Julie Shively’s office at St. Thomas More Academy contains all the expected items to found in a high school principal’s workplace: neatly arranged books, diplomas on the wall, even a framed photo of the family cat.
But it’s the military airplane models that tend to catch the eye.
People are curious about the planes, Shively said, adding that student reaction to her miniature fleet is “pretty cool.”
But it’s not unusual that Shively surrounds herself with such mementoes: a retired Air Force pilot, she’s as much at home in a principal’s office as in the cockpit of a C-141 cargo plane.
Shively was named to the head job at St. Thomas More in April, replacing the Rev. James S. Lentini, who now serves as pastor of the Church of the Holy Cross, Dover.
She comes to the Magnolia school by way of the Central Catholic High School in Wheeling, W.Va., where she served as principal for two years; she also has 14 years of classroom experience teaching mathematics and science.
For some, being in charge of preparing today’s youngsters for the real world would seem a far cry from flying for the Air Force, but Shively feels her military experience shapes her philosophy when running a school.
Born into an Army family, Shively became interested in flying at the age of six. But that was at a time when most military women filled administrative jobs; a woman in the cockpit was almost unthinkable.
“But Dad didn’t tell me that,” she said. “He was a private pilot and he always took me flying. I fell in love with that.
“I love the military. I felt that family feeling even when I was young. It was a given that one day I would be in the military.”
Graduating from the Air Force Academy, Shively flew the C-141 cargo jet for almost nine years before deciding to leave active duty to raise daughter Katie. She stayed in the Air Force Reserve, however, working as a historian and writing several well-received books on Civil War and Revolutionary War battle sites.
She also decided to become a teacher.
“You are always going to school in the military, and when you’re in a leadership position you’re always making sure those below you are going to school or getting their education,” she said. “For me, it was natural to go from being in the military to being a teacher.”
Although not from the Eastern Shore, Shively said she jumped at the chance to move to Delaware. Husband Al “Moose” Shively, a retired U.S. Marine officer and a Navy football fanatic, was a factor in that decision.
Page 2 of 2 - “When I saw this opening, I said, I’ve got Dover Air Force Base, my husband has the Naval Academy. We love Philadelphia and Washington, and Dover is not much larger than Wheeling.”
“This job is the whole package,” she said.
Shively’s superiors also found she was a natural for the head job at St. Thomas More.
“Her academic background is outstanding, that’s the first thing,” said Louis DeAngelo, superintendent of schools for the Wilmington diocese.
“One of the things that was unique was her experience in the military which she brings to St. Thomas More Academy. And certainly the skill set that comes with that experience is valuable to any organization.”
Shively also is a nationally board-certified teacher, a distinction held by less than three percent of teachers today, DeAngleo said.
“We feel that’s another great attribute on her resume that will benefit us.”
“We’re happy she’s there,” DeAngelo said. “She’s been working extremely hard since she arrived, out meeting people and making connections. I think that’s all good.”
Shively already has been putting her prior experience to work. On Monday, the first day of the 2013-2014 school year, she was out front greeting arriving students and inside helping new students figure out their schedules.
“It was phenomenal,” she said. “I got to meet all the kids and to help set the tone for the year.”
It’s a job Shively relishes.
“At a Catholic school, I have the opportunity and the obligation to make sure my students’ spiritual needs are met as well as their academic needs,” she said.
“Everything we do goes to the mission of the school, which is to provide the best education in a safe and Christ-centered environment.”