Two new leaders named at Notre Dame High

Dr. Eric Schexnaildre is appointed head of school and Melissa Wolff dean of academics

By Dan McWilliams

Notre Dame High School and Diocese of Knoxville superintendent of Catholic schools Mary Ann Deschaine on April 18 announced two leadership appointments at the Chattanooga school.

Eric Schexnaildre, Ed.D., of the Notre Dame High School class of 1996, has been appointed the new head of school at Notre Dame, effective July 1.

In addition to Dr. Schexnaildre, Melissa Wolff has been appointed dean of academics for Notre Dame. This promotion also is effective July 1.

Dr. Schexnaildre returns to Vermont Avenue after having spent the mid-1990s as a student at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Chattanooga and Notre Dame.

“I love Notre Dame High School,” Dr. Schexnaildre said of his new role. “That place is very, very important to me. This is not a job for me but absolutely a calling home, and I cannot wait to help revitalize my alma mater that did so much for me.”

Dr. Schexnaildre has served with Catoosa County (Ga.) Schools, most recently as assistant principal and athletics director at Heritage High School in Ringgold. During his tenure at Heritage, Dr. Schexnaildre also oversaw the Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education program for the school. He obtained his doctor of education degree from Georgia Southern University in 2011, having studied educational leadership and administration.

“I look forward to a continuation of the faith-filled environment at Notre Dame High School under the watch of Dr. Schexnaildre,” Mrs. Deschaine said. “He is a God-fearing man who loves Notre Dame High School and has a great vision for the future direction of this incredible institution. The diocese is excited to have an individual at the helm of the school with a long-term vision and plan to push the school to the next level and beyond.”

Dr. Schexnaildre was born in Louisiana and raised in Catholic schools. His family relocated to Chattanooga, where he attended OLPH in eighth grade and then attended and graduated from Notre Dame. Known for a persistent work ethic, Dr. Schexnaildre is motivated to unite the alumni community alongside him behind their alma mater. Notre Dame High School, founded in 1876, has more than 7,000 alumni nationwide.

As a student at Notre Dame, Dr. Schexnaildre starred for both the football and baseball teams, playing as a four-year starter at quarterback and lettering four years in baseball.

For more than two years, Deacon Hicks Armor has served as interim head of school for Notre Dame while the Diocese of Knoxville searched for the person for its head of school position.

“We thank Deacon Armor and his selflessness as he has guided Notre Dame High School these last two years,” Mrs. Deschaine said. “It is not easy being an interim leader, and the deacon carried the baton in a manner in which he, and the school community, should be proud.”

Dr. Schexnaildre wrote a note to the school community:

“Dear Notre Dame students, families, and alumni,
“I am deeply honored and blessed to accept the head of school position at Notre Dame High School. I am extremely grateful to the interview committee for placing their trust in me to lead Notre Dame High School moving forward.
“The Notre Dame High School mission: ‘to share the Catholic faith in an environment which fosters spiritual growth and academic excellence and embraces religious, academic, cultural, and economic diversity’ was at the core of my experience as a student nearly 30 years ago. As a proud alumnus, I am forever indebted to the Notre Dame High School community for the invaluable experiences, teachings, and relationships I acquired as a student.
“As head of school, I look forward to leading the efforts in uniting our alumni and the entire Notre Dame community to jointly create a vision for the current and future students attending Notre Dame High School. Relentlessly, we will work together to further our mission and create a strategic plan to move forward.
“The future is bright for Notre Dame, and we hope you will join us in building a lasting legacy for our students.
“Dr. Eric Schexnaildre ’96”

Dr. Schexnaildre and his wife, Ashley, have two daughters: Annabell, who will attend Notre Dame as a sophomore next year, and Ella, who will be in seventh grade at OLPH.

Mrs. Wolff, who has a master’s degree in education, has served as an English instructor at Notre Dame since 2007, as registrar for the school since 2011, and as academic coordinator since 2022, in addition to serving as cheerleading coach during football season.

“Internal promotions are always preferable, when possible,” Mrs. Deschaine said. “Elevating Melissa Wolff into this position as dean of academics is an opportunity to strengthen an asset for Notre Dame High School and enhance the benefit of the institutional knowledge that she has accrued in the nearly two decades she has spent on campus.”

The new dean of academics role will work together with the head of school position.

“The head of school, for the time being, will function as a hybrid of the previously posted principal and head of school roles,” Mrs. Deschaine said. “This will give Dr. Schexnaildre the opportunity to assess and evaluate the needs of the school from a leadership perspective before potential future hires; I want him to have the opportunity to build a staff that supports the needs of the Notre Dame High School community.”

