Principal going the extra mile to connect with her new school community

Principal going the extra mile to connect with her new school community

Photo credit: Stuart Matters

Experienced educator Grace Carlo-Stella is the new Principal of St Margaret Mary’s Primary Merrylands, and while she is new to the school, she isn’t new to the Parramatta diocese, having spent the first 25 years of her career in Western Sydney Catholic schools. Enjoying her second term at the Merrylands school, Grace is a firm believer in the personal touch and is determined that her staff, students and their families come to know her as a person, not just as “the principal”.

“Apart from all the day-to-day things a principal does, people are the most important,” Grace said. “Working closely with staff, getting to know staff, parents and the students is my prime role.”

Over the course of the first few weeks of the 2024 school year, Grace met with every staff member for some one-on-one, “get to know you” time, a task that was a massive undertaking, but one that she says was well worth it.

“I met with every teacher, every staff member, and I asked them to tell me as much or as little as they liked about their story. I was very humbled as some of them opened up to me about things I hadn’t expected them to, it was lovely,” she said. 

Visiting the school, you will find Grace out on the playground during drop-off and pick-up times, making herself available to parents and students and building connections with her community. It was during these interactions that Grace reconnected with parents in the St Margaret Mary's community who are former students of hers from her days as a Religious Education Coordinator and Assistant Principal at nearby Holy Trinity Primary Granville.

“It is a very welcoming community here, which makes it very easy to be out there speaking to parents. They have embraced me, I feel as though I’ve come into a large family and I’ve been accepted,” Grace said.

“Learning Walks” are also an important tool for the leader, allowing her to be closely acquainted with the work of students and teachers in the classrooms. For Grace, the students have always been her number one priority, no matter what school she is in, or what role she has.

“The students come first. Everything that we do, any decision that is made, anything we reflect on, we need to make sure it’s what is best for the students,” she said. “That’s what we’re here for, to give them a positive experience of school and have them learn, improve and do the best that they can in all fields - academic, social, spiritual and emotional.”

Anyone who meets Grace gets a sense of her passion for teaching immediately. She says she always knew she wanted to be a teacher, as a child she loved school and rarely missed a day. At school with her friends and at home with her brother and sister, the game of choice was “schools” and she was always the teacher.

“In my mind teaching was always the way I was going to go. Since the age of five my education experience has always been so positive. There have of course been challenging times, but looking back I’ve had a wonderful career and a wonderful upbringing, and it has all been Catholic education, even university.”

Grace acknowledges that having two strong role models throughout her career has made a big difference for her and allowed her to overcome any obstacles in her way.

“There have been two principals that I have worked with who have believed in me, and empowered me to do my best by putting their trust in me. In different ways they have both modelled to me what it is to be a good principal, they have inspired me.”

Grace is something of a role model herself, always happy to encourage other women to pursue leadership opportunities.

“I remember when I first came back to a leadership role after having my three children, I felt a little bit guilty working full time, but another woman I was working with reminded me, it’s a good thing. You’ve got two daughters at home and you're teaching them, you’re showing them it’s possible to be a mum, a wife, run a household and be successful in your career,” Grace said. “With women going into leadership, I say do it. Just know that sometimes things have to give. Don’t think because you’re a wife and mum you have to do all those traditional roles, you don’t.”

With years of experience in a variety of educational roles from IT and Teacher Librarian to Religious Education and Diverse Learning Coordinator, Grace is keen to share her insights and have a positive impact on her new school. St Margaret Mary’s Primary Merrylands has a diverse student population and Grace is looking forward to building on the school’s inclusive culture and creating even more opportunities for students under her leadership.

This above story was written by Samantha Rich from the Catholic Schools Parramatta Diocese.