Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Academy (OLFCA) has announced that beloved principal Stanley Steele will not be resuming his leadership position next year.

Steele has been at the school’s helm for the past five years, navigating through major changes in the school’s management and, of course, through the COVID-19 pandemic.

GOOD Morning Wilton reached out to Steele as well as members of the school’s board of directors to understand what the change means for OLFCA.

They were quick to tell GMW the announcement does not mean Steele is retiring from work, but that he is “stepping back” from his role as principal, beginning in the 2021-2022 school year. He plans to continue working at the school on a part-time basis.

In the near term, Steele will be working four days a week this summer at the OLFCA summer program, but the details of his role for the next school year are still to be announced.

“I want to spend more time with my family in Tarrytown,” Steele explained, noting that the youngest of his six children just graduated from college in May.

In a Facebook post, OLFCA shared a
video of Steele’s daily greeting ritual.

While taking some reprieve from the demands of the principal’s office, Steele emphasized he remains very committed to the mission of Catholic education and especially small Catholic schools like OLFCA.

In a statement to GMW, Kevin Vallerie, chair of OLFCA’s board of directors, said, “Having Mr. Steele as our principal has been a truly amazing experience and a blessing for all of our students, faculty and families. I’m happy that Mr. Steele will continue to be a part of our program. His knowledge and experience will help us with the improvements we have planned for the school and the curriculum.”

Some Turbulent Times

Steele always believed OLFCA was well-positioned to meet the changing needs of students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with its small classroom sizes and individualized learning platform. Notably, under Steele’s leadership, OLFCA was able to offer five-day-a-week, in-person education for all of the school’s pre-K and K-8 students from the very start of the 2020-2021 school year. He said it was his “proudest accomplishment” at the school.

As Vallerie said, “His expertise in navigating the unwritten protocols of conducting a five-day school week in the midst of a global pandemic was extraordinary.”

While operationally successful during the pandemic, the school did experience short-term financial struggles in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic landed a two-punch blow, first in terms of canceling the school’s primary fundraising events and then interrupting the school’s usual enrollment drive activities.

Steele oversaw both a successful fundraising campaign and a significant increase in enrollment numbers that surpassed expectations and solidified the school’s viability.

Before the pandemic, Steele also oversaw the school’s evolution to its current academy model. The move established more independence from the diocese of Bridgeport, both in terms of management and financial support.

It was during the move to the academy model that the school fully embraced its “Personalized Approach to Learning” platform, including multi-age classrooms, which it first began developing in 2018. OLFCA was one of six schools selected by the diocese to pioneer the new approach.

Steele’s Legacy

After an early stint as a sixth-grade teacher in a Catholic school, Steele spent the majority of his career in New York public schools, holding positions as a school social worker and assistant principal before spending 10 years as a principal at Pocantico Hills School in Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Steele is clear about what stands out most to him when he thinks about his term as OLFCA’s principal.

“As I reflect on my tenure, I will always cherish becoming part of and leading the ‘Fatima family,’ [working] with the Fatima parents, teachers, and students … I believe in the importance of developing character and our school’s model of ‘service above self.’ I have always believed we have one chance to give our children a great childhood.”

When it comes to service above self, “[Steele] is the embodiment of the school’s motto,” says Susan Miller, chair of the school board’s marketing committee.

“OLFCA is so fortunate to have had Mr. Steele as our principal over the last five years. He is a true leader. He not only has implemented an outstanding academic curriculum but has led by example, always demonstrating his fine character and commitment to the school to all of his students, faculty, and parents,” Miller added.

GMW also received a statement from Fr. Reggie Norman, pastor of the OLF parish, who observed that Steele’s legacy is immense.

“Transitions are always difficult. They are more difficult when the person has become an integral part of your day-to-day life. We must stick to our mission out of respect for all the hard work Mr. Steele has done and for our children. His impact and presence will continue for years to come and we are ever grateful.”

Official Notice to the OLFCA Community

In his June 17 newsletter to parents, Steele wrote, “During the five years I’ve had the privilege of being the principal at Our Lady of Fatima, I’ve written 124 newsletters. This is the last one.”

An announcement was simultaneously posted on the OLFCA website which said, “With love, respect, grit, grace, and above all, faith, Mr. Steele’s leadership has kept OLFCA on course over these past five years.”

Steele’s Parting Words As Principal

In that June 17 newsletter, Steele repeated the message he had shared with the school’s eighth-grade students at their recent graduation ceremony.

After quoting poet Muriel Rukeyzer, who once said, “The world is made up of stories, not atoms,” Steele added, “Years from now, people will be reading about the pandemic and you will have your stories to tell of this year. Your stories will begin simply with you, despite the pandemic all around you, leaving home and bravely coming to school each day, having faith and trust that you would be safe. This past year is something that you and your family can rightfully be proud of for the rest of your life. Well done, students, well done.”

He concluded by humbly saying, “Thank you for letting me be a small part of this story.”