By Michele J. Kuhn
Mary Mahon Sciarrillo is a firm believer in the value of single-sex education, particular for girls.
“I’m committed to a belief that the world needs strong women,” said Sciarrillo, who was recently named the first head of school for Trinity Hall, a new all-girls’ school set to open in September in Middletown. “We’re not represented in the areas we need to be. Girls’ schools serve as a foundation for building those types of women.
“In a single sex education, it is all about them and they become supportive of each other in a way that is very different than in a coed school,” she said. “I think for a majority of girls being in a single-sex school gives them opportunities they can only dream about. It gives them the experiences that will really make a difference and teaches them how to be strong, confident young women.”
Sciarrillo is currently the upper school principal at Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child in Summit where she has been for 19 years. She grew up in Long Branch and is a graduate of Red Bank Catholic High School. Her initial career path was nursing, having graduated from St. Vincent’s Hospital School of Nursing with her first job at Monmouth Medical Center in her hometown. Later, she earned a master’s in educational leadership at Seton Hall University.
While her primary home is in northern New Jersey, Sciarrillo considers Monmouth Beach to be her home. Six of her 10 siblings live in Monmouth County.
When first approached about the job at Trinity Hall, she wasn’t so sure she wanted it.
“Three months ago, it wasn’t something I was looking for, but I do believe I am the right person for the job,” Sciarrillo said. “I know the area. I know girls’ education. I’ve been in girls’ education for 19 years now and I’ve grown as a leader within that education.”
Sciarrillo said each time she met with the school’s founders, she became “more and more impressed with their passion” and their desire to make a difference “not just for their daughter but for all the daughters.”
Those founders have been focused on the leadership and “women power” aspects that can result from a school created specifically for the advancement of girls.
Trinity Hall, which will be an independent high school “in the Catholic tradition,” is expected to open sometime around Sept. 4 in its temporary location at the Croydon Hall campus, 900 Leonardville Road in Middletown. The school will be adding a new class a year for the next four years with the “leadership class” being ninth-graders this fall.
Sciarrillo hopes that by the school’s fourth year, the enrollment will be 400 girls.
James Palmieri, who is now director of strategic initiatives at Kent Place School in Summit, has been named the school’s assistant head of school. He holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Providence College, a master’s in educational administration and supervision from Seton Hall and is working on his doctorate at Rutgers University. His dissertation is titled 21st Century Girls’ Schools: For what reasons are new independent girls’ schools opening in the US?
An entrance exam, the High School Placement Test (HSPT), will be given at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft for those considering applying to Trinity Hall. Parents interested in having their daughter take the test and possibly apply for a place in the first class are asked to go to the school’s website at www.trinityhall nj.org to register. The test is being administered at no cost.
Officials expect students will be informed by mid-February if they are accepted but a rolling admissions policy also is expected.
Tuition for the 2013-2014 school year will be $16,750. Initially, school officials announced in December that $250,000 would be available for financial aid. That amount has grown to $500,000.
Sciarrillo, who is the mother of three grown children who attended single-sex schools, knows from experience that when girls enter the school they will have a variety of talents and views of their own abilities. “What I always find is… some girls will come to you shy. Some girls will come overconfident. Others will not be sure of their talents while others think they have talents in a particular area and then find there are other areas that they are really more gifted in,” she said.
She is hoping the school attracts girls who want to learn, love being challenged and want to know more about the world around them.
“I’m hoping I have girls who come ready to learn and know that learning and doing don’t come without challenges,” she said. “We want strong academic students but … we also want students willing to work hard.”
After students are accepted to Trinity Hall, Sciarrillo will be holding a series of get-togethers with the girls to help plan for the activities and lessons for the year, “so we can develop programs they are interested in. For example, if we had five girls interested in forensics, then we will get together and do forensics.
“Much of what we do, beyond what we know is a great education, is going to be in response to the girls,” she said.
“Our program is going to provide a more than a solid English, history, science, engineering, arts, theology, business education.
“It’s going to be a great program,” she said.