New president comes to Notre Dame; NDHS, Sacred Heart, St. Mary-Oak Ridge have new principals
By Bill Brewer
The search for Notre Dame High School’s new leader led the Diocese of Knoxville all the way to Chicago’s suburbs.
But that two-month search proved fruitful as the diocese and Notre Dame have announced Kyle Schmitt as the Chattanooga school’s new president.
Mr. Schmitt began his new duties in July.
He succeeds George Valadie, who announced his retirement in January after eight years as Notre Dame’s president. Mr. Valadie retired at the end of the 2020-21 academic year.
“Bishop Stika and I are thrilled to have Kyle as our new president,” said Dr. Sedonna Prater, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Knoxville. “This is an important position, and Kyle stood out amongst all of the candidates we interviewed. His background in education, leadership skills, and his fresh approach in dealing with Catholic educational issues made him the right choice for us.”
Dr. Prater told the Notre Dame community that after the lengthy and thorough search and evaluation process, which included Bishop Richard F. Stika, pastors, NDHS faculty and students, NDHS alumni, diocesan leadership, and her, it was determined that Mr. Schmitt had the background and vision needed to lead Notre Dame into the future.
Mr. Schmitt has extensive experience in education and was most recently the principal of St. Francis de Sales School in Lake Zurich, Ill., outside of Chicago, a position he held from 2017-21.
“I understand and appreciate that tradition and history are very important to the Notre Dame High School community,” Mr. Schmitt said. “During my visit to Chattanooga, I met with many Notre Dame students, parents, and educators. From these discussions, I know that they also care deeply about the future of the school and want to partner with the new president to build on their history in a positive way.”
Mr. Schmitt received a bachelor of arts degree in psychology and philosophy from the University of Chicago in 2009. He also holds two master’s degrees in education and has an educational specialist’s degree in administration.
He received academic dean’s list and National Merit Scholar honors in college and was an All-American student-athlete nominee and an all-conference baseball player at the University of Chicago.
Mr. Schmitt, his wife, Anelia, daughters Holly, 9, Emma, 6, and newborn twins Meredith and Jack relocated to Chattanooga in June.
Dr. Prater underscored her gratitude to Mr. Valadie for his years of service in leading Notre Dame, which is his alma mater.
“I want to express my deepest appreciation and thanks to Mr. George Valadie, who announced his retirement in January after eight years as president of Notre Dame. George arrived at NDHS at a very critical juncture for our school, and Bishop Stika and I will always be grateful for the leadership that he has provided. George was instrumental in the search for his successor, and I cannot thank him enough. We wish him a long and fulfilling retirement,” Dr. Prater said.
Also at Notre Dame, Laura Swenson has been named the new principal.
Mrs. Swenson joined the Notre Dame High School faculty in 2019 as dean of academic affairs. Dr. Prater said during the past two years Mrs. Swenson has established herself as a professional educator and has earned the respect of the NDHS and Chattanooga communities.
“The president-principal model is new at Notre Dame. This is a move that reflects our commitment to expanding opportunities for Catholic education in the Chattanooga region, and it will pave the way for the expected growth of our schools in the future,” Dr. Prater said. “This collaborative leadership model will allow Mr. Schmitt to focus on some of the very critical external responsibilities we anticipate, including public outreach, development, marketing, and strategic planning. Mrs. Swenson has extensive experience as an academician and administrator and will focus on the internal components at Notre Dame.”
The 2021-22 academic year at Notre Dame began Aug. 5.
At St. Mary School in Oak Ridge, Sister Mary John Slonkosky, OP, is the new principal, succeeding Sister Marie Blanchette Cummings, OP, who has been named principal of Overlook School on the campus of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville. In addition to the Overlook co-ed grade school, the Dominican campus includes the all-girls high school St. Cecilia Academy and Aquinas College.
Joan Turbyville has accepted an offer to serve Sacred Heart Cathedral School as principal for the 2021-22 school year.
Mrs. Turbyville is an accomplished Catholic school administrator with professional experience in both Catholic and public schools. She began her educational career as a middle school English, social studies, and religion teacher at Sacred Heart Cathedral School. During 10 years of service there, she became the lead middle school teacher as the academic dean. Following her tenure at Sacred Heart, she devoted herself to serving children and families by working with nonprofit agencies to assist at-risk students and build support groups for families.
As a strong Catholic educator and leader, the diocese sought out Mrs. Turbyville to become principal of St. Joseph School, where she served for 10 years. At St. Joseph, she prioritized improvement efforts on achieving academic success for every student by focusing on standards of instructional quality, mentoring teachers in effective practice, and ensuring that individual needs of each student were addressed.
When she and her husband moved to Roane County, she became a principal with the Roane County school system and served in two schools, one a middle school and the other an elementary school. Sacred Heart Cathedral School said her faith and dedication to the ministry of Catholic school education and her abilities and professional talents make her ideal to serve in the role of principal.
Mrs. Turbyville holds a master’s degree in school administration from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Central Michigan University. She is a parishioner of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and a parent and grandparent of Sacred Heart Cathedral School and Knoxville Catholic High School alumni.
“As a professional educator with 29 years of experience, she has served schools in various teaching and administrative roles. While she serves our school this year, the Principal Search Team will continue to seek the candidate for principal for a long-term commitment to the school,” Sacred Heart Cathedral School said in a statement.
And Emily Broussard, a graduate of Sacred Heart Cathedral School and Knoxville Catholic High School, has been named assistant principal for Sacred Heart for the 2021-22 school year.
Ms. Broussard has a bachelor’s degree from Maryville College and received her master’s degree from the University of Tennessee in educational administration. She has worked as a middle and high school history teacher for Knox County Schools. In 2019, she received the Teacher of the Year Award for Knox County.