Mentor Spotlight: Getting to Know Lynn Cuffari
Mentor principals have played a critical role in the success of the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) since the program’s inception in 2012. The experience, accountability, and personal attention that these leaders provide has been a defining characteristic of the LEI, helping Catholic school principals—and their teams— institute lasting changes.
After schools attend the LEI summer conference, mentor principals maintain regular contact with the 4-6 school leaders in their group through monthly video conference calls. These conversations, which focus on various themes related to Latino outreach, recruitment, and enrollment, are an opportunity for school leaders to learn from one another and receive real-time consultation and feedback from their mentor on some of the things that they’re doing in their school.
The commitment of our LEI mentors, most of whom are still active Catholic school principals themselves, is truly the engine that drives the LEI. These Mentor Spotlight pieces are intended to be a fun way to help you get to know these incredible school leaders—both professionally and personally—who dedicate so much of their lives to this mission.
This month, we highlight Lynn Cuffari. Although one of the newest members of the LEI team, Lynn is far from new to Catholic school leadership and serving diverse communities. Lynn joined the LEI team of mentors in 2019, just after stepping down from her position as Principal of Saint Augustine Catholic High School in Tucson, Arizona, to make a cross-country move with her husband. She has been a welcome addition to the team, bringing a wealth of experience in Catholic secondary school leadership at a time when the number of high schools attending the LEI continues to grow each year. Now living in Washington, D.C., Lynn remains active in Catholic education, having joined the faculty of a brand new virtual school in the Diocese of Arlington last August.
Before becoming a school leader, what was the most unusual or interesting job you've ever had?
I was a newspaper reporter for 10 years before earning my master’s in education. I covered events ranging from school boards and city council meetings to court cases, new recipes, and power outages. Every day was different!
The pandemic has presented us all with unforeseen challenges and forced us to make many changes to our daily lives. Through all of these difficulties, though, can you think of any positive things or hidden blessings that have come out of this time?
COVID-19 has forced me, maybe all of us, to never take anything for granted. I ache for the time when I can hug friends, shake hands with strangers, share the sign of peace at Mass, and even stab my fork into the food on my sister’s plate at dinner! I can count numerous negatives about the impact of COVID-19, yet there have been positives. I have spent more time with my husband and immediate family in the past year than I have in the past 10 years. I have communicated and re-established relationships more than ever with friends and family via technology.
The pandemic has also forced educators to take a look at how we teach from a new perspective. Some who were reticent to change have been forced to use technology, differentiate instruction, and accommodate our students in ways we never thought possible. I truly believe that some of these new strategies will carry over into our post-pandemic classrooms.
Where is the best place you have traveled to and why was it special?
Between my junior and senior years in high school, I was an exchange student in Indonesia. I lived with a Muslim family who shared their traditions with me, and who also ensured that someone brought me to Mass on Sundays. I realized that no matter what our cultures and beliefs, if we have open minds and hearts, we can live as a family. I also learned how to eat sticky rice with my hands, took pictures of monkeys, and traveled through jungles on the island of Medan.
When we approached you to become an LEI mentor, what motivated you to accept this role?
I love the diversity of culture in the schools where I have worked and in the places I have lived. The population of students at St. Augustine Catholic High School is predominantly Hispanic. I learned long ago that language is easy to learn, but to embrace another person’s culture is vital - especially in a school community. I continue to strive to meet the needs of not only my students, but also their families – academically, spiritually, financially. LEI helps us dive into best practices and strategies that help all of our families feel welcome and successful in our Catholic schools.
Can you tell us something that might surprise us about you?
During high school and college, I studied French, Italian, and Spanish. But in college, I also accidentally minored in Russian because, with no intent whatsoever, I earned enough credits by enrolling in more and more classes. I never knew there were so many ways to conjugate a verb!
You "retired" as a high school administrator, but you are still working. Tell us about your current endeavors in education.
I “retired” as the Principal at Saint Augustine Catholic High School in June 2019 following my husband’s presidential appointment to a position in Washington, D.C. After nearly 37 years of marriage—many of those punctuated by lengthy separations because of his work in the Air Force and government positions—we had reached the point in our lives when we didn’t want to live so far apart again. We decided to keep our home in Arizona, allowing us to go back and forth to see family while also experiencing the adventure of living in the neighborhood of our nation’s capital. Needless to say, if one had to create a recipe for adventure, the added ingredients of an unforeseen pandemic and unpredictable politics have certainly made for an interesting 18 months so far.
