For the principal at St. Dominic School, education is much more than reading, writing and ’rithmetic.
“I think it’s better to have a student who is a good person and treats others with respect than to have a student who is super-smart and rude to people,” says Katie Perata, now in her third year as head of Benicia’s Catholic school.
The school incorporates values and community building into its curriculum for 315 students in pre-K through eighth grade. Students recite a Respect for All pledge each Monday and focus on an aspect of faith in action each month. Each student is part of a group with students from every grade who gather for special activity days.
Ms. Perata attended Holy Spirit School in Fairfield before going to Vacaville High School. She realized she wanted to become a teacher when she started college at Arizona State.
Her passion for education is evident as she talks about curriculum that inspires students to learn and lead. Her infectious laugh and classroom voice fill her office, which also is home to picture books and professional volumes, boxes of chocolate left over from a school fundraiser, and her neon orange crossing guard vest.
Ms. Perata taught middle schoolers at Queen of All Saints School in Concord for six years. She earned her administrative credential and a master’s degree from St. Mary’s College before becoming St. Dominic’s principal. The Vacaville resident leads a staff of about 40.
“I’m continuing to learn so much from the staff here. I inherited them as part of the school, and they are very dedicated,” says Ms. Perata, 32. “They are the heartbeat of the school.”
Why did you make the change from teacher to principal? Two or three years into teaching at All Saints, the fifth grade teacher there said, “Let’s go get our administrative credentials.” I thought I might want to go into administration later, so I just said yes. I’m still saying yes to everything. …
I was fresh out (of St. Mary’s College) when they wanted to interview me here. I loved teaching and I was still wondering “Am I ready to be a principal?” I thought I’d interview so I’d know what they were looking for, how to prepare for future interviews. I think I got the job because I’m so honest about what I think about education, what I think about being a principal. I really, absolutely love my job.
What are the differences between public and Catholic education? I think the biggest difference is that in Catholic school, your first priority is teaching your faith. In public school, the priority is to teach academic excellence. Academic excellence is still important to us, but we want children to know they are valued and to value others.
By teaching our faith, we’re teaching kids how to lead, how to serve, how to be good stewards of the earth, to be aware of global injustices and how we can serve those in need. We want them to be courageous. We want them to be sharing their faith, too.
We also teach them that God is forgiving. I love to nurture that in kids. It’s so important for kids to know that failing is OK. You ask forgiveness, you learn from the mistake, and you grow from it.
How does the staff teach faith to children? We have religion class every day and everyone goes to Mass once a week. The entire school goes to Mass together once a month. As part of the all-school Mass, kids are given the opportunity to read and sing and lead.
But teaching the faith is not just about having religion classes. It’s about sharing food with someone who forgot their lunch or having an eighth-grader help a kindergartner tie his shoes.
What’s your favorite part about being principal? My favorite part of the day is walking around and talking to the kids. I like seeing what they’re learning and how they’re learning it. I love to see how teachers are teaching. I love to see learning in action.
I love going out at recess. Sometimes I play foursquare with the 5th graders.
I keep a pair of Crocs in my office for that. Sometimes when I’m wearing flats I’ll play basketball.
I want students to see me as a regular person. I don’t want them to think they only see me when they’re in trouble. I want them to know that I’m here to care for you, I’m here to love you, and I’m here to support you.
What have you learned since becoming principal? The first thing I learned as a principal is you can’t make everybody happy. If I’m doing what I think is right, what I think is fair, and what’s in the best interest of the kids, then I’m doing what I should.
I’m learning so much here. I don’t feel I’ve mastered it all.
Who was your favorite teacher growing up? One of my high school English teachers, Mr. Knabe. He had a very gentle disposition. The louder we got, the quieter he got. You really had to be listening. He was inspirational to a young person like me who loved reading.
What do you read? I read a lot and I read everything. I don’t have a favorite genre. I love mysteries, thrillers, dramas, and I will read and re-read the Harry Potter series. Now I read a lot of professional development books as well.
What do you do to relax? I love anything outdoors. I like to hike and I love being on the water. I like wakeboarding, water skiing. I dabble in CrossFit a bit.
I do have a significant other and we spend a lot of time together. I spent a lot of time with my family also.
What’s next for St. Dominic School? We definitely need some facility improvements since our facility was built in 1961. We want to make Catholic education affordable for all, so we’re looking at avenues to make that happen.
I want to keep a rigorous and relevant curriculum that’s current so kids will be career-and college-ready. We have an open house coming up on Jan. 29 so people can see student projects, visit classrooms and learn more.
What’s next for you? I’m starting a doctorate degree program in December. I don’t know where I’m going next, but I hope I’m here for a long time. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.