Rockaway At Work Sheila Smith-Gonzalez, Principal, Saint Camillus Catholic Academy

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Have you ever wondered what people do all day at their jobs? I have, and that’s the basis for this column, Rockaway at Work.

The students at Saint Camillus Catholic Academy, and their parents, are very lucky to have Sheila Smith-Gonzalez at the helm as principal.

Mrs. Smith-Gonzalez starts her day at 7:30 a.m., before classes start. She supervises students as they arrive, chats with teachers, and addresses any parent phone calls, or questions. She always has an open-door policy for parents because she understands the importance of the parent-school partnership.        

In one of her roles, as administrator, she takes care of the business of the school, dealing with budgets, purchasing, and payroll. One night a month, she reports to the board of directors on teacher evaluations, parent concerns, status of the building and property, test results, and other issues.

As educator, Mrs. Smith-Gonzalez supervises the teachers and students, and visits every classroom twice every day. Without an assistant principal or dean, it is her responsibility to handle all school problems and to step in when a situation arises, so that the teachers can continue instruction. When I was with her, a boy couldn’t find his coat after lunch, and she played detective until the coat was found.

“I love what I do,” Mrs. Smith-Gonzalez said. “Being the principal of a Catholic school is not just my profession, it is my vocation, my calling. It’s not just being an administrator and an educator, but also being a spiritual leader of faith and values. It is important in today’s world to teach values, and for my students to grow up to become good citizens and good people.”

I observed the relationship between the students and Smith-Gonzalez, and it is obvious to me that they like her, respect her, and behave well in school, because of her. Third- grade teacher Lori Caputo, explained, “Her tone is gentle and firm at the same time. When you have that combination, the students and the staff trust her. It sets the tone for the school.” 

I asked some students to tell me what they think about their principal, and their admiration and respect were clear. Among some of the comments:  “She is very helpful. She gets things done. She solves any problems the school has,” one student said.  “She always comes into the classrooms to check on the kids,” said another. “She also tells us every morning that God is always with us,” another student said. “She prays for people who are sick.” 

Almost all of them told me she teaches them to “respect others.”  When I asked them what “respect” was, I was impressed by their answers.  Some of their responses: “to be nice and kind to others,” “not to take others’ property and things,” “to be loyal, and no gossiping.” That respect goes both ways. As we walked around the building together, Smith-Gonzalez was able to identify each child by name. 

Smith-Gonzalez says running a successful school is a team effort. She supervises a staff of 18 teachers, a nurse and two secretaries, and speaks highly of them. “We collaborate on a daily basis to provide our mission, which is excellence in Catholic education. My team is so dedicated that without them this school would not be viable. The reality is this staff, this dedicated team, makes this school work,” she said.

Part of her job is to support teachers whenever they have questions or problems, and facilitate and plan professional development in many subject areas. She attends workshops and training sessions with her teachers in the school one Friday afternoon a month, and at Saint John’s University.

 School may be closed in the summer, but Smith-Gonzalez works a 12-month schedule. Even when school isn’t in session in the summer, she is responsible for registration, paying bills, ordering materials, planning curriculum, and hiring new teachers.

Smith-Gonzalez said she wanted to be a teacher and work with children ever since she was a child herself. After teaching for 19 years, and knowing the importance of a positive leadership role, she received a second master's degree, Master's of School Building Leadership, from Saint John’s University. She became principal at Saint Camillus four years ago, after being a principal in Brooklyn for eight years.

Saint Camillus is located at 185 Beach 99th  Street, and accepts all students grades pre-k to eight. Administrator, supervisor of teachers, teacher of faith and values……  Rockaway works hard!

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