worked my entire professional career at Assumption. I frequently tell new members of our community that I came right back to Assumption after graduating with my degree in English from Bellarmine University and that I have never found a reason to leave! I’m blessed to have worked with and served the people who taught me and raised me.

In the last 25 years, I have served as a teacher, field hockey coach, student activities director, recruitment coordinator and assistant principal, all of which prepared me for my current role. I have always been called to serve Assumption and am honored and humbled to now have the opportunity to serve as principal.

What is most fulfilling about your role?

Growing young, compassionate, servant leaders. It’s a privilege to teach young women how to discover their God-given gifts and then how to share those gifts to benefit others. At Assumption, we tell our girls that we are preparing them to go out and serve and lead in all of their life roles. And they do – I see Assumption alums everywhere I go. Not only are they leading in their professional fields but also within their communities, where they are the ones running their parish picnics, volunteering as grade school coaches and athletic directors, serving on school boards and organizing the local food drives.

When you were the age of the young people you serve, what did you enjoy most about your time off for the summer?

My favorite part of having time off during the summer as a kid was having a relaxed schedule and getting to play outside at every age. Whether it was in the neighborhood, on the softball field or swimming at the pool, there was nothing better than the fun of being with my friends and just being able to enjoy life at its own pace. I think it is so important for kids to have the time to play. Those long hours of play during my childhood summers truly helped me to develop creatively, to learn to think outside of the box  and to grow as a problem solver – skills that served me well then and I continue to use today!

How did you prepare to go back to school?

When I was little, I loved to go school supply shopping. Like every kid, I was never really ready for summer to end, but every year I did secretly look forward to the trip where I got to buy new notebooks, pick out new markers, select my favorite character folders and get a new backpack. Even if I wouldn’t admit to being ready for school to start, there was a part of me that was excited by all of the new things to learn that those shiny new supplies symbolized.

What advice can you offer to students as they prepare to head back to school?

As students prepare to go back to school, I would emphasize the importance of planning balance in their lives. The most truly successful people I know find a way to give all of their talents and energy to their work and responsibilities but don’t lose sight of the value of taking time to relax, to see the world around them and to commit to time with the people they love. The commitment to both work and play is what I love about the community of Assumption. Our students have the opportunity to see from the faculty, staff and administration that we come to work prepared and focused, ready to work diligently for them, but we are never too busy to take the time to laugh with them, to share in their excitement or to do the extra thing – including planning a surprise dance at a pep rally – to put the joy into what we do! We believe that there is nothing that you should enjoy more than learning.


Alexandra Thurstone

Photo provided by St. Francis School.

Head of School, St. Francis School

Do you have any personal connection to the school where you are employed?

I have quite a personal connection to St. Francis given that I started on our Goshen Campus as a Kindergartener myself in 1971 and went all the way through both campuses, graduating from our high school in 1984. I also was a trustee of the school from 1996 to 2001, when I became the Associate Head of School at what was then St. Francis High School. I became the Head of School in 2001 and remained Head until the high school merged with St. Francis School in Goshen in 2012, and we became one St. Francis School with two campuses, including our preschool, which is now on our Goshen Campus.

Both of my sons, Andrew and Gray, attended St. Francis K-12, too. Gray has now graduated from Vassar College and lives in New York City, where he is getting an MFA in acting at the Stella Adler Acting Conservatory. Andrew will be a junior at the University of Miami in Florida studying environmental science.

What is most fulfilling about your role?

There are so many fulfilling things about my role. I love my day-to-day interactions with students – whether it’s reading to preschoolers or attending lower school, middle school or high school morning meetings, our students are amazing and never cease to impress me. If I’m ever having a bad day, I can always walk through the preschool or go chat with a teenager. I am also so lucky to get to work with the most talented faculty and staff I can imagine. I learn from them every day. Our parents, too, are interested and engaged in what we are doing – they are students of education themselves, which is why they’ve chosen St. Francis and our progressive educational philosophy. Last but not least, I love catching up with our alums and hearing about the wonderful things they are doing. It’s extremely gratifying to see a person you knew as a child all grown up and achieving the potential you knew they had.

When you were the age of the young people you serve, what did you enjoy most about your time off for the summer?

Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy being a child or young person. Having a big spanse of time with few plans is a gift, and that is even more true in today’s world in which children are so over-scheduled. I loved taking advantage of the opportunity to just be outside and explore, breathe the fresh air and be active. I have always been a voracious reader of fiction, and I always loved the summer because it was a great time to read as many books for pleasure as I could.

How did you prepare to go back to school?

