St. Ann’s begins school year with new principal

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

St. Ann’s begins school year with new principalSt. Ann’s new Principal Alicia Conliffe and Vice Principal Tracy Sherrick. — Photo by Laura Austin

------

When St. Ann’s Catholic School students returned to campus this week, they were greeted by dedicated teachers, new curriculum, an expanding STEM program — and new principal Alicia Conliffe.

Conliffe comes to the school after the grievous loss of Asteria Galacio, who began her principalship in the fall of 2016. The following year, she was diagnosed with aggressive cancer, and she lost her battle last December.

“That was a terrible loss for the school, but the staff really came together in an incredible way to lead themselves,” said Conliffe. During the time “Mrs. G” was sick, and until her permanent replacement could be found, the superintendent of the Fresno Diocese maintained a hands-on role in guidance and support for the school.

Last January Elaine Janson and Judy Tanaka — whose administrative experience with Sierra Sands Unified School District gave them strong backgrounds in finance and principalship, respectively, came together to see the school through the end of the academic year.

“It was the best possible solution in a very sad situation, and God blessed our school with these wonderful co-principals,” said Conliffe.

Conliffe worked with Janson and Tanaka, as well as the rest of the faculty, during the spring and summer to help get herself up to speed for the year.

Helping ease the transition is Tracy Sherrick, who will be serving in the newly created assistant principal position.

“We could not be happier with the hiring of Alicia,” said Sherrick. “We are all looking forward to the stability, and it’s nice to be rock solid and moving forward with great leadership.”

Sherrick herself attended St. Ann, sent her children to the school and is now in her 15th year teaching there.

“They asked me to be vice principal as a historian, someone who can help guide Alicia and who she could bounce questions off of,” she said.

“She has a full plate dealing with all of the things a principal has to juggle during their first year.”

In the interest of lightening that load, Sherrick will also head up accreditation responsibilities for the school.

Conliffe has been in education for about 25 years — incidentally, starting off her career in a small Catholic school. She moved on to the public school system and earned two master’s degrees, one in human resource management, the other in counseling.

She went from being a Navy daughter to a Navy wife, and continued to renew her career every two years as she followed her husband all over the world. She taught in Japan and Germany, as well as domestic posts, and added teaching and developing college curricula to her résumé.

“So I have worn a lot of hats, and seen a lot of different teaching and administrative styles over the years,” said Conliffe.

She woke up in Ridgecrest on Christmas morning in 2016 with her husband and their two daughters. SSUSD reached out to her soon thereafter and offered her a position at Richmond Elementary School, where she taught third grade until last year.

Conliffe and her daughters spent a “magical” year at the school, enjoying their time together there and their involvement in numerous community programs.

Then last spring, someone asked her to apply for the position at St. Ann.

“I was not seeking other employment at the time because I was enjoying my job and getting to know this wonderful community. When they first called, I thought it was a wrong number!”

After time spent, privately and with her family, praying about the job, Conliffe told the diocese superintendent that she did not want to accept the job before determining, “that I was really the right person for the job, and that I could still honor my family commitments if I accepted.”

The superintendent responded that those driving questions confirmed her belief that Conliffe was indeed the right leader. The superintendent then created Sherrick’s position to help shoulder the load.

“I just have to say what a wonderful team of dedicated professionals we have at St. Ann’s,” said Conliffe. “I thought I would be here learning and reading and organizing and preparing by myself all summer, but this amazing faculty worked right alongside me. I was never alone.

“They have welcomed me with loving arms, not just as a principal, but as a school mom.”

Conliffe said her two main goals this summer will be nurturing enrollment — which is already up 20 percent from last year — and successfully implementing the new curriculum.

Among the changes this year are adopting next-generation standards in science for the middle school, expanding STEM offerings (adopted by the school as “STREAM” to include “religion” and “arts” with the traditional science, technology, engineering and mathematics focus).

And every student will have an opportunity to learn a language this year — choosing from Spanish, French, German and Mandarin. Students will have daily lessons through Rosetta Stone and on Fridays will break into their four cohorts for collaboration with one another and coaching by volunteers in our community who are fluent in those languages.

“And we are not isolating the language, we want this program to come alive with learning about the history, cultures and cuisines associated with each of those languages.”

Parent and community volunteers are a foundation of St. Ann’s, said Sherrick, and for years the school has benefitted from mentors coming into the classroom and giving hands-on lessons for projects ranging from building a catapult to programming robots.

Conliffe said she does not know how long her family will remain stationed in Ridgecrest, “but I would not have accepted the job if I thought I would just be leaving again right away.

“We are letting the plans fall into place, and I couldn’t be happier in this new role.”

Story First Published: 2018-08-17