Colleen Pettus, head of school, School of the Holy Child

Local heads of school in Westchester, Fairfield and Dutchess counties talk about lessons learned from the pandemic, inspiration, superpowers, what makes them smile and – in one case – the benefits of dogs on campus.

School of the Holy Child (SHC), established in 1904, is a member of the Roman Catholic network of Holy Child Schools, located across the United States, Africa and Europe. Based in Rye, SHC is an independent, college-preparatory school for girls grades five through 12.

Named head of School of the Holy Child this past March, Colleen Pettus has been an administrator on campus since 2012 when she joined SHC as head of the middle school and eight years later was named interim head of school. A graduate of the University at Albany and Teachers College, Columbia University, Pettus, who is a mother of four, has known since her teenage years that teaching was her destiny. 

Tell us something surprising about your school.

“Despite our intentionally small size, we are dedicated to student choice when it comes to curriculum. Our curriculum also adapts to “meeting the wants of the age,” as our founder of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, Cornelia Connelly, wanted for the network of schools. For next year, we have created a new public health elective for seniors in light of the learning opportunities that the pandemic has challenged us to address. This course, along with our new Advanced Humanities Institute, shows our dedication to a full breadth of academic experiences that can inspire true joy in teaching and joy in learning.”

How did your school cope during the pandemic? 

“We were blessed to be able to be together in school four days a week during the 2020-21 school year. Our entire school community worked very hard to foster connections and offer meaningful experiences for our students both inside and outside the classroom. 

“An added bonus of this year was the increased use of our beautiful campus. Some classes were held outside and our girls engaged with both the campus and curriculum in new and different ways. There is no doubt that we will continue to take our learning outside to encourage more experiential learning and positively impact our community’s overall wellness.”

Which aspects of running a school are most appealing to you?

“I love how each day is different — meeting and planning with different constituents while always keeping our students at the heart of what we do. The role demands a deep and wide skill set and you are given many opportunities for growth each day by listening, learning and collaborating.”

What superpower do you bring to the school?

“Leadership is about relationships and I truly care about the people who are Holy Child. While that sounds simple, when you lean into difficult conversations, from a place of genuine care and trust, that is when the real work gets done. When presented with any situation, I aim to see the widest perspective possible to fully understand and then make intentional, empathic decisions. Relationships are essential to all we do at Holy Child.”

What led you to choose a career in education?

“My mother went back to college to get her teaching degree when I was in middle school. Often when I woke up for school, she would already be at the kitchen table — working. That image and her dedication to quality education had a great impact on me. Later in high school, after giving a presentation on John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” my teacher paused and looked straight at me and said, “I’m going to make an English teacher out of you.” These experiences, coupled with my love for working with children, led me down the path of an educator. 

Did you have a favorite teacher who affected your life? 

“My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Coluccio, took a great interest in me as a writer and as a reader. That interest both in me and my work developed the love I have for the humanities and the transformative middle school years.” 

How do you recharge in your free time?

“I love to be outdoors, watch really good TV and spend quality time with my family and friends. As a big sports fan, I am also sure to get to a few Mets games each summer.”

School of the Holy Child at a glance

  • Head of school: Colleen Pettus
  • Number of faculty and staff: 81
  • Student enrollment: 380
  • Annual tuition: $25,000 to $36,000

For more, visit 

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