New NDHS head of school plans to ‘listen and learn’

Dr. Eric Schexnaildre has ‘endless positive memories’ of his alma mater as he assumes his leadership role July 1

By Dan McWilliams

Dr. Eric Schexnaildre has good memories of his Catholic education as he becomes the new head of school Monday, July 1, at his alma mater of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

Dr. Schexnaildre (“shex-nye-der”) was named head of school and Melissa Wolff dean of academics, also effective July 1, in a pair of appointments announced April 18 by the Diocese of Knoxville Office of Catholic Schools. See the May 5, 2024, issue of The East Tennessee Catholic for more details.

A native of Louisiana, Dr. Schexnaildre came to East Tennessee after his seventh-grade year ended. He enrolled in Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Chattanooga for eighth grade.

“During the summer of 1991, my family moved from the New Orleans area to Chattanooga for my father’s job,” he said. “I had previously attended St. Paul’s High School in Covington, La., which was an all-boys school with about 600 students at the time. As I started my eighth-grade year at OLPH, I was surprised to have only about 20 boys in the entire eighth grade. I had never moved before, so it was a struggle on multiple fronts. However, my principal was David Held, an incredible leader, and he became a mentor to me as I worked through my eighth-grade year.”

Mr. Held was very influential on the future school leader.

“My favorite memory was Mr. Held teaching a class he called ‘Self Esteem’ to only the male students,” Dr. Schexnaildre said. “He taught us how to set goals, character education, and multiple life lessons that I still use today. Mr. Held had us create a list of one-year goals, and each student wrote out their address on an envelope. Having totally forgotten about that assignment, I received my envelope and letter a year later at the end of my freshman year. It was a really cool experience that I still remember today. Mr. Held had a tremendous impact on my transition to Chattanooga and helped build my self-confidence as a young man.”

Dr. Schexnaildre is a member of the Notre Dame class of 1996.

“At Notre Dame, my positive memories are endless,” he said. “I was selected to be in our first campus ministry class at NDHS my senior year. We planned and organized school Mass and were able to play a big part in our campus spiritual activities. During my junior and senior years, I was able to experience Search (a Catholic spiritual retreat) as a participant, a leader, and as a co-director. It was an incredible spiritual experience for me, and it changed my relationship with God forever. One of my favorite memories was watching my sister throw out a runner at third base for our last out as we won the state championship in softball in 1995.”

The young Mr. Schexnaildre encountered another future school leader in Dickie Sompayrac, then with Notre Dame but now president of Knoxville Catholic High School.

“As to the relationships that I was fortunate enough to experience, I had many incredible teachers and coaches who I had the utmost respect for and connections with, one being Dickie Sompayrac,” Dr. Schexnaildre said. “I originally was a business major in college and was going to follow my father’s footsteps into the sales world and travel. During the second summer of college, Dickie asked me to help him coach a baseball camp for Notre Dame, and I changed my major that fall to education. I wanted to teach, coach, and have those same types of connections with my own players that I experienced at NDHS. I played football, basketball, and baseball in high school, and I still keep in touch with many of my former teammates today.”

Dr. Schexnaildre is going to lead a student body of 391 at Notre Dame.

“As to future plans, I will continue to listen and learn as much as I possibly can until I assume my new position,” he said. “Notre Dame currently has excellent teachers, and we offer multiple honors, AP, and dual-enrollment options for our students. Our academics are excellent, and we will always strive to keep class sizes small. This fosters strong relationships between students and teachers in a family-like environment.”

Reaching out to alumni is also on the agenda, he said.

“As a part of our strategic plan, the first aspect is engaging our alumni base and getting the Notre Damers back on campus throughout the school year,” Dr. Schexnaildre said. “Our alumni relations and fundraising will be a focal point of my first year and making sure we have the right people in the right places. We are currently finishing up a capital campaign to update the Phifer Gym and HVAC system and replace the gym floor.”

Improvements to athletic facilities are on the docket as well.

“There are multiple projects that we will look at completing within the first five years, including expanding one of our current practice fields, building an indoor hitting facility for our softball and baseball programs, and the bigger project of a turf football field, along with installation of a track,” Dr. Schexnaildre said. “We have acquired some additional property around campus, and a longer-term goal is to build a softball facility on campus as well.”

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

Dr. Schexnaildre is eager to begin his new role.

“There’s no question that the challenges are many, and it will not be easy,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being there full-time and to start laying out our vision for the future.”

Comments 1

  1. Dr.ericschexnail@dre;
    Dear Dr. Eric:
    As previously noted, please talk with Father David Carter, Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, in Chattanooga, as well as your own Mr. Hicks Armour re character references you need.

    Jim Stewart

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