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About the President

Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School Appoints First President

New president-principal leadership model signifies strong commitment to the future

Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School (GMAHS), is pleased to announce the appointment of Denise Corkery Marbach '72 as its first president, and its first lay leader. The school is adopting a proven president-principal leadership model that distributes executive functions between the president and the principal, which will take effect beginning with the 2017-18 academic year.

The president-principal leadership structure has been implemented by most college preparatory schools as well as a significant number of Mercy schools throughout the U.S.

Marbach '72 was a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) where she worked in the higher education, healthcare and nonprofit industries for 38 years. A certified public accountant, she was the first woman partner at Coopers & Lybrand (C&L) Philadelphia’s office in its 90 year history. Price Waterhouse and C&L later merged to form PwC. Corkery Marbach '72 launched and grew several new practices in major U.S. cities. She retired from the firm in June 2015.

Marbach '72 has a nearly 50-year history with GMAHS. She has been a student, alumna, parent of two GMAHS graduates, and Board of Trustees member for seven years. For the past five years, Denise was Board Chair, from which she resigned before offered the president’s position. Her dedication and loyalty to the school and its mission have been a constant force in her life.

“From its humble beginnings, GMAHS has been a forward thinking school with a powerful vision,” said Kathy Kirk Bellwoar '81, Chair of GMAHS Board of Trustees. “These announcements are monumental and will shape our school’s future.”

Bellwoar '81 had been Vice Chair of the GMAHS Board of Trustees and acting interim chair since Marbach '72 stepped down, and named board chair with this announcement.

As head of the school, Marbach '72 will serve as an agent of change and innovation. She will oversee marketing, advancement, admissions and finance, key areas that contribute greatly to the school’s financial health.

Bellwoar '81 added that Marbach '72 is the ideal candidate with expertise in finance, management and team building. “Denise is an exemplary Mercy woman. She is an outstanding leader, committed to personal growth and social responsibility, and contributes to the development of others through mentorship and volunteerism,” added Bellwoar '81. “Her life is an inspiring model of success through her work, talents and qualities of mercy and compassion.”

“I am very excited and deeply honored to be named GMAHS’s first president, and looking forward to serving my alma mater in this most important capacity,” said Denise Corkery Marbach '72. “I am committed to the continuity of the school’s traditions and upholding our Mercy charism and Catholic beliefs. I am eager to work with our faculty, staff, parents, students and alumnae to create our vision for the years ahead.”

Marbach '72 is an active leader in the community. She is a board member of Faith in the Future, an organization focused on leadership, growth and innovation in Catholic schools in Philadelphia, a board officer of Inglis, and chair of the Women’s Executive Leadership Program. She earned a BA in Accounting from Saint Francis University in 1976 and completed Audit Committee training at the Harvard Business School.


President-Principal Model

What is the President-Principal model?

The President-Principal (PP) model in independent high schools divides administrative roles and responsibilities between two individuals – a president and a principal. It has proven to be a very effective way to distribute executive functions and increase the impact of senior leadership across the organization. The president is focused on institution building, fundraising, financial management and long-term planning. The principal leads the academics and daily operation of the school. Both roles are responsible for upholding the values reflected in Catholic education and leading the spiritual mission of the school. A trend in Catholic education, the PP model has been successfully implemented in the majority of independent high schools.

The president:

  • Is the foremost steward of the school mission.
  • Preserves and articulates the Roman Catholic philosophy and mission to internal constituencies (faculty, staff, board etc.), as well as to the various publics (current and past parents, all school and parent organizations, the Alumni Association, area elementary schools, parishes, and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia).
  • Is the Chief Executive Officer and a voting member of the Board of Trustees.
  • Has general charge and control over all school affairs including financial matters such as managing the budget, fundraising and allocation of funds.
  • Works on the professional development of the faculty, with the principal.
  • Is responsible for the Offices of Advancement, Enrollment Management, Mission Integration, Technology, Finance, Communications and Marketing, and the Principal.

The principal:

  • Is the educational leader who directs teaching and learning.
  • Is responsible for the curriculum, instruction, academic direction, student success and extra-curricular activities.
  • Has Offices of Activities, Counseling, and Athletics, and Dean of Students and Department Chairs reporting to her.

