Local News Archive
Print Issue: January 16, 1986
Sister Dawn Gear Names Principal Of New School
By Gretchen Keiser
Sister Dawn Gear, a 40-year-old Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart who is a former teacher and member of the administration at St. Pius High School, has been chosen as the first principal of the new Catholic elementary school in Gwinnett County.
I need another challenge, said Sister Gear in an interview in her office at St. Pius X where she has been working since 1979. The last four of those years she has been assistant dean of students, with responsibility for discipline and one-on-one work with students and parents when problems with school, family or personal crises arose.
Her new position as the first principal of the regional Catholic elementary school is a very nice challenge, she said, emphasizing that it certainly is a challenge.
The school, which is the first new Catholic school to open in the archdiocese in over 25 years, will begin with the fall semester of the 1986 school year. Initially it will include kindergarten through fifth grade and an additional upper grade will be added each year until the school houses kindergarten through eighth grade.
There will be at least two sections of the lower grades and, if registration warrants it, there will be three sections of kindergarten through third grade.
The school is located on the grounds of St. John Neumann parish in Lilburn, but will be a regional school serving students from approximately an eight-parish area including five parishes in Gwinnett County and others in Stone Mountain, Lithonia, Conyers and Walton and Barrow counties.
The school facility will be shared by the St. John Neumann school of religion. An additional structure, to house offices, a library, a cafeteria and extra classrooms, is expected to be built starting in the summer of 1986.
Appointed to the post of principal just before Christmas, Sister Gear looks cheerfully, but with realism, upon an assignment that starts from scratch. Im the only principal in the United States who doesnt have any kids in the school, she joked.
On Sundays, Feb. 2 an information session will be held at St. John Neumann Church to acquaint parents of prospective students with registration information, tuition costs and other critical data. That will be the first step in the structuring of the school. Teacher applications will be considered as of February 15, she said. At least 12 teachers will have to be hired for the first school year as registration figures unfold.
At the moment, she has a desk, a chair and a plan for a phone to be quickly installed, but a lot of things are in motion, she said.
A graduate of DYouville College in Buffalo, New York, who received a masters degree in education from Georgia State University in 1979 and is now working on a specialist degree in administration, Sister Gear looks as much upon her work experience as her educational background to support her in the demands of the new position.
Taught in Catholic schools herself in MontClare, Pennsylvania, where she grew up, Sister Gear worked in elementary education for 14 years before coming to St. Pius in 1979. A teacher for five years in Jackson Heights, New York, for four years in Philadelphia and for four years at Christ the King in Atlanta, she has taught every grade except first grade.
The new school will be similar to St. Pius High School in that students will come from many parishes, she observed. Part of the demand of that situation is to be sure pastors and parishes know what is going on at the school, she said. Parishes with students at the new school will be supporting the school financially and parishioners, whether or not they have children at the school, indirectly do support it, she said.
Because of her work in a similar situation at St. Pius, I know how important it is to communicate with pastors and parishes, she said. Communication is a big thing.
The new school will be served by a regional school board including representation from participating parishes. The precise organization of authority, including the relationship of the board to the archbishop and local pastors, is still being worked out by the Department of Education.
Asked about the largest challenge facing her educationally Sister Gear cited the fact that students will be coming from a number of different schools and the curriculum will need to be specially designed to reflect that. After I get the registration straightened out, I need to work out visiting those schools to see where those kids are coming from, she said. She intends to build the curriculum as much as possible so a smooth transition can take place for incoming students.
Aside from the subject matter that is taught, I want the community to be a warm community, Sister Gear said. I want to create an atmosphere of learning, loving and sharing Working with parents and students, we will be working on Gospel values.
With Sister Rita Raffaele G.N.S.H., her current responsibility at St. Pius put her in charge of the running of the school day, including attendance and any daily problems, and made her part of the administrative team at the school with input into other areas of decision. When she joined the staff, Father Terry Young gave me an opportunity to be a part of a team, she said. I always felt very much a part of the administration. Now with that experience, you have the confidence to go out and take things on.
One of a family of five who grew up in the southeastern industrial section of Pennsylvania, Sister Gear said that part of the challenge of her work at St. Pius was understanding youth today, understanding teenagers and trying to be able to help them to understand, to be responsible people, to work with them in a fair and a just way. The demands have included working with teens with drug and alcohol problems, with pregnancy, with family crises and sometimes with overly permissive parents, she said.
Were part of a society thats so liberal, she observed. Its tough to teach them (teenagers) values. Its hard.
That demand is obviously one of the reasons parents have lobbied hard for a Catholic school in Gwinnett County despite the cost of tuition and the cost of maintaining a new school.
And Sister Gear said that as soon as her appointment became known, she began to receive phone calls of support from parents who intend to use the new school or who had worked to see it open.
The parents are really happy, she said. I find them very encouraging. With that type of encouragement, the school cant do anything but go up.