Kenmore high schools hire husband and wife principals

Fri, Aug 10th 2018 09:00 am
Staff Reporter
Mount St. Mary's new principal Katherine Spillman shares a light-hearted moment with her husband, James Spillman, the new principal of St. Joseph's Collegiate Academy, during an interview at the Mount. (Dan Cappellazzo/Staff Photographer)
Mount St. Mary's new principal Katherine Spillman shares a light-hearted moment with her husband, James Spillman, the new principal of St. Joseph's Collegiate Academy, during an interview at the Mount. (Dan Cappellazzo/Staff Photographer)

Students in the Kenmore area should get used to the name Principal Spillman. St. Joseph Collegiate Institute has hired James Spillman as its new principal. At the same time, Mount St. Mary Academy welcomed his wife, Katherine, as its new head of school. The Spillmans are natives of Western New York. Katherine hails from Rochester and James from Tonawanda.

Both have long histories with Catholic education and campus ministry. The move back home was a dream come true as they both missed being near their families.

"We've been looking to move back to Western New York for at least a few years. I've always worked in Catholic education, so I wanted to find a job in Catholic ed. I was really blessed to get this principal's offer this past winter," explained James, who is returning to his alma mater.

"Our holidays have always been spent traveling across the interstate for Thanksgiving and Christmas and time in the summer, so both our families and extended families are here," said Katherine. "So, Western New York has always been a draw to return to family. We've been the far away Boston Spillmans. The opportunity came along for Jim in February, we discerned and talked things over with friends in Boston, we have a great community there, but I think the draw of coming home was huge for us. We talked about it through our marriage. We have a love for the Bills and Ted's Hot Dogs."

Watch James give Katherine a tour of St. Joseph's Collegiate Academy

Once his job was secure, the Spillmans had to decide what Katherine would do. She has been involved in Catholic education for the past 20 years. A graduate of Notre Dame University, she has taught theology in urban Catholic high schools and led campus ministry at Boston College, as well as working at a public university. She heard about Mount St. Mary's longtime principal Dawn Riggie retiring through an alum in Boston. This is her first time as principal.

"My passion has been rooted in Catholic education in the larger sense, about nurturing mind, body and soul," she said. "As principal or head of school here, it is definitely a different role, certainly a leap for me in some sense, but I also think that getting to know the Mount in these last few months and knowing the folks that are here who are so committed, I felt confident that I'll have the support going in of people who know their job really well."

Katherine wants to follow up on some of Riggie's plans for the school and talk to the board of directors for their ideas.

"My biggest hope for the Mount is to encourage young women to be who they are, to nurture their faith, their curiosity about learning about the world," Katherine said.   

Mount St. Mary's plans to expand their entrepreneurship program, currently offered to honors students. "It allows the students to start and run their own small businesses. We have found it helps our students on their life's journey in a way that they might not have considered before," said Julie Wojick, assistant principal for Institutional Advancement, adding the program builds speaking and teamwork skills that are not part of the Regents curriculum.

After graduating from St. Joe's, James Spillman earned a bachelor's degree from Boston College, then spent a year volunteering with Good Shepherd Volunteers in Brooklyn, then went back to Boston College for his two master's degrees - education and pastoral ministry. His first job was at the all boys Xaverian Brothers High School outside of Boston as campus minister and theology teacher, later as dean of students. For the past eight years, he served as principal of Blessed Sacrament School, a pre-K though eighth-grade school, in Walpole, Mass.

"It's pretty exciting (to be back)," he said, four days after starting his new position. "Just sitting there in the office these last few days, seeing people I knew from my old experience there come back already, and seeing all the new energy from the faculty and staff there. It's really rewarding to come back to a place that was so foundational in my own development, and now to be put in the position where I have the opportunity to work with the new president and faculty and staff there to form a whole new group of young men to be men of integrity and compassion who put other's needs before their own, who are strong academically, who have a strong faith life, those are the young men we work on creating everyday. There were people who do that for me, and now, to have the opportunity to be on their side is a real blessing."

St. Joe's will also welcome Dr. Christopher Fulco aboard as the school's new president replacing longtime leader Robert Scott, who retired this summer.

"Having a new president and principal gives the school a real opportunity to move the school to new and innovative directions while building off a tradition of almost 160 years. What we're trying to do in the summertime, is learn as much as we possibly can about the community we're coming into, to learn those strengths - the things we're doing really well, and to learn what the opportunities for growth are."

The Spillmans met in Boston through friends at their parish in September of 2003. They were known as the two from Western New York who liked the Buffalo Bills. They married two years later. The couple now lives in Williamsville with their three children Benjamin 11, Grace 9, and Joseph 6, and their Labrador named Thurman Thomas.

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