The veteran educator chosen to lead Catholic schools across the Archdiocese of Boston hopes to build upon a recent stabilization of enrollment and even expand the schools by welcoming students of all kinds, including those who do not speak English and children with special needs, she said Friday.
“My goal is to make these schools so attractive that everybody wants to be there,” Kathleen Power Mears said in a phone interview.
The archdiocese announced Friday that Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley had appointed Mears, 56, to the school system’s top post, which she will assume Sept. 15.
In a statement, O’Malley praised Mears’s achievements and her faith.
“We are blessed that Mrs. Mears brings a record of innovation and significant professional accomplishments to her new role as superintendent,” he said. “She holds a deep personal belief in Catholic schools’ ability to help children realize their God-given potential.”
Mears replaces Mary E. Moran, temporary administrator for Catholic schools, who assumed the interim position following former superintendent Mary Grassa O’Neill’s resignation last summer after five years on the job.
Mears is currently executive director of the National Catholic Educational Association’s Elementary Schools Department. Previously, she had a 31-year career in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, where she taught grades 1 to 5 and high school before becoming a principal and then assistant superintendent, she said.
For much of her career, Mears said she has worked to integrate children with special needs into mainstream classrooms. She hopes to continue that work in Greater Boston, and to integrate technology into the classroom in ways that enhance learning.
She will enter the job at a turning point for the archdiocese’s 119 schools and more than 40,000 students. A report released by the Roman Catholic archdiocese last month showed that enrollment had nearly leveled off after years of sharp decline, giving the system its first year with no school closures since 2001.
The archdiocese closed more than 50 schools from 2004 to 2010, but only eight since, according to the report, and enrollment in Boston rose slightly in the past five years.
Mears noted the recent stabilization, but said she is certain “there are more children who would like a Catholic education.” To draw them to the archdiocese’s schools, she plans to set high standards, help students develop “21st-century skills” and to work with partners to let parents know Catholic schools can be affordable.
“Sometimes we don’t tell our story well, and people don’t know that it can be accessible, that there is financial aid,” she said.
Mears also shares with O’Malley, she said, an eagerness to reach out to recent immigrants and speakers of many languages, and she plans to work on both recruiting new students and retention of existing ones.
“Once children start in Catholic schools, they tend to like it,” she said. “They like being part of the family of the faith, and they don’t want to leave.”
Mears said she plans to approach the job humbly and learn more about the system before she presumes to tell teachers and principals how to improve it.
“My first priority is to listen and learn,” she said. “I know some about the archdiocese, but not enough to make grand pronouncements about what I’m going to do.”
In the hours after the announcement of Mears’s appointment, she received several calls from people across the archdiocese asking how they could help her, she said.
“That’s unbelievable support,” she said. “They don’t know me at all, and they’ve already reached out.”