Diocese hires principal to oversee three schools

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown announced Tuesday that Elaine Spencer, current Hollidaysburg Catholic School Principal, has been hired as principal for all three planned regionalized schools next year.

Three other current principals in the diocese have been hired to serve as vice principals at the three campuses planned for next school year.

Sherry Buck, Cathy Damiano and Tabatha Griffin will serve as vice principals. Buck is the current principal at Altoona Central Catholic School; Damiano is principal at St. Rose of Lima School, and Griffin is principal at St. John the Evangelist School in Altoona.

“(Spencer) will be based at the middle school campus, with oversight of all three campuses. The vice principals will each be assigned to a particular campus and be responsible for the day-to-day operations of their respective campus,” a press release stated.

Spencer said she and the other principals will work together.

“We will work together as a team to promote the quality education that already happens here,” Spencer said. “It will be a team effort.”

The only current principal not mentioned in the press release as continuing next year was Joan Keller of St. Patrick School in Newry. Diocese spokesman Tony DeGol said he couldn’t comment on personnel not listed in the release, and attempts to reach Keller Tuesday for comment were unsuccessful.

Spencer was hired as the regional principal by a diocese board that she had served on. She had been the only principal nominated by pastors to the 11-member board in charge of planning the consolidation of the diocese’s five schools.

But she said she did not participate in the process of hiring principals.

“When the information came out that the board was going to interview, I was not involved in any of that process. And I was not involved with creating positions or job descriptions,” she said.

Spencer is the most senior principal of the diocese’s schools, with more than 25 years as a teacher and principal in the diocese, she said.

“I am excited about the changes about to take place. I know the pain that it’s causing, but I also know that it is necessary for the survival of Catholic education in our area,” she said. “I look forward to working with all families to promote a great thing.”

In August, the Altoona quadrant board finalized its plans to consolidate the diocese’s five area schools to three.

Altoona Central Catholic and Hollidaysburg Catholic schools will serve as elementary sites, and St. Rose of Lima School will serve as a middle school site.

St. Patrick School and St. John the Evangelist School in Lakemont are slated to close.

Meanwhile, parents opposed to the entire consolidation plan maintain Bishop Mark L. Bartchak and the board he assembled to decide the future of the schools violated church law in their decision.

About 500 people individually signed mandates joining an effort to appeal the decision at the Vatican, said the group’s procurator, Maureen Smith, a grandparent of children at St. Patrick School.

Backed by a Canon lawyer, the group claims the diocese does not have the required support from the parishes or their pastors to change the schools.

Smith said she, other school representatives and Canon lawyer Philip Gray from the Ohio-based St. Joseph Foundation met with Bartchak on Friday.

Under Canon law, or church law, the bishop must issue a signed decree on

the regionalization plan. Bartchak has not yet published a decree, and without that document, the group has nothing to technically appeal.

“The bishop said he would have a decree before Christmas,” Smith said. “We didn’t want to have to take it to Rome, but if we have to, we will.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.


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