9/10 Update from Cathy Callahan

September 10, 2021 

Dear Saint Dominic Academy Community, 

Based on the recommendation of the Interim Search Committee, acceptance by the Board of Trustees and approval  and appointment of the Prioress and Council of The Sisters of Saint Dominic of Caldwell, we are pleased to  announce that Elizabeth (Liz) Christou-Woodall will serve as Interim Head of School of Saint Dominic Academy. 

Liz comes to us a proven leader in education with considerable depth and experience as both an educator and  administrator. Liz served for 28 years in increasingly senior roles at Kent Place School, an All-Girls non denominational K-12 College Prep School located in Summit, NJ. During her last 13 years at Kent Place, Liz was  the Upper School Director. Throughout her KPS journey, Liz taught middle school and 9th grade, coached  basketball, founded the Girls Leadership Institute, was the first Dean of Students, and supported innovative  curriculum development and increased enrollment. Liz started her teaching career at St. Luke’s in the South Bronx  as part of her service in the Jesuit Volunteer Corp. She also taught at Our Lady Help of Christians in East Orange.  Most recently Liz established the position as Director of Development for Bridges Outreach, a not-for-profit entity dedicated to outreach and support for the Homeless. She is a Board Trustee at Newark Academy and chairs the  security committee. 

Liz is a woman of deep faith who is committed to carrying forward the Dominican pillars and the mission of Saint  Dominic Academy. Liz attested to this in her application for the role. “Being back at a Catholic school and being in  a learning and service environment where faith matters and is embraced openly will bring out the best in me. My  faith, especially my devotion to Mary and reliance on the Holy Spirit, allows me to approach challenges with  strength and courage. Living the Dominican Catholic Identity through the four pillars of prayer, study, community  and ministry will be an extension of my daily existence.” Additionally, Liz is a strong advocate for girls’ education.  With 28 years of focus, Liz’s commitment to girls is unwavering. 

This news is the culmination of the search process that was conducted diligently over the summer. We determined  that, given our tight timeframe, an interim head would be in SDA’s best interest while we undertake the longer  process of searching for a permanent head. We put together an interim search committee, as we previously  communicated, comprised of Sisters and Board Trustees, and retained a search firm. We interviewed numerous  candidates from a larger pool and ultimately selected two finalists for consideration by the SDA community. We  carefully conducted interviews and personal reference checks and discerned feedback from faculty, administrators,  staff and Board Trustees. We are grateful that Liz has accepted the invitation to join us as Interim Head of School. 

We are thankful for everyone’s participation in this process and look forward to warmly welcoming Liz to SDA. As  we approach our 150th Anniversary this is an exciting development which allows us to step boldly into the future.  We are confident that Liz’s experience, enthusiasm and faith-inspired humility will ensure that the legacy of SDA  will grow and thrive for generations to come. 


Cathleen Callahan ‘73 

Chair, St Dominic Academy Board of Trustees

7/30 Board Statement

July 29, 2021


Dear St. Dominic Academy community:

I am writing to update you on the search process now in place for the next head of school for St. Dominic Academy. We will be partnering with Mathew Heersche and Risa Oganesoff Heersche of Educational Directions (Portsmouth, RI) a nationally known and highly regarded independent school consulting firm, to work with us. Educational Directions has carried out a significant number of leadership searches for all types of quality independent schools throughout the country for the last 30 years. Mathew and Risa bring deep experience as educational leaders in Catholic education (including having worked at several Dominican sponsored schools) and as search professionals, as well as expertise and enthusiasm, to our search.

As noted in the previous communication, our initial focus is on selecting an interim head of school. We want to move forward as expeditiously as possible, yet provide enough time to do quality work in terms of recruiting and evaluating candidates for the interim head. Risa and Mathew have already begun searching for candidates for the interim position. They will be identifying and evaluating prospects based upon specific criteria that are guided by the opportunities for the interim head as well as the professional and personal qualities sought in this individual. Mathew and Risa will present a group of top-level candidates for the search committee’s review. There will be further evaluation and background checks and the search committee will identify several finalists. It is from this group that the search committee will select the individual whom they recommend to the Board and the Sisters of St. Dominic leadership for their review and approval. Our goal is to have the interim head in place before the start of the school year.

