In the halls of Bonner & Prendie, Thomas Stewart, a 1964 Bonner graduate, has spent three decades leaving a lasting impression on the lives of students and colleagues alike. As a veteran educator and Assistant Principal of Student Services, Tom shares the valuable lessons he’s learned as the longest tenured administrator.
You joined Bonner & Prendie in 1993, but your teaching career began much earlier. Tell us about your early days as an educator.
Upon graduating from college, I had planned on going to Law School but I also knew that there was a good chance I would be drafted. I took this opportunity to apply for a teaching job at Saint James High School in Chester, PA. I began teaching and coaching in 1968 and never looked back. I know now that teaching was truly my passion. 55 years later I am still doing what I love.
What led you to Bonner & Prendie, and how did you transition to your current role as Assistant Principal?
After dedicating 25 years of my career to St. James High School, an all- boys Catholic school in Philadelphia, it closed in 1993. On a job board,
I saw an open position at Prendie for a physical education teacher. I thought it sounded interesting, so I applied and soon found myself teaching 320 sophomore girls. After a year in that role, the principal
asked me to apply to become the school disciplinarian – soon after I became the first male disciplinarian in an all-girls school. Thirty years later, I’m still in that role, overseeing attendance, discipline, transportation, and fostering a safe environment for learning.
During your tenure, what has remained consistent about Bonner & Prendie?
Our core values and principles have stood the test of time. Most parents seek a safe environment with a robust curriculum, sports, and activities for their children – and we continue to provide that. As a Catholic school, we also emphasize morality and instill good behavior among
our students. Despite changes in demographics, rising tuition, and challenges like COVID, our dedication to creating a nurturing environment for students has remained steadfast. Students call Bonner & Prendie their home – each graduating class talks about the brotherhood and sisterhood they experienced. It’s a great place for kids to grow up.
What does Bonner & Prendie do exceptionally well?
The support from the school community is exceptional. Dr. Cooke, the board members, and the community have worked tirelessly to raise funds for student aid. Despite the increase in tuition, our student aid program has allowed us to attract students from diverse backgrounds, making Bonner & Prendie a unique and inclusive place.
After so many years, what motivates you to continue your work? Coaching has played a significant role in my motivation. I’ve been coaching basketball for 53 years between St. James and Bonner & Prendie. The fulfillment of making a difference in students’ lives and witnessing their success stories never gets old. I love what I do. As long as I still feel like I’m making a positive difference in students’ lives, I will continue.
What valuable lessons have you learned as an educator?
Every student is unique, requiring individualized attention and understanding. I’ve realized that being a good listener is vital, and sometimes, I act as a counselor for students who need guidance beyond the discipline office. One success story can outweigh all the challenges and makes it all worthwhile.
Could you share a memorable moment from your career that touched your heart?
There was a young lady who struggled with drug addiction during her high school years. I became her lifeline and helped her find the support she needed. She eventually turned her life around, married, and now has a family. It was incredibly rewarding when she told me years later that she would not be where she is today without my support.
How do your Catholic values affect your work and interactions with students?
Growing up in a Catholic community and attending St. Dorothy’s Parish and school, I’ve embraced the values my parents instilled in me. It’s essential to uphold those principles in my work, serving as a role model for the students and teaching them about morality, compassion, and respect.
As you reflect on your journey, would you change anything if given the chance?
Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve found my calling in education and have had the privilege of making a difference in young lives. It’s been a fulfilling and meaningful path, and I am grateful for it.