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Tosa Catholic School's new head brings in her own strengths

Aug. 7, 2012

From her start as a first-year public school teacher to her role today as the new principal of Wauwatosa Catholic School, Heidi Hernandez has come a long way.

Experience, two masters degrees in education, and an increasing interest in mentoring teachers have brought her to this place.

"I want to see the school continue on its mission, and I want parents to feel proud that this is where they send their students," Hernandez said.

The school has 20 teachers, including such specialists for as gym and art, and 231 students enrolled for next year, up from 205 last year.

Predecessor's key role

Hernandez is the second principal at the new school, founded just a year ago in a merger of St. Bernard's and St. Pius X schools, which were experiencing falling enrollment. Julia D'Amato, formerly principal of Reagan High School in Milwaukee, led Wauwatosa Catholic in its first year.

Before her departure, D'Amato helped the K-8 school achieve the first stage of candidacy for International Baccalaureate certification - a process that will continue.

"Her expertise was in a high school situation," said the Rev. Bob Marsicek, pastor at St. Pius X parish, of D'Amato. St. Pius X sponsors the school with St. Bernard parish. Marsicek said D'Amato had a continuing interest in high school leadership and left by "mutual agreement."

D'Amato has since been named head of the high school program at St. Anthony School, the state's largest K-12 catholic school. Attempts to reach her were not successful.

The right replacement

Chosen from a pool of 21 applicants, Hernandez picks up where D'Amato left off, bringing her own strengths.

"I'm very happy with being able to hire Heidi," Marsicek said, noting that her familiarity with Catholic schools and principals in the area, and the Catholic system, made her stand out. "I think she'll be very effective in that role."

Dean Weyer, the school's director of administrative services, said the search committee sought "a person of faith, someone that believes in the mission of Catholic education, someone that's … qualified for the position, someone with experience in managing and mentoring staff - we have a good number of relatively young teachers - and someone that will mix or mingle, if you will, well, with our parent population, and someone that would be visible to the students, to the staff, in the classroom, and we believe we found that with Mrs. Hernandez."

Hernandez most recently worked for four years for Non-Public Educational Services Inc., a Massachusetts-based company that contracts with private schools. Hernandez was an instructional supervisor in Milwaukee for 27 teachers of disadvantaged students under Title I. This included work in Catholic schools, among others.

Self-improvement orientation

She began her career teaching for four years, and, because she "wanted to be a better teacher myself," then earned a masters in curriculum and instruction from Marian University in Fond du Lac. She moved from teaching to a literacy coaching position - coaching teachers on skills and best practices in language education, aimed at reaching at-risk students.

With an eye toward a management position, she earned a masters in administrative and instructional leadership at Alverno College.

Hernandez said her leadership style is nonconfrontational.

With teachers, "it's an approach you take with them. You're not out there to tell them they're not doing a good job," she said.

Hernandez and her husband, Cesar, live in Milwaukee and have two sons, Emanuel, 5, and Isaiah, 3.

"My son will be going to the school here, and I think that's important," she said.

"I really believe in the school and its future."

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