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National Distinguished Principal
Sister Mary Joan Sorge among those honored in D.C.

Sr. Mary Joan Sorge (Recipient of the National Distinguished Principal Award) pictured with the Prioress General of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois, Sr. Rose Marie Riley.

“National Distinguished Principals, it is time to ring your school bells on behalf of all of the children!” With these words, National Association of Secondary Schools President, Barbara Chester, invited the honorees of the 2010 Class of National Distinguished Principals to celebrate the children they serve. Among those ringing the bell and bearing the distinction of a National Distinguished Principal was Sister M. Joan Sorge, Principal of St. Agnes Elementary School in Springfield, Illinois. Other honorees included public school principals representing each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of Defense, state schools and four other principals from the private sector.

On October 14–15, Sister Joan joined 61 other National Distinguished Principals in Washington, D.C. Together, they shared best practices and reflected on the heart and soul of leadership. Activities included a formal reception at the State Department and a gala banquet during which each honoree received the National Distinguished Principal school bell and a framed certificate bearing the Great Seal of the United States.

Receiving awards for excellence in education is not new to Sister Joan. In April 2010, she received the National Catholic Education Association’s award for Distinguished Principal, Region 7. In her 25 years as a Catholic school leader, she has made the spiritual and faith development of her school community her highest aim and accomplishment. “I model for my school community my own ongoing faith development and strive to involve staff, students and parents in activities and experiences that will deepen their understanding of the Catholic faith and nurture their spiritual growth and formation,” she says.

St. Agnes is the fourth school where Sister Joan has been principal. During her five years there, she has expanded learning opportunities through innovations in the school’s curriculum and programs. Her tenure has brought a preschool program, a hands-on science laboratory, upgraded instructional technology and an automated library system. To support the goals of the school’s long range plan, she established a school development program that encompasses an annual fund, grant money, an endowment, and memorial gifts.

Sister Joan readily admits that the heart of her ministry rests in the spirit of the children. “I have captured their spirit,” she says. “I hope they capture mine.” The following quotations from St. Agnes students indicate that they have indeed captured the spirit of their National Distinguished Principal:

I like the way she prays in the box (the intercom) every day. — Jake, Grade K

She smiles every time I walk past and she always has a gift for everyone in her eyes. — Elizabeth, Grade 3

She tries to lead us down the right path. She loves us and she’ll reach out for anyone of us when we need help. — McGuire, Grade 6

Her smiling face in the morning, her wonderful presence, is what makes me ready for school. Excellence is what my principal is. — Alli, Grade 8