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New Principal, New Era: An Inside Look at Denise Tobin and her Plan for Bishop Ireton

By Sarah Rushforth

Denise Tobin.
Denise Tobin.

As Bishop Ireton is about to embark on a capital campaign to expand its infrastructure, the school now welcomes a new principal to expand its academic programs.  Denise Tobin’s personality and experience show that she is the person for the job. Ms. Tobin has a friendly, approachable demeanor and speaks candidly about herself and education.  Unlike her recent predecessors, she did not graduate from Bishop Ireton and, in fact, she moved to Northern Virginia to accept this position.  Tobin studied biology at Stockton State College in Pomona, N.J., in 1976, and then received her teaching certification from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., in 1996, and her master’s in education administration from the University of Scranton in 2009. She also taught for 15 years at St. John Neumann Regional Academy High School in Williamsport, Pa, and then transferred to administrative work for eight years. Tobin’s resume reveals she is extremely experienced working in a Catholic high school environment, but on September 1st, I interviewed her to find out what she has in store for Ireton.

Q: Describe your experience at Ireton so far in one word.

DT: “Welcoming.” Everyone was so kind and gracious making me feel like a part of their family.

Q: Why work at a Catholic school? Why specifically Ireton?

DT: I have been at this for 19 years, and I think most teachers will tell you it becomes much like a vocation and a mission. Teaching at Catholic schools is also very liberating because you can talk about God’s plan and the wonders of creation together in biology class. Incorporating theology and religions make it easier to teach because the natural world and our faith go hand in hand. You can thank my children as to why I came to Ireton.  Two of my children who live in the DC area saw the job posting in a local church bulletin. We always talked about living closer together, and this was the perfect opportunity. The whole process happened so quickly. Overall it was lots of fun but a little bit overwhelming at times.

Q: What motivated you to switch from teaching to education administration?

DT: First I was a research scientist. I did not even start teaching until I was much older. Then I taught for fifteen years at St. John Neumann Regional Academy. I always enjoyed working on a team to resolve issues around the school, whether it was curriculum or something else. I found that work to be satisfying. Then the Diocese of Scranton asked if I wanted to join the administrative program, and my career in administration just took off from there.

Q: Ireton frequently uses quotes or mottos like “advance always” and “be who you are”, to reinforce its philosophy.  What is your favorite quote or motto in terms of how you approach work?

DT: “When it gets tough just jump right in and handle the issue.” It’s an original, but it has always been my motto. Life is tough so just resolve things.

Q: Ireton cites St. Francis De Sales and St. Jane de Chantel as the school’s Salesian role models, whom do you consider your role model/ idol?


DT: I have long admired Pope John Paul II because of the way he approached life and Church issues.  He lived his life, to me, about as close as you could live to Jesus, especially the way he took the lead in the conflict between Poland and the Soviet Union. Overall, he lived a holy life and then went through a lot of suffering before he died, similar to what to Christ had done.

Q: If you were to add one tradition/ holiday to Ireton what would it be?

DT: I was talking about this with some of the seniors, and I think I would add an Ireton Olympics. It’s indoor activities, and you don’t have to be an athletic, just willing to participate in some fun during Catholic Schools Week. We could end the festivities with a faculty versus seniors volleyball game.

Q: What is your reaction towards being the first female principal at Ireton?

DT: I was surprised to find that out, but I had been one of the first four women to be admitted to St. Joseph’s University. I was also the first lay women to be principal at my former school.  So I guess I am kind of used to accepting such a role.  At the same time, it was a bit overwhelming to hear that. I have some very large shoes to fill, but I take very seriously my stewardship of the school.

Q: I saw you were a biology teacher, is it a goal of yours to encourage more STEM at Ireton?

DT: Oh, 100%! That is definitely one of my goals. We want to make sure that Ireton, which is so strong in humanities, is equally as strong in science and mathematics. I have been a quality control scientist and I have a good knowledge of curriculum and types of partnerships we need to advance. We need collaborations with programs outside of the building to further our STEM program here at Ireton.

Q: Throughout the years Ireton has sought to integrate technology into the education curriculum, what are your views on technology’s role in education and how do you hope to instill these views at Ireton?

DT: Technology is changing so quickly, and we need to be on the cutting edge to prepare our students for the future job market. I would again form some partnerships with businesses and Ireton parents to consider how the school can use the existing resources more effectively and obtain new technologies as needed.  We don’t want the students to work with slide rulers or anything. Do you even know what slide rulers are?

We then ended the interview with a thorough search on Google of these mysterious slide rulers (they looked rather complicated). However, this part of the interview proved to be the most revealing of the new principal’s character. She is hands on, dedicated, and seeks to form relationships and bonds with the students of her school. Overall, Denise Tobin made me wistful that I would only be spending one more year at Ireton.

Sara Rushforth is a senior at Bishop Ireton, 201 Cambridge Street, Alexandria.

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