A Bennington native and former first-grade teacher at the School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales, Tiffany McKenna, has been selected to succeed long-time Principal David Estes as head of the Bennington Catholic school.

“My focus as principal of the School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales is to keep it the best school in our area,” McKenna said. “I expect the school to continue making sure the learners are challenged academically and spiritually, centering their daily routine around Gospel values and being well rounded, productive citizens in our community.”

As principal, besides continuing the “great successes” of the School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales, she hopes to brainstorm new ways to engage with the community as outreach and for fundraising opportunities. She would like to expand the extracurricular activities that are offered, including sports and specific enrichment opportunities. “Albeit, most of this will need to be creatively thought out as we embark on year two of the coronavirus,” she said. “I believe it will be a while yet until anything goes back to what resembles normal.’”

She also plans to ensure that every student is given the opportunity to develop and grow a relationship with God.

McKenna believes it is the responsibility of a Catholic school to teach students how to love one another in a community by setting a positive example through modeling Gospel values. “Our role as educators in a Catholic school is to radiate our Catholic faith through our instruction and interactions with the entire school community — students, families and staff,” she said. “I believe it is in everyday interactions that we demonstrate our faith: a smile, a helpful hand or a kind word to someone who is struggling. Faith is not only demonstrated through how we deal with those we like, but also with those we do not like. We model our faith by being compassionate, encouraging and kind as God has always shown us.”

She is young and energetic and will “work tirelessly to make sure this school continues to be a bright spot in [the] community,” she said.

McKenna said it is imperative to make enrollment a top priority. “Personally, I believe that getting families involved and making them feel welcome is the most important way to keep families interested in our school. Our current families are our greatest supporters and assets,” she said.

Being visible in the community, not only by continuing the school’s many community fundraising events, but also participating in service projects for the church and other local community resources “will show the impact of our school to even more of the local population,” she continued. “I also feel that keeping the enrollment numbers high at the preschool level, and engaging with those families during that time, will keep them coming back for the remainder of their elementary school experience.”

McKenna will take over from Estes, who will retire. “Mr. Estes is irreplaceable. He is well loved and respected and has made the School of Sacred Heart St Francis de Sales the wonderful place that it is today,” she said. “I’d like to continue the leadership that he had. He trusts his teachers and develops great professional relationships where they, too, trust him. He not only developed relationships with his staff, but with each student and their families. These relationships are crucial.”

A wife and mother of three small children, McKenna attended the University of Vermont and earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and minored in special education with an interdisciplinary major concentration in psychology and nutrition. She continued her education at the University of Connecticut, receiving a master’s degree in educational psychology, concentrating on gifted education and talent development while working with researchers in the field at the National Research Center for the Gifted and Talented that is housed at UConn.

She began her career teaching first grade at the School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales. She has been teaching fifth grade for the past nine years at a local public elementary school and has also been a building representative and a negotiator for the Southwestern Vermont Education Association. This year she took on the role of a site coordinator for the childcare hub that was established for essential workers’ children in the school building she works in.

A resident of North Bennington, McKenna has been a coach for a number of athletic teams at Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington; she enjoys playing sports, specifically softball, and coaching.

Her contract at the Catholic elementary school is effective July 1, but she will do some transitional work with Estes and the school community before.

“I will continue to use God as my light and keep the best interests of the students, staff and community at the center of any decisions that are made,” she said.