When St. Hubert High School announced in early June that Joanne Walls would be returning after a 17-year absence, the reaction on Facebook was swift and positive.
Walls served as principal from 1988-94 and president from 1994-96. Now, she’s back as principal, replacing Regina Craig, who took a job as director of curriculum at a charter school.
“St. Hubert is moving forward, and I wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “I’m excited about being back.”
Walls cited St. Hubert’s academic standards as a lure, but believes there is much more, perhaps because the school was scheduled to close in 2012 before winning new life. She was part of the team that appealed the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s decision.
“It’s the same building, but different students and different energy,” she said. “It’s very vibrant.”
Frank Farrell returns for his second year as president of the school, at Torresdale and Cottman avenues.
The rest of the leadership team consists of Rose Scioli, assistant principal for pupil personnel, and Christina Mulligan, assistant principal for student affairs.
“I love the team,” Farrell said. “I’m really excited.”
Scioli is a Bustleton native who attended Maternity BVM Elementary School and Archbishop Ryan High School. Her teaching career has taken her to Ryan, St. Hubert, Archbishop Carroll, Kennedy-Kenrick, Roman Catholic and Conwell-Egan.
“Then back here,” she said. “I’m a product of the system. I was born, bred and raised in the Catholic school system.”
Scioli’s dad, John, taught for 40 years, mostly at Ryan. She started on July 15 and will handle academic and discipline issues. She believes all students will be able to find a niche in one of the school’s many extracurricular activities, which range from sewing to robotics.
At present, she is in the doctoral program at Temple University, preparing a thesis on single-sex education. She taught English at St. Hubert for four years, leaving a decade ago, and was saddened to hear that the school might close.
“We’re educating women of integrity,” she said. “There’s something special here. St. Hubert’s has always been close to my heart. There’s an energy, enthusiasm and spirit I’ve never seen anywhere else. I’m very excited to be here.”
Mulligan is a Summerdale native who attended St. Martin of Tours and Little Flower. She was a Spanish teacher at Ryan from 1998 to 2006, then worked at Lansdale Catholic for seven years, including stints as assistant principal for academic affairs and chairwoman of the world language department. She said she “wholeheartedly believes in Catholic education.”
In her new role, she will help oversee school activities, student life and sports.
“I’m excited for the opportunity. It’s a new position, and I always wanted to work at an all-girls school,” said Muilligan, who graduated from an all-girls high school along with Chestnut Hill College when it was a women’s college. “There’s a spirit that nothing compares to it. I wanted to be part of that in my teaching and administrative career.
St. Hubert will open for its 185 freshmen on Sept. 4 for a “Bambies on the Block” welcoming party and a general day of getting acclimated to the building. The ninth-grade class will be the biggest of the school’s four grades.
“We’ll greet the freshmen coming in up the steps and shake their hands,” said Farrell, adding that the tradition also includes shaking the hands of graduating seniors as they walk down the steps for the final time on the last day of school.
Sophomores, juniors and seniors report on Sept. 5. Everybody will be together for the first time on Sept. 6. Total enrollment is projected to be 680-700.
Farrell knew that Craig was leaving in early March, and he and the archdiocese went through the formal interview process. Walls’ resume shot to the top of the list.
“We were sure we had the right candidate,” said Farrell, who calls Walls “one of the most organized people I know.”
Walls attended St. George Elementary School in Port Richmond, then the former all-girls St. Francis Academy in Pittsburgh. She spent 15 years teaching at Little Flower, including five as dean of students. She was also activities director at Ryan, including the challenging time when the archdiocese announced in January 1988 that the boys and girls schools would merge.
Next, she spent eight years at St. Hubert, including two years as the school’s first president, before moving on to Cardinal Dougherty.
“I wanted to be a principal again,” she said.
Walls remained as principal at Dougherty until 1999, then became principal at Ocean City High School at the Jersey shore.
“I commuted,” she said.
Walls enjoyed her time at Ocean City, but also spent weekends helping with the St. Hubert appeal and joined the school’s board as chairwoman of the education committee.
“My heart really tugged last year,” she said.
St. Hubert won her heart because of its focus on academics, athletics, distance learning, music, art, extracurricular activities such as the yearbook and school newspaper and dual-credit agreements with Holy Family, Immaculata and Neumann universities.
In addition, there is little staff turnover. Most members of the faculty have at least one master’s degree. She will be relying on her staff, and believes that a strong and happy staff works well together.
At the recent Bambies at the Beach reunion in North Wildwood, N.J., she met many alumnae and friends of the school who offered support.
As an added bonus, the Riverton, N.J. resident will have a much shorter commute.
“It’s four miles from my home to St. Hubert’s,” she said. “If I had a jet ski, I could go right across to Cottman Avenue.”
Walls has a book on her desk titled, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be. She sees that as a good theme for the whole school community.
“It’s going to be a good year,” she said. ••