Back-to-school shopping was the marker that school was coming. I always loved getting and organizing all my school supplies (I’m still big on organization), and picking out a first-day-of-school outfit (I still do that, too!). The first day of school is so much fun and so exciting, and I truly still feel that way. I also tried to make sure I did any summer work spaced out over the summer so it didn’t pile up in the last days before school starts.

What advice can you offer to students as they prepare to head back to school?

I think the most important thing to do over the summer (and July or August are not too late!) to make sure you are ready to go back in August is to read, read and read some more. There is simply no more important skill or activity that builds your knowledge, vocabulary and overall intelligence than reading. You can read blogs, articles, magazines, comics, etc. Anything counts. The point is just to read as much as you can. It is also true that students’ learning can “slide” a bit if they don’t read or look at any materials over the summer. So, if there’s a subject that is challenging for you, ask your teachers for some things you can do over the summer to keep your knowledge fresh. There are lots of fun apps and online games that students can do from time to time throughout the summer that won’t seem like work at all. Learning should be fun, especially in the summer, so enjoy yourself but never stop learning!

What advice can you offer to students as they prepare to head back to school?

In the weeks before school starts, make sure you’ve got any summer work done at least a week ahead of time so you have time to look it over and double check it and so you can enjoy your last days of summer. Get those school supplies organized – having that done ahead of time helps you start the school year off on the right foot. Then, you’ll be just as excited to start school as all of your teachers and I will be to see you on that first day!


Dr. Michael Bratcher

Photo provided by Sacred Heart Model School.

Principal, Sacred Heart Model School

Do you have any personal connection to the school where you are employed?

My son has been in our preschool on campus for the last two years, and my daughter will be in the preschool this coming year. It will be great to have both of them here. It is an honor to work at Sacred Heart. With four schools on campus, what more could one ask for? There are so many opportunities for our students. The sky’s the limit at Sacred Heart!

What is most fulfilling about your role?

Honestly, everything about what I do every day is fulfilling. It is an honor and privilege to work with the students at Sacred Heart Model School; after all, they will be our leaders of tomorrow. I am fulfilled in my daily interactions with students but also when I see them actively learning in our classrooms.

When you were the age of the young people you serve, what did you enjoy most about your time off for the summer?

I always enjoyed summer vacation to the beach, going to the pool and staying up late playing with other kids in the neighborhood. We were constantly running from home to home in the neighborhood, often barefoot.

How did you prepare to go back to school?

I recall going to bed early starting a few days before school started back.

What advice can you offer to students as they prepare to head back to school?

Continue to have fun. Rest and relax, but make sure you are prepared. If you have summer reading or assignments to do, make sure they are complete.


Dr. Dan Zoeller

Photo provided by Trinity High School.

Principal, Trinity High School

Do you have any personal connection to the school where you are employed?

My most personal connection to Trinity is that my son is a graduate. Having a son attend Trinity enabled me to see the school in a new light – from experiencing the jitters of freshman year to watching him mature into a fine young man his senior year. I was a teacher before becoming principal, and my kids grew up on Trinity plays, concerts and athletic performances. It truly is a second home/family for us.

What is most fulfilling about your role?

I love working with our youth. They are full of energy and ideas, optimism and creativity. Working with our teachers to help young men find the right paths, to truly learn how to think, then to hear about their leadership after Trinity are all extremely rewarding for me. Combine those elements with the ability to “start over” every August, and I believe I have one of the greatest jobs in the world (just slightly behind movie critic for the “New York Times.”)

When you were the age of the young people you serve, what did you enjoy most about your time off for the summer?

I enjoyed “roaming free.” I lived next to an undeveloped few acres, which had three ponds filled with crawdads, frogs and catfish. I had a pretty nice tree house built high enough to capture summer breezes. Riding my bike around the neighborhood, swimming in public pools and coming home from library trips with loads of books rounded out my summers.

How did you prepare to go back to school?

My mother was a teacher, so she had us do the occasional workbooks and we always read for fun. She nurtured a love of reading for me that continues to this very day. As principal, I still love the freedom to read whatever I like in the summer. A trip to the store to get new notebooks, pencils and other supplies was something I looked forward to.

What advice can you offer to students as they prepare to head back to school?

One terrific thing about the school year is it comes with breaks and the ability to start over every August. I encourage students to reflect on any regrets they had from the previous year and write down a few goals for the upcoming one. They should write down three specific personal goals – such as making five new friends or trying two new clubs – and three academic goals – like setting aside an hour each night before dinner to start homework or preparing questions each night to ask the teacher in class the next day. Instead of focusing on the actual hours of work or grades they might receive, I really encourage students to try to return to the school intent on learning new things. V