Jamie Goodhard has fulfilled the school’s principal responsibilities as interim assistant head of school since 2022. Before that, she worked for nearly three decades at both OLPH and St. Jude School in Chattanooga, including serving as principal at St. Jude for 20 years before her retirement in 2021. A special request from the Diocese of Knoxville pulled her out of retirement and into her current role.

“Mrs. Goodhard’s dedication to Catholic education in Chattanooga is unmatched,” Mrs. Deschaine said. “After an entire career at OLPH and St. Jude, she has spent the past two years galvanizing the faculty at Notre Dame High School in an impressive manner, and I cannot thank her enough for her efforts and accomplishments in those hallways.”

“Notre Dame High School has been home to me for 18 years,” Mrs. Wolff said of her new role. “I have been blessed with good mentors, and I am excited to continue to bring the energy that Mrs. Goodhard has brought to the teachers these past two years. The families are the heart and soul of our school, and I look forward to serving all of them in this new role. Go Irish!”

Mrs. Wolff graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in December 2006 and started teaching at Notre Dame in January 2007, so she is about to finish her 18th school year at the high school. She began graduate school in August 2008 and graduated in December 2009. She earned her master of education in Advanced Studies in Teaching and Learning through Tennessee Technological University.

“As dean of academics, I will be coaching our teacher staff, keeping our curriculum updated, and day-to-day operations of the school,” Mrs. Wolff said.

She talked about those who have influenced her career.

“I have been blessed with more mentors than I deserve,” she said. “Pat Landry was my main influence as an English teacher. He told me, ‘Teaching is a performance.’ He always instilled in me that content is nothing without passion. Barbara McGirl and Linda Farnsley taught me that content has to be second to the relationship with the students. John Mullin and George Valadie modeled what it means to be a team builder. They showed me that the work ethic of an administrator must be one of never asking your staff for more than you are willing to do. I have never seen two people love a community the way those two did and still do.”

Mrs. Wolff and her husband, Dr. Michael Wolff, have a son, Trip, who attends St. Jude.

Sending her son to a Catholic school was a no-brainer, she said.

“St. Jude was an easy decision for us. I taught many of the preschool teachers’ children, so it was only fitting that since I had their babies, they would have mine. Tears come to my eyes when I think about what St. Jude has given my family. I was like a lot of moms who dreaded that first drop-off, but the teachers at St. Jude made the transition from home to preschool very easy, and honestly, very beautiful. The education he has already gotten there in two years is incredible. The love, kindness, and patience of Darlene Raw, Sue Gaudin, Katherine Kountz, Mandy Mroz, and Laura Widerkehr have been more than a blessing to my family. There really are not words for what these women have done for me. My son is currently in class with two of my former students’ children. I am getting to watch Trip form lifelong friendships, and I have new respect for all the families who have made the commitment to send their children to us all these years.”

Mrs. Wolff plans to stay in her current roles, including as cheerleading coach.

“When I left my job interview [for the dean of academics role], I called my best friend of 30 years,” she said “She asked, ‘If you get the job, does that mean you will come out of the classroom and coaching?’ My response was, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, why would I do that?’ I have no plan to come off the field or out of the classroom. I will continue to teach my ACT preparation course and plan our pep rallies. I think the best thing I could do in this new position is to stay in the trenches with my teaching staff, and also, the best part of my day is when the bell rings and I get to be with the students. They really are the best part of my job.

“As I have made this transition to administration, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, but what keeps me positive no matter what is going on in my office is when the bell rings and class starts. Nothing can change your perspective on a negative situation like spending time with this senior class.”

At the time of her interview with The East Tennessee Catholic, Mrs. Wolff said she had only one class left with the seniors.

“The class of 2024 will always be special to me because after Monday [May 6], I won’t be an official English teacher anymore. My cheerleaders are my family. When I came back to coach cheer, I promised the girls I would stay for five years. I have three more left. I have seven seniors this year, and I am looking forward to all the memories we will make this season.”

Deacon Armor, a 1970 alumnus of Notre Dame, said he has “been blessed to serve” at the high school.

“It has been an experience that I never would have sought but one that has allowed me to see Catholic education in action and the positive effect it has on young people’s lives,” he added. “I am very excited about the new leadership and look forward to working with Dr. Schexnaildre to see Notre Dame High School thrive as a premier high school and the Catholic high school in Chattanooga. Our 148-year history stands as proof of our ability to serve and excel.”

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