New principal named for St. Agnes Academy in Dalton
DALTON — When the pastor of St. Agnes Church went through the parish school Thursday to introduce a new principal, students spied a familiar face.
Fadia Rostom Makdisi, of Pittsfield, the new school leader, is the parent of three girls who attend St. Agnes Academy. She takes over July 1, replacing the current head of school, James "Jim" Stankiewicz.
The Rev. Christopher Malatesta announced her hiring to staff Wednesday afternoon, then made the news public the next morning.
In a phone interview, he praised Stankiewicz for having provided "steady, great leadership for us." Malatesta noted that the transition comes as the Diocese of Springfield, which oversees the school, seeks new approaches.
This week, the diocese issued a state of schools report compiled by its Pathways to Faith Commission. The report offers new guidance on reforms needed in the Catholic education system to boost engagement and enrollment.
"There's a refocus of energy in regards to the Diocese. In addition to saving and building our schools, our superintendent wants to grow the system," Malatesta said.
He added that Daniel R. Baillargeon, the diocese's superintendent of schools, supported the St. Agnes search committee in its search for Stankiewicz's successor.
Malatesta said the school had 14 candidates, half from Berkshire County.
The pastor said Makdisi possesses ideal skills to help the school establish an Executive Leadership Council and set a plan for growth.
"We are confident we have the perfect candidate in Fadia, who will bring a high level of energy and commitment to our church and Academy and work well with our teachers, Executive Leadership Council, parents and students," said Malatesta. "Under Fadia's leadership, we will continue to seek new and creative ways to boost enrollment, secure a strong financial base and grow."
In addition to hiring Makdisi, Malatesta said the new council includes veteran educators tasked with "maintaining high academic expectations and Catholic values and traditions."
This is Makdisi's first appointment as principal.
Makdisi, born and raised in Syria, told The Eagle in a phone conversation that she comes from a family "where we value both faith and education."
She graduated from and taught in the computer technology department at Damascus University and also studied computer science at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. She has worked in Pittsfield Public Schools and the Central Berkshire Regional School District and has been a substitute teacher at St. Agnes Academy.
Makdisi said she and her husband, Dr. Tony Makdisi, an internist with Berkshire Medical Center, and their children are passionate about learning and being active in their faith community.
Under a new educational leadership structure at St. Agnes, Malatesta will head the Executive Leadership Council.
As principal, Makdisi will be responsible for supporting school climate and managing discipline, as well as budget planning, development and advancement, community outreach and communications. Other duties include scheduling, hiring and compliance.
"I am thrilled to be joining St. Agnes Academy and working with such an experienced group of educators, whose energy and commitment to faith, life learning, and academic excellence is boundless," Makdisi said in a letter sent to families and shared with the St. Agnes community. "I look forward to building on the strong foundation left by Jim Stankiewicz and exploring new ways to expand the St. Agnes mission."
Karen Blefari and Theresa Dudziak will serve as deans of academics and curriculum. Blefari, who has 42 years of experience in elementary and early childhood education, will oversee early childhood and elementary programs, while Dudziak, a former St. Agnes principal with 32 years of service, will be in charge of the middle school program.
The council also includes Katherine Flanders, an experienced teacher, who will serve as director of enrichment.
St. Agnes Academy, founded in 1957, has an enrollment of 145 students in preschool through eighth grade.
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