The long-time principal at Mount St. Mary Academy in Kenmore has announced her retirement, saying she's wants to spend more time with her family. Dawn Riggie will be leaving after serving 25-years at the all-girls, Catholic high school. WBFO’s senior reporter met with Riggie to talk about her work and the strength of the school.
“It’s a really hard thing to leave something you love so much, “Principal Dawn Riggie said.
Riggie has spent almost half her life at the school. First attending the former Mount St. Mary Academy Elementary School, graduating from the high school in 1971.
As an educator. Riggie was appointed dean of students at the high school and in 2001 was named principal.
“That the legacy – if it’s from me, it’s from a lot of people – we had a wonderful team who worked very hard to grow Mount St. Mary Academy from the roots of what the Sisters gave us. To have a school that is a safe, whole, healthy place for you women to grow up. We are dedicated to those girls to be able to be fully-educated, to be have their hearts, minds, souls and bodies that we are caring for and helping to nurture. To be young women in the future, who will care about the world,” Riggie reflected.
When nearby Holy Angles Academy in Buffalo closed in 2013, 96-of the more than 200 students headed to Mount St. Mary's. It was a chance for Riggie to strengthen the school's enrollment and now they have more than 300-students.
“We draw from just literally everywhere – from the south towns, all the way up to the north towns, into Clarence, just the whole geographic area we encompassed these days,” explained Riggie.
Riggie said they are managing to keep enrollment strong by always searching for new curriculum, new programs and new ideas.
“We have a marching band – it’s the only all-girls marching band in the state,” Riggie noted.
Among accomplishments during Riggie’s leadership – 22 athletic teams, fine arts and music programs.
“For parents who are worried about college – that’s a very real cost worry. One of the things I would tell them – when you invest in a private education – you’re investing also in the college education. Our girls earn a substantial amount of college dollars. I think our class now is up to close to $6 million or $7 million in scholarships and that’s significantly more than a public school can do,” Riggie noted.
The Board of Trustees will conduct a national search, hoping to select a new leader by the start of classes in the fall, but Riggie has pledged to stay until a new principal is in place.
I think that the next principal really needs to understand the mission and the vision of this school and if you hold to that we will keep going in the same direction,”
“What has been the biggest challenge for you in say the last decade?” asked Buckley.
“The biggest challenge – it is often finding the dollars to afford a private education. We would be crammed to the ‘gun walls’ if we had more scholarship and financial aid dollars – that’s one challenged. I think the challenge of just the environment and the world we live in and social media have had such an impact on education and schools. You use to have a little bit more privacy for girls, but now anything and everything is posted on social media and they’re just sometimes young enough not to understand the ramifications of that,” Riggie responded.
WBFO also asked how the school handles concerns of the mental health of its students.
“I think being in a small, private school it’s more quickly noticed and seen, which is key, because you want to intervene in those issues early on, you don’t want something to get entrenched and mental health issues have been growing in this country, especially in the teenage population and having somebody who knows the girls, sees them, can pick up when there’s something just not right in their behavior, we can communicate with parents, we can communicate with mental health officials, if we need them, we can kind of nip it in the bud and if a problem is found – we can work with whoever is handling in the outside world, so it is a seamless attack of the issue,” Riggie replied.