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Parting Thoughts: Padua Academy head Cindy Hayes Mann

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Photo by Ron Dubick

Cindy Hayes Mann will retire as principal of Padua Academy after graduation on May 30. Over her 40 years in both Catholic and public education, Mann has a reputation for consistently putting the rights of her students and their parents first. Mann says she has tried to show her young students – both in word and deed – how and when to stand up proudly to defend the ethical and compassionate path. Mann said, “The Lord led me to Padua 10 years ago with a mission of leadership for young women. This is not goodbye. This is a time to celebrate the new leaders who will take us into the future. I will remain the watchful “˜grandmother.'”

She took some time to reflect on her career and the lessons learned over that 40-year period.

At what point in your life did you realize you had the power to do something meaningful?

I once was offered a position that was completely out of my comfort zone. It was a great opportunity, but I doubted my ability to be successful outside a school environment. A very wise man proved to be a life-changing mentor when he said, “Cindy, you have to decide if you are going to influence 100 lives or 10,000 lives. The vision for your life is totally up to you!” From that day to this, I have never been afraid to think big or be dissuaded from life’s obstacles – ones that others have decided are too big or too risky. As a Catholic school principal, I have learned that faith in action involves taking risks and working within a vision scope that you believe to be right and just.

How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be remembered as a woman who never stopped trying to help her students see their potential as Children of God – not defined by external or internal limitations. I want to be remembered as the woman who believed that “all God’s children got a place in the choir” and as the one who helped pass out the chairs!

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

Mr. Julius Rose, the superintendent of a small eastern North Carolina county public school system, interviewed and hired me for my first teaching position. I met him when he was completing his last month before retiring. His wife of many years had just passed away and he was left alone to care for their only child – a delightful young woman identified with significant special needs. In his very gentle Southern accent, Mr. Rose simply said to me, “I will give you this job under one condition – you must promise me that you will love and teach every child in your classroom as if she were your very own.” I of course agreed, not really understanding the depth of that promise. I didn’t realize then that he was looking back at some of the injustices his own child faced in school. Over the next 40 years, I have come to realize that was the best advice he could have given a young teacher. His words became my actions.

When you hear the word, “successful,” who or what do you think of?

Maybe being successful was best described by Carl Sagan as a person who can truly absorb the concept that she is simply an infinitesimal particle of humanity living on a “tiny pale blue dot that is suspended in a vast cosmic arena” and yet maintains the belief that even in this deep space darkness, her efforts to bring light to others is vital to all life!

Successful is a word that defines a person who is not afraid to fail. She consistently acts upon her own sense of justice and goodness and is not swayed by the winds of popular thought. She knows that possessions and status will come and go, but the contentment that comes from living a life of worth is hers forever.

What is inspiring you right now?

The easy answer to this question is quite simple. I come to work every day to be inspired by the dreams and ambitions of 663 young women! The much bigger answer is – THE FUTURE. There is always something more to learn, people to help, places to explore, and experiences to be had. For me, the FUTURE equals adventure, even for a little old lady who is approaching 70!

What is the “pebble in your shoe?” The pebble in my shoe is all too often myself! I listen to the negative thoughts of others and begin to doubt my dreams, my abilities, and my worth. This is never a good thing. When those thoughts creep into my mind, I make myself stand up, walk around the school, and listen to the sounds of teachers telling great stories and students asking terrific questions. This has the power to rid my mind of all negative thoughts and eliminate the pebbles in my shoes instantly!

What is a question you wish more people would ask?

Instead of “What gives ME joy?” I would love to hear, “What can I do to bring YOU joy?”

What’s more important in leadership: Make their strengths stronger or eliminate their weaknesses?

I think this question defines education. Strengths are developed in the arena of self-determination, fortitude and curiosity. Learning is all about experimenting and improving. Entrepreneurship is also born in this classroom and taken into the businesses and corporations of the world. Eliminating weaknesses creates an environment of pathetic thoughtlessness. As a teacher, give me a classroom of challenging, energetic students any day! As a business leader, I would rather have a team of people dedicated to change than to excuses.

What’s your favorite quote?

My first position as a school leader in Delaware was at St. Paul’s Catholic School on the corner of Third and Van Buren streets in Wilmington. One day a friend of mine from Georgetown University came to see me to discuss education in the inner city. After our visit, I walked her out onto the front porch to say goodbye. As I was standing there waving to her as she stepped into a limousine, my eye caught a man on the opposite side of the street. He was a pathetically disoriented heroin addict with gaping sores all over his body. Both the lady and the man were in my direct line of vision for a few seconds. As I looked at both, I remembered a quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta. “Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.” I will never forget that second in my life or this quote.

What was the greatest compliment you ever received?

No greater compliment can ever be given any leader than to receive the love and respect of the people she serves. My students, teachers and parents gave this magnificent compliment to me on a day that I will remember forever.

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