Top educators at St. Dominic, Our Lady of Perpetual Help retire; successors eager to begin new year
Two diocesan elementary school principals retired following the 2013-14 school year, and each has a successor eager to step in and fill the role.
Jeri McInturff stepped down at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Chattanooga, and Sam Martin is the new principal there. Debbie DePollo retired from St. Dominic School in Kingsport, with Tucker Davis set to follow her.
Superintendent of Catholic Schools Sister Mary Marta Abbott, RSM, shared her gratitude for the outstanding service given to OLPH and St. Dominic School through the dedicated leadership of Mrs. McInturff and Mrs. DePollo.
“Each of these ladies utilized their educational skills and knowledge to lead their schools respectively in a model of true discipleship and servant leadership,” Sister Mary Marta said.
“This spirit of servant leadership is already evident in the new incoming leaders, Mr. Martin and Mr. Davis. Each of these gentlemen has already demonstrated his own devotion to our Catholic faith and commitment to the educational ministry of Catholic school education. I am excited about the future opportunities for both of these schools as Mr. Martin and Mr. Davis build on the strong foundation established by Mrs. McInturff and Mrs. DePollo while bringing their own individual gifts, talents and vision to the schools,” Sister Mary Marta added.
Mrs. McInturff served at OLPH for nine years. That was enough time to see a kindergarten class go all the way through to the eighth grade.
“My first kindergarten class was my last eighth-grade class,” Mrs. McInturff said.
Seeing the class go through to the eighth grade “was exciting,” she said. “It was fun. It was just something special.”
She said she hasn’t made many plans yet for retirement.
“I tell people I’m going to play more tennis … I hope to pick up golf again; also maybe some traveling,” she said, joking that she and her husband are adjusting to spending so much more time together.
Larry and Jeri McInturff are parishioners of OLPH. On a more serious note, Jeri said the two of them are “just going to enjoy each other, hopefully.”
During Mrs. McInturff’s years as principal, “the enrollment has gone up, and we’ve added a pre-kindergarten. We’ve gotten into curriculum mapping. We’ve looked at best practices and made sure that we’ve gotten into the best practices.
“It’s not what I’ve done, but what we have done as faculty. I think we’ve accomplished a lot. We’ve brought our technology up. The last thing I did was, I was excited that we won a $10,000 grant from the Osborn Foundation to help us buy a mobile iPad lab, and that was exciting. That was the last thing I did as principal that really was for the school, so I was really excited about that. We’ve done a lot, I think, all my colleagues and I. The school’s in a good place and it’s going to go even further.”
Both Mrs. McInturff and Mrs. DePollo received farewell parties at their schools.
Sister Mary Marta and St. Dominic pastor Father Mike Nolan were in attendance for Mrs. DePollo’s party, which she described as “very nice.”
“There was food, of course,” Mrs. DePollo said, “and I got a few gifts, which were very nice, and they had made a banner of me and how many years I had been there, and it was very nice. Then I got to talk with everyone.”
Mrs. DePollo served 16 years as St. Dominic principal after taking the position in 1998.
She said she has “too many plans” for retirement “because I really focused a lot on being a principal.”
“So my husband [Mike] and I have a lot of things to do with our house that we’ve been wanting to do, and I just didn’t have time, so we’re probably going to do that and travel some. I’ve already gone to some relatives that we haven’t seen in a while and a high school reunion and things like that, so we’ve already been out of town numerous times.”
Mrs. DePollo said one of her biggest accomplishments as principal was starting the Buddy System that pairs fifth-graders with preschoolers.
“The next year, it worked out so well it was unbelievable how close those children got with their buddies, so I continued that every year, and that’s one thing I’ve heard the parents talk about the most.”
Mrs. DePollo also enjoyed planning and carrying out service projects with the students, including a project that benefited St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“We did quite a few different things through the years—very numerous, but our main project was St. Jude’s,” she said. “We did a math-a-thon, we did a bike-a-thon, a trike-a-thon with the preschoolers. We would collect our Christmas cards—the front parts—and would send them in, and that would help a program where they could send ill children to a ranch if that was their wish.”
