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July 6, 2015 | Volume 90 Number 18


Jenny Franklin, Principal of Peninsula Catholic High School is greeted at a surprise party celebrating her 25th year at the school.

PCHS principal emphasizes school’s Catholic identity

A surprise party celebrating Jenny Franklin’s 25th anniversary at Peninsula Catholic High School (PC) in Newport News June 11 had the principal well up with tears of joy.

Ms. Franklin, who began her tenure in 1990 as an English teacher at the school, covered her face with her hands as approximately 30 people jumped out of hiding and yelled “Surprise” when she entered the school library.

“I thought you all had already gone,” she said between her fingers.

Friends, alumni, past and present faculty and staff members turned out for the event.

“We wanted to show Jenny how much we value her time and commitment to the school for 25 years,” said Stacey Kyser, the school’s marketing and special events coordinator.

Ms. Franklin returned the sentiment after she was toasted for her dedication and successes.

“I have been blessed with so many wonderful people. I couldn’t have done it without mentors and friends, but you are more than my colleagues; you are my friends,” Ms. Franklin said. “I am so grateful. I am so honored. Thank you for this and for being part of my life. It’s been a great 25 years.”

photo: “It’s always about how we as a school can do better.” Jenny Franklin Principal.
“It’s always about how we as a school can do better.” Jenny Franklin Principal.

John Marks, a 1953 PC graduate and a benefactor who was at the party, told The Catholic Virginian that the school is fortunate to have had Ms. Franklin at the school “all these years.”

“She is a sterling person, and she has done a sterling job as teacher and as principal,” he said.

Theology Teacher and Tech Specialist Billy Gargaro described Ms. Franklin as “passionate, energetic and dedicated without a doubt.”

When The Catholic Virginian asked him what Ms. Franklin has done for the school, Mr. Gargaro responded: “I think a better question would be ‘What hasn’t she done?’ Everything she does, she does with PC in mind.”

The youngest of four children, she was raised in a Catholic family.

She said her interest in teaching dates back to her “early years” when she taught an imaginary class of stuffed animals with her easel and chalkboard.

“I’ve always had great teachers, and I think that was just something I was always drawn to,” she said. “I always enjoyed school.”

After graduating from Kecoughtan High School in Hampton in 1984, she began studying at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. She later earned a master’s of arts in English from Old Dominion University and an educational specialist degree from a satellite campus of George Washington University.

Ms. Franklin is married to George Franklin and she has two sons, both of whom attended PC.

Upon her graduation from VCU, Ms. Franklin worked for a year as a substitute teacher in the public schools in Hampton Roads before being an English teacher at Peninsula Catholic High School in 1989. The school presently has 298 students in eighth through 12th grades.

She said that Connie Cowardin, who was principal at the time, “took a chance on a no-experience but eager first-year teacher.”

Ms. Franklin said she enjoyed teaching English because as her students read literature, she helped them explore the “life lessons” that the books carried.

Jenny Franklin with 25 year anniversary cake.

In 2009, she became PC principal. Under her helm, the school boosted its technology and added a $2.1 million athletic complex that has baseball and softball diamonds, tennis courts and a soccer field.

She also expanded its academics to include more advanced-placement classes and dual enrollment classes in which students earn both highschool and college credit.

To keep the students technologically savvy, the school will put a Chromebook into the hands of every student and teacher this fall. The school has been phasing in the program which she said makes teaching more dynamic, allowing students to work collaboratively and to use tools and apps to create new projects.

She said she has remained with PC for so many years because of its community.

“The staff has always been so great to work with, and the kids and the families are amazing, and we all have the same goals for their kids,” she said.

Every year brings something new, Ms. Franklin says, adding that’s “part of the beauty” of being an educator.

“There’s always a new challenge or opportunity or something to improve so it’s never been dull,” she said. “It keeps you on your toes, and it’s always about how we as a school can do better, what I can do better.”

To accomplish that, she gets input and help from faculty and staff.

“I’m the one who has to ultimately make the hard decision, but I don’t do it in isolation. I value the input of those who work at the school,” she said.

“I like to think of faculty and staff as a team. I may give a direction but I think I have collected an amazingly talented group of people. I trust their expertise, and we work together,” she said.

The school’s chaplain Father Gino Rossi described Ms. Franklin as hard working and a good leader. He lauded her for being “extremely supportive” of the chaplaincy program. Father Rossi celebrates Mass at the school each week, hears confessions and is a guest teacher, usually in theology classes.

Ms. Franklin’s dedication to enriching the Catholic faith in PC students goes beyond supporting the chaplaincy program though.

As Michael Reilley, chairman of the school advisory board, said: “She works to make sure that the Catholic faith is not just something inside the church and school. She wants them to carry their faith outside the school.”

Ms. Franklin said, “We look through the lens of gospel values for everything we do.”

“We make sure everything we do reflects our Catholic identity, and we make sure that kids are prepared for the next journey and the next path that God puts them on,” she continued. “That is who we are.”

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