by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Robert DiFrancesco has been at it for 44 years, educating youngsters and encouraging them to succeed in life.
At some point during this school year, he'll step down from his current position, principal at Niagara Catholic Junior/Senior High School, in favor of a little rest and relaxation.
He said he has no regrets about the decision and enjoyed every minute of his career, which spanned tenures in both LaSalle High School and Niagara Catholic.
"For me, this was the perfect career," he said. "Being able to watch children grow up and succeed has been rewarding. Not exactly financially rewarding, but I always look at it like parents are sending the most important parts of their lives to me. Niagara Falls doesn't have much richness to it, but our kids are priceless."
There's about five things he accomplished in his career which he'll forever look back on with a smile. And it all starts with Niagara Catholic's four-day school week instituted a few years back.
Beginning in September 2009, the school switched to a four-day instruction week, leaving students and staff with a three-day weekend, including Mondays.
At the time, DiFrancesco said he thought the decision would allow students more opportunities outside the school while allowing administrators to avoid dealing with the overwhelming majority of Monday holidays.
Now, he said he's happy the school made the change. He's also going to look back fondly on helping the private school through its tough economic situation around the same time, as well as helping coordinate cooperation between his school and Niagara University, starting a partnership with Mount St. Mary's hospital in Lewiston and the most recent achievement, integrating seventh and eighth grades into the high school building.
"Those would be the things which stick out the most," he said. "I'll miss it. I can say I don't regret what I've done in my career and I'm glad I got the opportunity to help these kids."
Though the date for DiFrancesco's departure as principal – he'll remain with the school in a consultant role through the end of the academic year – isn't finalized, what has been determined is his replacement. And his name should be familiar to those who've followed the history of the school.
Ronald Buggs, who has been the superintendent of the Eden Central School District for 16 years, will take over for the retiring principal. But Buggs already served as principal at the high school back in the 1990s, before leaving for Eden.
"Education is demanding anywhere you're at," Buggs said. "It's a demanding field. Niagara Catholic is a good place to be, a place I can have great input with the kids. It's one reason why I'm returning to the school. The time I spent there in the past was outstanding. It truly was the best part of my 33-year career."
Of those 33 years, 19 of them have been in Catholic education, a dedication he said he's excited to once again share. The Town of Tonawanda resident said he's just as passionate about working with youths as the man he's replacing, and hopes his strengths help the school moving into the future without DiFrancesco at the helm.
"I want to bring back this school's strong financial foundation and its enrollment," he said. "Right now there's a lot going on, but there's a lot more that can be happening."
Finding the right candidate to fill DiFrancesco's large shoes was important for those in charge at the Niagara Catholic. Judi Nolan Powell, the chairman of the school's board of trustees, said the search process found 25 potentials from areas all over the country.
But she said the selection committee really wanted someone familiar with Niagara Falls and the struggles the city, and its Catholic high school, faces. Buggs, she said, was the best candidate.
"We had a number of out-of-the-area applicants," she said. "A couple of them were serious candidates. But we were all hopeful we would have a local person, which we do. So we're pleased."