Role definition and collaboration between two leaders allow each to focus on her key areas of strength while working together to establish/maintain best practices and accomplish results/best outcomes for GMAHS and its students.

In the PP model, is the president typically a lay person or one with religious training?

The president can be a lay person or religious leader. She brings business acumen, and expertise in business, finance and management. Regardless of background, the president believes and upholds the Mercy charism and our Catholic tradition.

How long has the PP model been around?

During the past 25 years, this model has become the choice of many Catholic schools (56% according to Carney, Sandoe & Associates educational recruiting firm). Most college preparatory schools as well as a significant number of Mercy schools follow this model.

How successful has it been in the U.S.?

Per Carney, Sandoe & Associates, the Jesuit Secondary Network conducted a survey of schools who have adopted the model. Of the schools that responded, the majority report the model is successful and generally very favorable. We also surveyed many Mercy schools who follow this model, with respondents largely reporting success.

Adoption of the Model

Why is GMAHS adopting the PP model?

We believe this leadership model offers an innovative way to support our strategic goals for growth and sustainability, while allowing us to maintain the highest educational standards and stay true to the Mercy mission. It offers the best action we can take to:

  • Strengthen GMAHS as a highly competitive independent college-preparatory school that is well positioned for growth.
  • Remain true to our foundation as an educator in the Mercy and Catholic tradition that prepares its students for success. From our humble beginnings in 1861 to today, GMAHS continues to be forward-thinking institution, with a powerful vision.
  • Further GMAHS’s ability to offer innovative curriculum, a strong academic foundation, and a global education that is responsive to current trends and future requirements.
  • Remain committed to offering GMAHS students all the resources they need to develop as “Mercy Women” – confident, well rounded, socially minded and leaders in the community.
  • Prepare our girls as college students who live and act justly in the spirit of Jesus Christ and follow in the tradition of mercy and service handed down from Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy.
  • Empower each student to develop her unique talents and abilities and become a competent and compassionate Christian woman.
  • Drive our focus on STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering , Arts and Math), which requires an overt conscious commitment to these disciplines.

How will this adoption impact the long term vision for the school?

We are confident that this new model will:

  • Poise GMAHS for future success. (Steeped in Tradition – Poised for the Future)
  • Ensure our standing as a strong college-preparatory school that better prepares students for academic learning.
  • Offer an additional role model to our students within the leadership of the school.
  • Allow us to keep pace with the changing landscape of education.
  • Broaden our reach in the community and grow enrollment.
  • Strengthen our continuity of generations, where daughters of graduates attend.

GMAHS will continue to be a special place where:

  • Our girls receive a strong education in a warm, fostering environment.
  • Students participate in enriching athletics, arts, technology and other extracurricular activities that are vital to their development and integral to their experience (emphasizing the “total” girl).
  • School spirit is celebrated and lived.
  • Our girls embrace caring, service and compassion—hallmarks of GMAHS.

How long have you been working on this new model?

The Board of Trustees recognized that the complexities of the ever changing landscape in private, secondary, Catholic education were representing challenges that needed to be addressed. They believed that making a proactive decision to introduce a new organizational structure for GMAHS would provide a solid plan for its stability and growth. After 18 months of due diligence that involved conducting focus groups, reviewing surveys of Mercy High Schools in the U.S., and consulting with key individuals in Catholic secondary education including members of the Sisters of Mercy Office of Mission, the Board made a decision to adopt this model.

What steps did the Board take to get ready to implement the new model?

A Board of Trustees Task Force and a representative from the Office of Mission for the Sisters of Mercy worked together over the past year to develop necessary materials in preparation for this change. They also worked with the Sponsor Council, who approves and appoints the president.

A separate Search Committee created expectations/outcomes, performance targets and required competencies for the president. Top candidates met with Board members and Sponsor Council liaisons.

What is the timing – when do you expect to implement the new model?

The new model will commence on July 1, 2017.

What does this new model mean for our students this year and in the future?

With the model and new president not going into effect until after July 2017, there will be no changes at the school for the 2016-2017 academic year. In the future, our girls will greatly benefit from this new structure. With the principal focused on student success, academics and extracurricular activities (and not running the school), considerable attention can be given and action can be more quickly taken to incorporate innovative and best practices into instruction and teaching methods, curriculum, learning, and programming.

What does this new model mean for our faculty?

