New Walsh/STCS President Reflects on New Environment, Challenges
OLEAN, NY – In a small, private school classroom, Dr. Colleen Taggerty plays with a circle of little ones. Their teacher is on a quick break, and the accomplished school administrator loves the one-on-one time. Kids have changed through the years – but not that much, she assures. Learning is a journey, and devotion to dinosaurs, doll houses, trains and crafts are its early mile markers.
The rest takes hard work … and faith.
“The kids remind me why we’re here. They’re learning through play, at the start of this remarkable journey to building the next generation,” says Dr. Taggerty, breathing in the moment on a busy day as the new President at Archbishop Walsh Academy/Southern Tier Catholic School. She left semi-retirement to assume the post, an appointment few could’ve predicted when she left the public school district across town five years ago.
About a month into her first school year in a vastly different environment, she’s already feeling at home and devoted to the school’s mission.
Dr. Taggerty – remembered fondly as a former longtime Olean City School District Superintendent – has been too busy to tote in her favorite Mickey Mouse office knick-knacks. She’s studying. She’s learning the financials and philosophies of a private Catholic school; exploring the intersections of her expertise and the school’s needs.
“It’s already been a great partnership with (Principal BethAnn Owens and Assistant Principal Nicholas Burt),” Dr. Taggerty says. “I look to them actually, because there are things about Walsh/STCS that I haven’t learned yet.”
Her time off? Well, it wasn’t really time off. Dr. Taggerty filled in as interim superintendent at Fredonia in addition to coaching aspiring school administrators. She volunteered more. She reflected often.
“I hope I’m never done. It’s a passion,” she says, recalling students across more than four decades as a classroom teacher and administrator. “I attended a soccer game the other day. That feeling of showing support for your school – cheering on the team and just being there for the people you care about – is as exciting today as it was when I was a kid.
“I never really stopped working, and I wanted to develop myself in areas outside of education. I don’t think I’ve changed all that much. My core values remain the same: I believe in people, I believe in destiny, and I believe in the culture of our community.”
Dr. Taggerty emerged to help a school in need.
The Walsh/STCS Board of Directors sought an admin experienced in fulfilling educational missions and building sustainability in lean times. They got one of the highest stature – one baptized in the most difficult fiscal constraints ever to face New York State public schools. That she also has unrivaled expertise in curriculum philosophies, special education and early-childhood teaching is a fantastic bonus, says Board President Frank McAndrew.
“Dr. Taggerty will spark a groundswell of community support,” McAndrew says. “Throughout the years, the community has been Walsh’s strength and anchor. She embodies that spirit and will lead us into the future to do what we do best: serve the kids. Underneath the business side of things, the common denominator is the kids.”
The contrast is clear, she says, between the Olean City School District (where she was superintendent from 2008-2017) and Walsh/STCS. At OCSD she managed multimillion-dollar budgets. Total enrollment at Walsh/STCS is typically less than one Olean High graduating class. A pleasant experience thus far, she says, has been nurturing relationships with alumni and donors, upon whom the school relies in part for mission advancement and financial support.
Dr. Taggerty ventures into the classrooms often as possible, especially in the early childhood Montessori program.
“Education is education, but it’s how we go about that education that’s different,” she says. “Here at Walsh, we have the ability to control our own destiny with regard to our belief structures and with who we are within the school.”
As a Catholic, Dr. Taggerty wouldn’t say she tempered her faith while in public education. It was just never a matter of community discussion.
Now faith is relevant. It’s in the job description. Her spiritual and professional sides can co-exist.
“Walking into this school as the President and knowing that chapel is downstairs and available,” Dr. Taggerty says. “I can go in and sit. I can have peace. I can have a conversation with God. It’s very calming and freeing. When I walk into school, I feel like I’m in the presence of God.”
Today, Dr. Taggerty wrestles with big questions about next steps for Walsh/STCS. This month’s financials and documents supporting the new child care program at STCS await review on her desk. Excitement abounds for building new programs, improving existing ones and tackling the school’s 2021-26 Strategic Plan. The backdrop of a potential building sale by the Diocese of Buffalo, however, adds uncertainty.
But she’s been there before, having successfully navigated building sales by OCSD when state budgets siphoned millions of dollars from public schools in the early 2010s. Dr. Taggerty learned much in those trying years, and she’s using that experience to build a viable path forward to continue world-class education.
“We don’t get aid from the Diocese anymore,” she says, “so we really have to make sure that the monies we have coming in are allocated appropriately and that we’re spending every dime wisely, in ways that support the kids, our mission and the programs Walsh can offer.”
Dr. Taggerty considers Walsh/STCS “one of the best kept secrets” as a local, regional and even international educational option.
“But we don’t want to be a secret,” she says. “People know what Walsh is and what it stands for on the surface, but without diving deeper into who we are and interacting with us, you don’t truly know how all these things come together to produce such great results right in our own backyards.”