By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
It was a whirlwind summer for Laurie Senecal, the new principal at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Catholic School.
She spent most of June and July getting herself acquainted with the campus and to prepare for the new school year.
Where there was a need, somehow a solution was not far behind and it had been provided mostly by parents, volunteers or benefactors, some not even associated with the school or parish community.
To Senecal, it meant she had found a parcel of heaven in east Dallas.
“When I came here I thought, ‘What can I immediately do to make this more inviting, more bright with more light, joyful?” she said. “I was just overwhelmed about the amount of time and the talents that have been shared in support of this school and I can tell you I had volunteers in the building this summer.”
She said that the grandmother of a student, for instance, came to the school an entire day to clean out and organize the science lab and returned the next day to clean out and organize the music room and a new learning center.
One day, she mentioned to staff and volunteers working at the school that she believed that the school needed better drive-up appeal.
“I came in the next day, people had put in 80 bags of landscaping mulch with plants at the front door,” she said. “There were parents who painted the entire office. It was like that every day over the summer.”
A former teacher and principal of both the lower school and middle school of Dallas Academy, not far from St. Bernard, Senecal said that it showed the parents’ desires for a great environment for their children.
“They are committed to a Catholic education for their children. They are committed to the school and they are committed to the parish,” she said. “All of the parents are very involved.”
As a child, Senecal attended St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church for a few years before her parents and two siblings became parishioners at St. Patrick Catholic Church, where she and her husband, Mike, and her two adult children are also parishioners. Her two children also graduated from St. Patrick and from Bishop Lynch High School.
Senecal received a teaching degree from Southern Methodist Univeristy and taught at several Dallas public schools, before taking some time off to care for her aging parents.
She later returned to teach at Dallas Academy, which assists students with learning differences.
Late last spring, when she found out that there was an opening for the principal’s job—Michael Davies became the new principal at St. Paul Catholic School in Richardson—she applied, met with numerous people and accepted the job, and was told about the generous community that came with the school.
She said that she quickly found out about the commitment of parents and teachers to the school.
“Well, I had the entire downstairs classrooms painted, all by volunteers, not having to spend anything from the budget,” she said. “We’d get calls that parents were going to paint this room, or that people were donating a paint crew to paint the rooms and hallways.”
She said that the middle school’s STEM lab with six drones, two 3D printers, among other things, was funded by parents, either through contributions from last year’s school gala and through matching funds.
A Makerspace Lab for those from PK3 to third grade was funded through donations from benefactors not associated with the school. The lab will allow for hands-on activities for children.
“The students can create things. There will be round collaborative tables and flexible seating where the kids will have an opportunity to try things and makes mistakes and work through it together,” she said.
She said the addition of two religious sisters in the classroom, along with the support of Father Gaston Giacinti, IVE, will help grow and sustain enrollment.
“The school is known for being loving, caring and nurturing,” she said, “It has always had strong academics, but not the same funding or resources that other schools have had with the newest and greatest things. We hope to change that so that our kids can be prepared for private schools or any high school they want to attend.”
Find more stories on new principals and the start of the new school year in the Aug. 23 print edition of The Texas Catholic.