This move is a very positive step for our faculty.

  • It demonstrates that GMAHS is a progressive, innovative school that is well positioned for and committed to a successful future.
  • It reinforces faculty are employed by an independent high school that has taken bold steps to keep up with trends and be forward thinking.
  • It means that the principal is focused on academics, students and faculty, and not diverted by other issues.

How does this model change affect the role Ms. Anne Casavecchia currently serves as Vice Principal?

Since the PP model doesn’t go into effect until next July, Ms. Casavecchia will remain in her role as Vice Principal for the remainder of the academic year. We are extremely grateful to Ms. Casavecchia for her dedication, years of service and contributions to GMAHS. While the new PP model will not have a Vice Principal role, Ms. Casavecchi will remain a valued and critical part of our school community.

About the New President

When will the new president be announced/hired?

The president selected will be formally announced on October 20 and start on July 1, 2017. To facilitate an orderly transition and be fully prepared on July 1, the president may begin to engage with school administration on occasion following January 1, 2017.

How was she selected?

The Trustees’ search and selection process were very deliberate and thorough. After a comprehensive review of their credentials and background, interviews by the Trustees and Sponsor Council, they selected two final candidates. They also evaluated which candidate would be the best “fit.” The final individual selected was deemed a wonderful fit for this role and was approved by the Sisters of Mercy Sponsor Council. The Gwynedd Mercy community is pleased to announce alumna and past parent Denise Corkery Marbach '72 has been selected as the first GMAHS President and first lay leader of the school.

What are her credentials?

As a recently retired partner from PwC who spent nearly 40 years growing and leading practices in the higher education, health care and nonprofit industries, Denise Corkery Marbach '72 is a proven leader with expertise in finance, management and team building. She is an alumna of GMAHS, Chair of the school’s Board of Trustees, Board Member of Faith in the Future (an organization focused on leadership, growth and innovation in Catholic schools in Philadelphia), and Board Officer of Inglis (an organization enriching the lives of adults with physical disabilities). A lay person, Denise Corkery Marbach '72 is committed to the mission of Catholic education in the Mercy tradition.

Her strengths include business acumen, governance, strategic thinking, and significant experience leading and growing multi-size and diverse teams. Her functional skills includes SEC reporting, financial reporting, Sarbanes Oxley requirements and analyzing financial data. She received a B.A. in Accounting from Saint Francis University in 1976 and also completed Audit Committee training at the Harvard Business School.

Describe her educational and religious viewpoints?

Denise Corkery Marbach '72 has experienced Mercy charism for almost 50 years. From the halls of GMAHS as a student, to an alumna, parent and Board leader, she is passionate about the Mercy mission. She is a practicing Catholic and lives the Mercy way each and every day of her life.

What specific responsibilities have you identified for the new leader?

In addition to those described above (in the “About the PP Model” section), the president will be charged with increasing enrollment through creative marketing and advancement efforts and executing a broader and greater community outreach.

About the Principal

Who is the current principal?

Our current principal is Sister Patricia Flynn, RSM, who has been at our school for 14 years as principal (since 2011) or vice-principal. She also spent 16 years as Principal at Mercy Vocational.

What is Sr. Pat’s position on this new model?

She is completely supportive of this transition and eager to take a break after 30 years as an administrator in a Mercy school. She believes that the ever changing landscape of private, Catholic, secondary education calls for a new vision for the future and that the President-Principal model will enable GMAHS to thrive and educate Mercy women and GMAHS Monarchs.

How long will she remain in her role?

Her last day as GMAHS Principal will be June 30, 2017.

When do you expect to name a new Principal?

The president will select the principal. A search will soon be launched with the goal of having a new principal in place by July 1, 2017.

Why are you announcing the new president so far in advance of her/his start date (a whole academic year before he/she begins)?

We believe having the new president named now will provide ample time for a thoughtful transition and comprehensive training, resulting in a leader who will be well prepared, familiar with the ins-and-outs of running GMAHS and ready to jump right in on July 1, 2017.

About the Board of Trustees

Who is the chair of the Board of Trustees?

For the past five years, Denise has been Board Chair, from which she resigned before offered the president’s position. Vice Chair of the GMAHS Board of Trustees, Kathy Kirk Bellwoar '81, has been acting as interim Chair and was named Chair with this announcement.