The principal of St. Gregory the Great School has received two national awards for her work with the Williamsville school.
This past April, the National Catholic Education Association presented Patricia Freund with a Distinguished Principal Award. This award is given annually to outstanding Catholic elementary school principals throughout the United States.
Last month, Freund flew to Washington, D.C., to receive recognition as a National Distinguished Principal. The award, presented by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, recognizes public and private school principals who make contributions to their schools and communities.
Freund, who has served for 13 years as St. Greg's principal, helps her students be the best they can by creating opportunities for them to learn and grow.
"I like the fact that I could help shape them, shape their minds and help them to grow and learn how to experience life to its fullest," she said. "Right now, we're a pilot STREAM school. I also felt that Catholic education had to be available for every one."
She has brought a resource room teacher, reading specialists and math specialists to assist those students who need extra help. Those additions have allowed St. Greg's to take in students who have learning disabilities, so they were eligible to receive the same Catholic education that their counterparts could have.
Motivation comes in part from her son David, who has Down syndrome. Freund left her job as a social worker in Wyoming to return to her hometown of Tonawanda due to her displeasure with Wyoming schools. Here, David was able to enter an inclusion classroom, where he stayed until high school.
"There are definitely some parameters we can't cross over and take care of, but I believe if we have the capabilities of doing so, then Catholic education should be for everyone," she said.
Interestingly, education was not the first career choice for the Cardinal O'Hara High School grad. She had planned a career in physical therapy, but turned to social work, before considering a life in front of the chalkboard.
"I always had a real sense of helping people and trying to give people the best opportunities that they could have to be successful," she said.
She worked as a social worker in a group home for disabled young adults, before becoming the first school social worker in Sheridan, Wyoming.
"I did a lot of work in the classroom with students and whole classes, and decided I wanted to go into education," she said.
After receiving her certification in education, Freund taught junior high students at St. Amelia's in Tonawanda for 11 years. She then received a master's in administration from Canisius College, and began a 13-year span as principal of St. Greg's. "I got my first job here at St. Greg's and I've been here ever since."
She makes sure she has visible presence in the school, and that she knows her students. She has even been known to return to the classroom and teach when necessary to make sure her students are getting the most out of the educational experience.
"It's very important for me to get to know my students, get to know them by name, to be out in the classrooms, to see what the teachers are teaching, to make sure the students have the technology they need at their fingertips," Freund said. "I do a lot of that kind of thing with the students. I make sure they have the opportunities to experience a lot of different activities, both during the school day and after school. We have a full enrichment program after school that has a wide variety of activities that the students can get involved in."
Receiving two honors in the same year has been humbling to Freund, who credits her teachers and students for making it happen.
"I don't feel like these are my awards," she said. "These are the awards that go for my whole school, my teachers, my students and their families. Together we've accomplished what we've accomplished. It's not just me. I accept these awards for everyone. I am so grateful that our Lord is providing me the opportunity to do His will and lead St. Gregory the Great School and family. I can't imagine a better job or career in my life than being right here."
She also receives high marks from the diocesan Department of Catholic Education.
"Patty Freund is just an outstanding leader," said Sister Carol Cimino, SSJ, superintendent of Catholic Schools. "Not only has she grown the school, but she has maintained very high standards for the school. The school is excellent. She accepts any challenge that comes along. I could pick up the phone right now and say, 'Patty, I'd like you to do this,' and she would be, 'Got it. It's done.' That's the type of leader she is. She is everything we would want a principal to be."