I had finally wrapped my head around the freedom of retirement when last August, I opened an email from the Diocese of Arlington announcing the beginning of Saint Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School. I attribute the Holy Spirit (have you ever literally felt one of those nudges?) for compelling me to email the St. Isidore principal and query about whether they needed a middle school language arts teacher. After all, I have always joked with friends that “When I grow up, I want to be an English teacher again.” Twenty minutes later, the principal called. By the end of the day, I had a new job!
Since early September, I Zoom in each morning to meet my sixth, seventh, and eighth-graders. I cherish that I once again have the opportunity to nurture the very special relationship between a teacher and her students. I also believe that being a principal has helped me to become a better teacher. I understand the challenges of unifying a faculty, creating policies that work even in a virtual environment, and building relationships with an entire connected (yet disconnected) community. Our school now serves more than 120 students and has the potential to expand beyond the diocese to offer a Catholic education to families who choose to continue in an online, synchronous learning environment.
In addition to teaching, I am an executive coach with the Remick Leadership Program. I am also blessed to continue my relationship with LEI. I do not know what next year will bring, but I do know that by stepping “back” into a teaching position after years in both elementary and secondary administration, the Holy Spirit has propelled me “forward” toward wherever my endeavors take me next!
If you could meet anyone in the world (living or deceased) who would it be and why?
I would love to meet some of my favorite authors, especially Madeleine L’Engle, Flannery O’Connor, and Anne Tyler. I appreciate that these women create strong yet unassuming female characters who by their very being model life lessons and faith with others through very creatively written stories. I would also like to meet Saint Monica – the ultimate Mom!
If you could witness any historical event, what would you want to see and why?
I would like to have experienced any of the events related to Jesus as he was beginning his teachings and performing miracles. I always wonder how I would have reacted.
Can you tell us about your family?
I am the oldest of four daughters raised in a close Catholic, Italian-American family. I met my husband in Italian class during my last year of college and to this day I tell him that I married him so I could go to Italy! His career has certainly allowed us to travel, and for about three years, we actually did live in Naples, Italy. We are blessed with our son Joseph, our beautiful daughter-in-law, Grace, and very dear grandson, Vinny, who made his grand entrance into our family 18 months ago.
Do you have an interesting story about your childhood that you can share with us?
My family and I lived in Maryland for a number of my childhood years. Since there were six of us, the most affordable way to vacation was in our L’il Hobo trailer. We managed to travel most of the Eastern Seaboard from Canada to the Keys. For a while, my youngest sister was convinced the only way Santa could bring presents was through the skylight dome of our camper! While my peers were reading “Young Miss” magazine, my favorite magazine was “Trailer Life.”
Who is someone who has been a hero to you and why?
My parents are my heroes. Their love for God and for one another and family exemplifies what each of us is called to do in this life. My mother recently told us that our father kept a list of long-term goals folded in his wallet. Number one on the list was to ensure that my sisters and I would go to college. Our parents instilled in us the value of education. They said it didn’t matter what we picked as a career, but that if we had a degree, we would have the keys to open any door we chose to enter.
More about Lynn Cuffari...
Lynn Cuffari earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Arizona in 1982. In 1983, she married Joseph Cuffari, an Air Force officer. While stationed in Naples, Italy, Lynn earned her master’s degree in education from Framingham State University of Massachusetts, which had a program for military families stationed overseas. Lynn went on to work in the Diocese of Tucson for more than 20 years. In 2001, she joined the faculty at Immaculate Heart as a middle school English and literature teacher. In 2006, she became the principal at IHS, leading that school from 2006 to 2011. In 2011, Lynn became Principal of St. Augustine Catholic High School in Tucson, where she served until 2019. That same year, due to her success as a school leader and experience in serving diverse students and families along the southwest border, she was invited to join the LEI team of mentors, working with Catholic schools around the country who are currently enrolled in the program. Most recently, after moving to Washington, D.C. with her husband, Lynn stepped out of retirement to join the faculty of an innovative new Catholic virtual school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School in the Diocese of Arlington.
If you're interested in learning how to recruit, enroll, and better serve Latino children in your school, as well as work with an incredible mentor like Lynn Cuffari, consider joining the LEI!