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St. A hires new principal

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Former Floridian hopes to implement new programs and see more sports offered at St. A

By Stevie L. Daugherty

When Alicia Riggs and her family moved back to Kentucky in 2007, after living in Florida for 17 years, she began looking for a school for her children to attend. That search ended when she visited St. Augustine Grade School in Lebanon.

"I fell in love with the warmth, charm, and well run program I saw," Riggs said. "Sister Rose and I 'clicked' immediately. I knew that it was the perfect school for my son, Peter."

Little did she know that it would be the perfect school for her one day as well. Riggs, who has worked in the public, private and parochial school systems, said she tried to get Principal Sister Rose Riley to hire her back then, but there were no openings at the time.

Once Riggs and her family moved to Kentucky, she began working in the education division at St. Catharine College. One of her courses required her to take her college students on field trips to visit different schools. She immediately called St. Augustine and began showing it off to the students in her class.

When she got word that Sister Rose was retiring, she immediately threw her name in for consideration.

After sifting through a large number of resumes, Riggs was one of two people chosen to be interviewed for the position, according to Roy Palagi, a member of the selection committee.

"Mrs. Riggs' obvious enthusiasm and energy is something that impressed the committee as soon as we met her," he said. "She is clearly intelligent, and has a leadership background in Catholic education that will allow her to step in and immediately contribute."

Growing up, Riggs said she was an "Army brat" and attended 13 schools in her 12 years of education. She received her bachelor of science degree in elementary education from Eastern Kentucky University in 1989, and her master's in education from the University of South Florida in 2006. After many years as a classroom teacher, she opened a small, private, Catholic school in St. Petersburg, Fla., where she was the administrator until she moved to Kentucky. The school remains open today.

Palagi said he believes the transition for Riggs and the staff and students at St. Augustine will be a smooth one because, not only of her experience, but also because of the school's dedicated and experienced staff.

"Mrs. Riggs will, no doubt, be a part of continuing our excellent tradition at St. A for generations to come," he said.

Continuing those traditions is one of Riggs' primary goals when she officially becomes principal on July 1. She also hopes to add on to those traditions by implementing new programs, such as gifted programs, small group remediation and differentiated instruction. She said she would also like to see an increase in sports offered at the school.

But, St. A already has a lot going for it, she said.

"Some of the strengths I see at St. Augustine include committed and professional educators and staff, involved and dedicated parents, and tremendous alumni," Riggs said. "The support received from the parish is a definite strength of the school. I am also impressed with the amount of technology used in the classrooms and the high quality of the programs we offer. St. Augustine's service to the community is another strength. Our preschool programs have been expanded to include 3-year-old students. That is a big plus for working families."

However, even with all of its strengths, St. A has noticed a steady drop in enrollment within the past several years.

"I know we need to increase enrollment and let the community become more aware of the great things happening at St. Augustine school," Riggs said.

According to Riggs, Catholic education can benefit all children, not just those that practice the Catholic faith. Because Riggs has taught in all different types of educational settings, she sees some real benefits from a Catholic education as opposed to a public education.

"I have seen and been involved in some great public schools and I know Marion County has many but the choice of a school is one that has lifelong consequences," she said. "With a Catholic education you are receiving top quality instruction in all the skills as well as an environment that is meant to protect and nurture a student's soul."

Another benefit, according to Riggs, is that St. Augustine Grade School, like other parochial schools, is not under any obligation to share programs or opinions that are not in line with Catholic beliefs.

Communicating the benefits of a Catholic education at St. A will definitely be one of Riggs' strengths, according to Nancy Higdon, a teacher at St. A who also served on the selection committee.

"Her communication skills are excellent," Higdon said. "She's just so positive and upbeat. She's also very quick and direct. She doesn't beat around the bush. And she is very passionate about the value of Catholic education."

Riggs said she's extremely excited to begin her work at St. A and asks that the community pray for her as she enters this new chapter in her life.

"A principal has many jobs and I appreciate their support in the success of St. Augustine School," she said. "I would encourage any family looking for a quality education for their children to come meet me and let me show them what St. Augustine can offer."

Riggs has been married to her husband, Alan Riggs, for 26 years and they have three children - Kelsey, 18, Rachel, 15, and Peter, 4. She and her family live in neighboring Taylor County.