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“Press Forward and Fear Nothing”: The Impact of a Remick Summer on St. Mark School

Taylor Kelly on Thursday, 17 January 2019.

Dom Fanelli: Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program

Dominic Fanelli is halfway through his second year as principal at St. Mark the Evangelist School in Harlem–one of six schools in the Partnership Schools network. It's a time he says is characterized by St. Katherine Drexel’s guidance to “press forward and fear nothing.”

After experiencing the challenges of being a first-year principal, Fanelli, a member of the 18th cohort of ACE Teaching Fellows and now a member of the 17th cohort of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, came to Notre Dame last summer for his first semester of Remick coursework ready to improve himself and his practices.

"[The Remick faculty] gave me a real game plan–coming in and connecting me with a lot of people who have been in similar situations."

The Remick summer was great in a lot of ways,” Fanelli said. “One way was just mentally, emotionally, and physically putting myself back together after a really difficult year. [The Remick faculty] gave me a real game plan–coming in and connecting me with a lot of people who have been in similar situations, talking through difficult conversations, putting culture first–but not only putting it first, but knowing how to put it first.”

As the summer went on, Fanelli recognized that school culture derives from a school’s root beliefs. The issue was that St. Mark lacked root beliefs. With the help of Christian Dallavis, the senior director of ACE’s leadership programs, Fanelli created a mental model of what those root beliefs could look like for the St. Mark community. In forming his own root beliefs, Fanelli dug into the rich history of St. Mark and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who are deeply committed to the Eucharist and its ability to unify. In this work, Fanelli discovered their foundress, St. Katharine Drexel, and found inspiration in her words.

After calling his assistant principal each day of the summer and with his own root beliefs in mind, Fanelli opened the 2018-19 school year with a professional development session for his faculty focused on creating the school’s root beliefs. Fanelli encouraged his staff during this conversation by saying, “We all have beliefs, and I bet you 80 percent of the things we believe are in common. But we’ve got to find out what those 80 percent are. Then we’ve got to abide by those, and they’ve got to direct everything we do. We have to be authentic to who we are and name who we are.”

Together, the St. Mark faculty wrote five root beliefs:

  1. We are better together as a St. Mark family.
  2. All children can learn.
  3. God is in all things.
  4. With God, anything is possible.
  5. We are meant to constantly grow.

As they went around the room and came to agreement about their faith in these beliefs, Fanelli was struck by how similar these five root beliefs were to the ones he had formed with the help of Dallavis over the summer. In this moment, he could already sense the difference between this school year and his first as principal. The previous year, he would try to gather as many ideas as possible from his team to make a decision. However, this year Fanelli has aimed for his staff to take truly ownership of their ideas in the form of these root beliefs. By formulating and taking ownership of their root beliefs, Fanelli says that his team is “on fire and fired up to be here.”

Fanelli is not the only one who can sense the difference between this school year and last school year; he shared a text he received from one of his teachers after the first day of professional development. It read, “Dom, I’ve got some feedback for you. I noticed that you had so much more confidence this year. There was a difference in your approach, and I thought you should know that. You’re always giving us feedback and telling us the things we’re doing well, so I just wanted to tell you that.” It made Fanelli’s day.

"Being around these really great people lifted me up out of myself and helped me be a better version of myself."

Fanelli’s strengthened leadership and increased confidence came from his time on campus last summer. “The community itself reaffirmed my belief that we are better together,” Fanelli said. “I came out of ACE [Teaching Fellows] feeling like a better version of myself, and I was certain Remick would do that. Being around these really great people lifted me up out of myself and helped me be a better version of myself.”

Fanelli said that the ability to do his work for St. Mark while at Notre Dame was a much better alternative than working in his office alone. While at Notre Dame, he was able to immediately collaborate with others, whether that was in the dining hall or in the dorm. Fanelli said he has been supported by his fellow cohort members, and he gives credit for his growth this year to many members of the Remick faculty: one-on-one discussions with Dallavis; practicing difficult conversations with Kole Knueppel and Aaron Brenner; the “patient urgency” of April Garcia; and continued support during the year from Fr. Nate Wills, C.S.C. and Meghan Weyland.

Yet, it was more than just the ability to collaborate with the Remick community that made his summer at Notre Dame growth-filled. This summer was also a homecoming to a place that is special to both Fanelli and his family. “I was able to be with some priests who I hadn’t seen in a while and just kind of slowly put myself back together, and go to the Grotto.” Fanelli said. “It’s funny–things are a lot easier when you go to daily Mass. You get filled up with a lot of Goodness, capital G.

Refreshed by his time on campus, Fanelli brought his love of community back to his school family as well. After a summer researching the history of St. Mark, on the first day of school, Fanelli welcomed new students and their families and said, “You’re a part of the St. Mark family. This is my favorite day because it’s the first day that this group of people has ever been in this gym, and this gym’s been here for 107 years.” With a great start to the year, it’s no doubt that Fanelli plans to keep himself rooted in the ways Remick impacted him this summer. And that 107 year-old gym continues to be a special place each day as Fanelli and his students recite the St. Katharine Drexel: “Press forward and fear nothing.”

Interested in learning more about the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program? Visit ace.nd.edu/leadership and request more information.

Visit the Partnership Schools at www.partnershipnyc.org. 

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