by Eric Wright
Catherine Ford has a heritage of leadership: her mother graduated with a degree in accounting, which was almost unheard of in that day, and served as the first female student president of Auburn University. Yet, when it was time for Ford to go off to college, her parents recommended she become a teacher. Whether it was the bias of that era or not, it led her into a field that from the moment she stepped into her first classroom, she knew she was in her element.
Ford reflected, “My first day interning I realized teaching was the perfect career for me. It was that connection with the students, the realization that I had something to offer them and they had something to offer me. It was an epiphany.” She then added, “No one would believe this today, but at the time I was rather shy. It was in that class I found my voice; I discovered what I was passionate about.” It is a passion that would shape her career as headmaster of Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne.
Though she never thought of leaving the classroom, she stepped back from teaching to raise her children. Yet, by her admission, “I became bored quickly.” Then her involvement as a volunteer gradually opened her eyes to the leadership skills that lay dormant inside. She became president of the Junior League, helped found The Haven, and has continued to build a volunteer leadership resume that would impress anyone.
A New Mission
Having served on the school board of Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy, in 1988 she was contacted and asked to consider submitting her resume for headmaster, when the school’s enrollment goal was just 140. During her years, especially with Junior League, she was impressed that the skills she was learning could be utilized in other settings, but she hadn’t anticipated this particular door.
“I knew I had the educational piece and I had developed the skill sets needed for a school leader, so it wasn’t a difficult decision for me,” she explained exuding the calm confidence that has guided her career. “I didn’t know how effective we would be, but I knew I was called to give it a shot.”
“It was challenging, but we were successful because we formed a strong team. We then developed a strategic plan, set our goals and began checking off the boxes as we moved forward.”
One of the most obvious goals Ford has accomplished during her 25 years at the helm was opening a second campus. In 2000, exactly one year from the day permits were pulled to build, the school expanded from a Lower School on the Parish Campus at Holy Trinity Episcopal
Church, to include a 40-acre Upper School located on the Pineda Campus with state-of-the-art classrooms, gymnasium, athletic stadium, chapel and auditorium. The first class of seniors graduated in 2003.
What Is the Difference?
When asked, “What is it that makes Holy Trinity different?” she responds, “I think there are a number of significant factors. First, we have a faculty that is genuinely committed to not just producing students that are academically successful and therefore perhaps financially successful in their careers, but we want to form individuals who are genuinely good people and good citizens, who contribute to their community.”
“Secondly, most of our students want to be here…not all,” she concedes with a smile. “Our goal is to discover and celebrate every student’s gifts, because they all have them, whether that gift is athletics, academics or the arts. Identifying and glorifying those unique gifts are what form students who succeed in other areas of life.”
“Plus there is an important spiritual element that permeates the campus. These twenty-five years have been a walk of faith. We are an Episcopal school; that heritage welcomes students of all cultural and religious backgrounds but it also places certain values at the core of everything we do. That is the foundation of what we have done and will continue to do.”
Ford is pleased that she can transition out with the school in such “great shape.” With her commitment and involvement in volunteer leadership, the Space Coast will continue to benefit from her talents and passion for years to come.
A respected author and speaker Eric Wright is the assignment editor for SpaceCoast Business magazine and the pastor of Journey Church in Suntree.