© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New superintendent appointed to lead Catholic schools in western Massachusetts

As children from St. Michael's Academy look on, Bishop William Byrne introduced on Dec. 7, 2022 Maria Wagner as the new superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Springfield.
Paul Tuthill
As children from St. Michael's Academy look on, Bishop William Byrne introduced on Dec. 7, 2022 Maria Wagner as the new superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Springfield.

Maria Wagner is introduced as the next school superintendent for the Diocese of Springfield

The next superintendent of Catholic schools in western Massachusetts was introduced this morning in Springfield.

Standing with an assembly of children at St. Michael’s Academy, Springfield Bishop William Byrne announced the appointment of Maria Wagner as the new superintendent of the diocesan school system.

“She is the mother of three, brings and impressive resume with a range of professional experience,” Byrne said.

For the past nine years Wagner has been principal of St. Bernadette Catholic School in Hollywood, Fla. Her resume includes being a curriculum specialist, standardized test coordinator, and math subject leader for the Archdiocese of Miami. She has taught at schools in South Florida, Northern Virginia, and Saudi Arabia. Before her career in education, she worked as an engineer for Pratt & Whitney and TRW.

“I believe all the diocesan schools’ educators and administrators will find in Mrs. Wagner a wonderful collaborator, a faithful friend and a wise expert to lead our Catholic schools here,” Byrne said.

Wagner’s parents are Cuban. She spent part of her childhood in Puerto Rico. She is fluent in Spanish, which Byrne said was a major factor in her appointment given the demographics of the school-aged population of greater Springfield.

“Sixty-eight percent of the children in the public school system here in the city of Springfield are from Spanish-speaking households,” he said. “So to be able to bridge gaps with the parents and grandparents expands our capacity to serve.”

Her appointment as superintendent is effect April 17th, 2023 – the day after Easter. The first thing on her agenda, she said, will be a listening tour.

As the daughter of immigrants and someone who did not learn English until the 3rd grade, Wagner said she can relate to many of the Catholic families.

“I look forward to meeting a lot of the families that attend our parishes but perhaps have not found a way for their children to attend Catholic schools, so I am hoping to help them with that,” Wagner said.

Before being introduced at the press conference, Wagner briefly socialized and took selfies with some of the local Catholic school principals and administrators.

Ann Dougal, Principal of St. Michaels, said she is impressed by Wagner’s background.

“I think our diocese needs someone who has a vision,” said Dougal. “I think she has a background where she will have a plan. After her listening and spending time with people, she has the skills to (develop) a step-by-step plan to strengthen our schools.”

Wagner will succeed Dan Baillargeon, who left last summer after four years as the head of Catholic schools for the Springfield Diocese. He was the first lay person in the position after almost a century of superintendents who were members of Catholic religious orders.

Not that many years ago, the future of Catholic education in western Massachusetts was imperiled by plunging enrollment and rising costs. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which turned out to be a boon for the Catholic schools. The diocesan schools reopened for in-person instruction well before most of the public schools. Enrollment surged by 13 percent.

There are now 3,168 students in the 17 schools that operate under the umbrella of the Springfield Diocese.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.