North Catholic names first female principal

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Kellie Abbott, the newly appointed principal/ CEO of Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School, already is getting her hands and shoes dirty as she walks through the school's Cranberry construction site with enthusiasm and a vision for the completed project.

"The opportunity to start a school from scratch happens once in a lifetime, if it happens," Ms. Abbott said, minutes after tugging off her safety helmet and reflective vest.

She is the school's first female principal.

Among the challenges of Ms. Abbott's new administrative post will be implementing the school's revamped curriculum in her position as principal and overseeing long-term goals, such as the finances and endowment, and the mission and vision of the school in her position as the CEO.

Combining both roles have resulted in the new job title at the high school.

The new curriculum will focus on problem solving, Ms. Abbott said. For example, if students are learning about wetlands management, instead of reading from a textbook, they may be asked what they would do if their neighborhood lake were polluted.

"We're moving towards a more project-based curriculum where students do the majority of the mental work," Ms. Abbott explained.

This educational strategy is predicated on the idea that students will be able to expand beyond the confines of textbooks and school walls. Ms. Abbott envisions students will be able to Skype with professors about subjects they are studying or watch live archeological digs. To assist in this vision, each student will receive a laptop for the duration of his or her time in high school. When asked if this method of teaching could hinder standardized testing, Ms. Abbott said that skills like critical thinking and problem solving will be easily transferable to exams like the SATs.

The school also seeks to strengthen its electives. Students will be able to take science, technology, engineering, math and medicine, or STEMM classes. There also will be electives in the arts and humanities.

Ms. Abbott. 40, of New Kensington, spent the past four years in administration for Pittsburgh Public Schools. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she hopes soon to receive her doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh.

Robert Paserba, diocesan secretary for Catholic education and evangelization, said in a news release, "the educational experiences and background that Ms. Abbott brings to the position are exemplary, as well as her personal and professional commitment to serving our students and our families."

This new job, she said, is ideal at this point in her career.

"I'm really honored to be entrusted with this project," Ms. Abbott said. "It's built on the hopes and prayers of many people."

The Catholic nature of the school will be critical to the school's identity. Not only is the architectural focal point of the school a chapel that can be seen through windows from the school's main entrance, but students will be expected to act like Catholics in the way they treat each other, Ms. Abbott said.

Though her background is in Pittsburgh Public Schools, Ms. Abbott does not think the switch from secular school administration to a religious institution will make a difference to her.

"Who I am as a Catholic is who I am as an individual," Ms. Abbott said. "It just gives me more freedom to embrace the whole child. If a student is struggling, we can talk about the whole picture."

Tuition is $9,700 a year, but scholarships are available. School administrators hope that enrollment will increase from the approximately 200 students at the current high school to 1,000 in the new location. "I envision the school being a place where children discover who they want to be. I envision them interacting with the rest of the world and figuring out how they can give back," Ms. Abbott said.

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