Mrs. DePollo was able to see several kindergarten classes go through St. Dominic’s K-5 curriculum. This year she was proud of St. Dominic alumni who stood out academically at Dobyns-Bennett, Sullivan North, and Sullivan South high schools.
“It was really exciting to see what they accomplished,” she said.
Mr. Martin said he is “absolutely excited about my new job” as OLPH principal “and thrilled to be a part of the community.”
“I’ve been working for a long time and with a lot of different leaders and to actually get the opportunity to put my own spin on things and make my mark—it’s really exciting,” he said.
He noted that much of his time in his first year as administrator “will be spent learning – learning and working and getting a feel for the culture and fabric at OLPH. Personally, I have a passion for technology and technology integration, so I’m already looking at ways that we can streamline and work more efficiently through integration with different office tools, but also how the teachers can use technology in the classroom to adopt 21st-century methods into the classroom like Flipped Classroom.”
Mr. Martin attended St. Mary School in Oak Ridge for grades one through six, “then after that I transferred over to the public school system and graduated from Oak Ridge High School in 1995 and moved to Chattanooga, and haven’t found any good reason to leave.
“I graduated from the University of Tennessee with an undergraduate in exceptional education, K-12, in 1999, then in ’11 I graduated with my master’s in educational leadership with my administration license in school administration. I’ve worked for Hamilton County for 13 years.”
During that time, Mr. Martin said, “I’ve worked at five different schools for eight different principals, and the entire time I’ve been an exceptional-education teacher doing primarily inclusion. I’ve also handled gifted programs. My last assignment was two years at the Dawn Program for children with severe social, emotional, and behavioral disabilities.”
Mr. Martin is a parishioner of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga.
“I’ve been there as a parishioner for about five or six years, and I’m an officer with Council 610 in the Knights of Columbus,” he said.
He and his wife, Tiffany, recently celebrated their seventh wedding anniversary.
“She’s a nurse at Parkridge Hospital in Chattanooga. I’ve got two beautiful children. Gracie is 6; she’ll be a first-grader here at OLPH. My son is Atticus; he’s just a little too early to make preschool, but he’ll be following in preschool a year after this.”
OLPH has an external theme for 2014-15, Mr. Martin said.
“It’s ‘They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.’ Part of that is that we want everybody outside of OLPH to know who we are by how awesome we are. We want to get our name and image out there, and one way that we’re involving ourselves in the technological advances and the initiatives here in Chattanooga is getting involved in the Maker Faire.
“The Maker movement is all about using engineering and design and robotics and Legos, so it really lets the kids have fun, and we’re really going to try to focus on that, and I think we’ll have the opportunity to participate in the Battle Bot Competition in October. We’re really excited about that. I really want to get people excited. . . . As much as anything I want excitement and future growth to be on the tip of everybody’s tongue.”
Mr. Davis said he is “very excited” to become the new St. Dominic principal.
“It’s something that reached out and grabbed me, and the more I’m around it, the more I know it was the right decision,” he said.
Mr. Davis is a product of Catholic schools.
“I grew up in Nashville and attended Christ the King Catholic School through eighth grade and then went to Father Ryan High School and graduated from there,” he said. “There’s six in my family, and all six of us graduated from Father Ryan, as did my father. My brother Paul, as a matter of fact, is the principal of Father Ryan High School right now.
“My educational background beyond that is I attended Tennessee Tech, where I met my wife, Tina. I got a degree in English-journalism. I also got a master’s in educational psychology, and I got that in 1982. I went back to school later in life, and I got a master’s in education in 2002 from Milligan College,” he said.
His goals as principal are simple: “to grow our parish, grow our diocese, and grow our faith. I think we can do that through the school,” he said.
Mr. Davis has been a member of St. Dominic Parish since 1983, “when my wife and I first moved to Kingsport. I began our membership at St. Dominic’s when we were attending Mass in the gym of the school because the church had burned down.”