Never Stop Learning – Catholic school principals exemplify continuing education with doctoral degrees
By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
In this season of graduations, the focus is primarily on the youth of our Catholic community, moving from one stage of education to the next, and celebrating the milestones of their academic accomplishments. But there are other graduates to recognize – those who have been in the business of guiding those youth while simultaneously seeking greater knowledge themselves.
Modeling the value of lifelong learning, two Catholic school principals in the Diocese of Trenton recently earned their doctoral degrees: Dr. Ryan Killeen, principal of St. Paul School, Princeton, and Dr. Carla Chiarelli, principal of Our Lady of Good Counsel School, Moorestown.
Earning a doctorate in education from Seton Hall University, South Orange, Dr. Killeen is himself a product of Catholic schools. Growing up in Wall Township, he attended both St. Rose Grammar School and St. Rose High School in Belmar. He and his family, who reside in Ewing, are members of St. Paul Parish, and his two children also attend St. Paul School.
“I cherish my own Catholic education and the foundation it has provided for my personal and professional life,” he attested.
Dr. Killeen’s college experience began with a bachelor’s degree in education from The College of New Jersey, Ewing, in 1995, which included two semesters studying abroad in Ireland at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and University College, Dublin. He then returned to St. Rose High School, where he was employed as an arts and humanities teacher, and later assistant principal from 1995 to 2005. During that time he earned a master’s degree in education administration and supervision in 2001 from Seton Hall University through the Catholic School Leadership Program.
“The Catholic School Leadership Program aligns with all of the state certification requirements, while also including a uniquely Catholic school perspective, grounded in theology,” Dr. Killeen explained.
After he and his family moved to Mercer County, Dr. Killeen became the lead administrator of the Mercer County Performing Arts High School for two years. In 2007, he was appointed principal of St. Paul School.
“Because of various obligations, [earning my doctorate] was a slow process,” Dr. Killeen attested. “It’s been about 10 years in the process. I’ve always enjoyed being a student, and have had this goal since I was an undergrad. Education is my passion, and I really wanted to delve into the study of all its complexity.”
The importance of the Catholicity of his studies cannot be overstated; Dr. Killeen’s doctoral dissertation title was “Sustainability of the Catholic Parish Elementary School in the 21st Century, and the Driving Forces of Leadership.”
“The knowledge I gathered really energizes me to live my Catholic faith – both personally and professionally – and reminds me how very blessed I am to serve in Catholic ministry,” he said.
“Today more than ever, Catholic school leaders need to not only keep pace with public and private options, but also to exceed those expectations,” he explained. “Education leadership is such a dynamic field, and I personally am able to draw from the richness of my doctoral studies every day, through strategic decision-making and allowing grounded research to inform the academic initiatives we undertake.”
Leading by Example
Dr. Chiarelli originally wanted to teach at the college level. But as the years went by, she decided she wanted to finish something that only a small percentage of the population had done. She earned her doctorate in education, curriculm and instruction in June from the online accredited program of Northcentral University.
“Focusing on curriculum and instruction was an area I found rewarding,” she explained. “It supports creative ways to present the same old objectives and lessons.”
Dr. Chiarelli now resides in Cherry Hill, and is a member of Holy Cross Parish, Bridgeton. She’s the daughter of Gianfranco and Valentina Chiarelli, and the oldest of four girls. Growing up in Upper Deerfield, she attended the now closed Immaculate Conception Regional School and Our Lady of Mercy Academy, Park Ridge. Continuing the tradition of working in a Catholic education setting, her sister, Kim Chiarelli, is admissions director at Holy Cross Academy, Delran.
Her college background includes Rosemont College, Bryn Mawr, Pa., where she majored in business and Italian, with a minor in studio art; and a master’s degree in education and reading from Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck, where she also received supervisor and principal certification.
“I have a mother and father who are foreign, from a generation that have a genuine desire for their young girls to succeed academically and career wise,” said Dr. Chiarelli.
Her career so far has included time as second grade teacher in Immaculate Conception Regional School, Bridgeton, from 2005 to 2008; K-8 art teacher/reading specialist / supervisor in Universal Institute Charter School, Philadelphia, Pa. from 2008 to 2012; principal in Sacred Heart School, Mount Holly, from 2012 to 2015; and associate principal in Holy Cross Academy, Delran, in 2015-16.
Dr. Chiarelli, who said her dissertation “was built on the Catholic values of social justice, serving others and self-reflection,” was inspired to pursue her doctorate for a personal challenge.
“Not many women I knew had their Ph.D.s – it was something of an elite status and hard work and dedication,” she explained. “I believed that one more female achieving a milestone such as this would help close the gender gap.”
Hoping that her students will be inspired to follow in her footsteps, Dr. Chiarelli believes her success is thanks to good fortune, supportive friends and faculty, her family and pastors.
“We will, as human beings, make mistakes. As leaders, we must continually strive to improve.”