Once the interim head is selected, we will then move to the search for permanent head. This search is expected to take place throughout the fall and into the new year following the typical head of school search timeframe. An important step in the search for the permanent head is for our search professionals Mathew and Risa to begin the process of learning as much as possible about St. Dominic Academy. The search committee has had a preliminary meeting with them to review a wide range of topics as it relates to our search for new leadership. Risa and Mathew will also be reviewing data and materials that we will provide them. We also want to engage the St. Dominic community in this process. To that end, they are planning to conduct an onsite visit in September with all of the appropriate safety protocols. During their time with us, they will interview members of all stakeholder groups within the school (students, faculty, parents, administrators, alumnae, board members) to learn as much about the St. Dominic as possible and what we seek in our next leader. Among the key questions that they will ask of all of us are:

  • What makes St. Dominic Academy special, i.e. what differentiates us from other schools? 
  • What are St. Dominic’s aspirations? 
  • What are the perceived challenges and opportunities for the school at this time?

From all of the information gathered through this process, Mathew and Risa, with the search committee, will develop a position profile to be used as part of their overall marketing and recruitment efforts. We will, of course, share this document with all members of the St. Dominic Academy community once it is completed.

Our search professionals will be reaching out both locally and nationally. They will notify individual Catholic educational leaders, executive directors of educational and other organizations, a variety of Catholic educational leadership programs and regional school associations of our opening. Over the next few months, they will be identifying and evaluating top prospects.

Our goal is to ascertain a group of top-level candidates and then narrow that number down to five to seven individuals with whom the search committee will conduct interviews. From that group we will come up to three finalists who will be visiting us sometime in late January/early February 2022. There will be opportunities for school community members to meet each of the finalists. Upon completion of evaluation of all the data gathered (including deep reference checking) and deliberation, the committee will present its recommendation of their final selection to the board of trustees. Since St. Dominic is sponsored by the Dominican Sisters, the Sisters of St. Dominic leadership must also approve the head of school selection. Once this is complete, the board will make an announcement regarding the new head as soon as possible.

Our calendar calls for identification and engagement of the next head of St. Dominic Academy to be completed by the end of February 2022. There will be an organized transition process culminating with the individual commencing work on or about July 2022.

We will continue to provide updates for both the interim and permanent head searches. We thank you for your continued support of St. Dominic Academy.



Cathleen Callahan ’73

Board Chair

7/22 Letter From Cathy Callahan

Dear SDA Community:


I am writing to share with you that our Head of School, Sarah Degnan Barbi has resigned effective immediately for personal and family reasons. We share our best wishes for Sarah and her family and thank her for her five years of stewardship at 2572 Kennedy Boulevard.

The timing of this decision is less than optimal, however, the Board of Trustees and The Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell are dedicated to finding a new Head of School who will provide the leadership necessary to move us into the future while preserving our culture and values. Given the realities of a search calendar, it is necessary for us to look for an interim leader first for this coming academic year. To that end, we have formed a search committee and will expedite the selection of an Interim Head of School. We will establish a broader search process for a permanent Head of School beginning this fall. We have engaged and will partner with Educational Directions, a leading academic search firm to guide us in both search efforts.

We begin our 143rd year at SDA with a thriving student body of both upper and middle school students.  We have survived COVID, retooled the school to provide safety and security for our students, and have welcomed our new MEDQUEST program which will debut when school opens with brand new facilities and equipment.  Our athletic programs continued throughout the pandemic and our teams excelled despite the challenges.  Peter Pan flew through virtual space this spring, the Dance Team never stopped dancing and The Dominoes will be back together in song as we open full time in person in September. The Class of 2021 is successfully off to their next adventure and we welcome the 65 student strong Class of 2025 to our sisterhood. 

We will keep you updated as information becomes available.  We look forward to including the perspectives of all constituent groups as we move toward identifying a permanent replacement.  I know I speak for the Board when I share my appreciation for our tireless and dedicated administration, the faculty and staff who continue to educate and support our students.


Cathleen Callahan, ‘73

Board Chair