Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School has made a big announcement and named a brand new head Principal. The man who has been charged with leading the institution was once a student there and not so many years ago.

Notre Dame officiais announced Sunday via their Facebook page that Richard J. Hensel will be promoted from Associate Principal to the lead position. Hensel is the first Notre Dame alumnus to be appointed to the post. Hensel was a student of the school graduating in the Class of 2013. From Notre Dame he went on to Le Moyne College in Syracuse where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a concentration in Adolescent Education and a minor in Advanced Writing. He also received a Masters of Science degree from Le Moyne in Adolescent Education.

What Inspired You to Get Into the Field of Education?

Hensel was previously employed as a faculty member at Notre Dame in the English Department and worked his way up to the position he has earned this week. He has a passion for education and his Catholic faith which makes him ideal for this new job. When asked what inspired him to get into education, he said it started in the halls and classrooms of 2 Notre Dame Lane in Utica. Hensel says,

I had some of the best teachers at Notre Dame, people who really cared about teaching and who really cared about their students and genuinely wanted the best for us. They were like family. They challenged us academically and they challenged us to be better people and I wanted to follow in their footsteps. I wanted to make a difference and for me, there was no better way.

What is it Like to Become Principal of the School You Attended?

It must have been an amazing experience to become principal of the school he once attended. For Hensel it is nothing short of 'surreal.' While Hensel feels it is surreal, he also looks at it as a privilege. Hensel tells WIBX,

To be able to continue the legacy of the great educators that have preceded me is an honor. Several of my former teachers are still teaching and it’s been an amazing experience to have learned from them and now to work with them. I am sure back then they would have never imagined that one day I’d be their principal, and I wouldn’t have either.

Hensel also believes that his time spent at Notre Dame allows him to relate to not only the students that attend there, but also the families who send them there. That experience he had makes him appreciate and understand the importance of a Notre Dame education. Hensel says, "I remember what it was like to sit in their seats; to walk these halls. I know what made the student experience so positive for me and for my classmates and I know what was important to my family in choosing Notre Dame. It all seems to have come full circle."

What Has Changed Since Your Time as a Student at Notre Dame?

A lot has changed in the decade since Hensel roamed the hallowed halls of Notre Dame. Hensel says there have been several improvements made to the physical plant, the construction of the Monsignor Willenburg Center and other cosmetic updaters. But, it's the technology that is truly impressive, according to Hensel.

The biggest difference is the school’s technology infrastructure, the projectors and screens of old have been replaced with touch screen smart boards and promethean boards, we have 1:1 Chromebooks for all of our students.

Another technological improvement is to something this former Notre Dame student certainly appreciates and that is the school's "morning show." That is a broadcast that sees students give announcements in the morning that used to be sent out over large block television sets through closed circuit. Hensel says, "Now, thanks to modern technology, the show is totally live streamed with actual green screen capabilities, etc. It’s really cool to see that many of the traditions have been continued but that each new generation improves upon them."

Hensel is also very proud of the improvements and continued success of the schools NJROTC program, in which he was a cadet. It is a military inspired program that teaches students several great qualities such as leadership and teamwork. Hensel is proud to state that the NJROTC unit has been designated a distinguished unit with academic honors for 7 consecutive years now and earned a spot in the national drill completion in Pensacola, Florida.

What is Your Vision Moving Forward as Principal?

Tradition is something that is very important to Hensel. He is excited to continue many of the ones that have made this school what it is today.

Notre Dame has a strong tradition of academic excellence that is rooted in faith and service. My vision is to preserve that legacy and continue to build upon it. Throughout the years, Notre Dame has always adapted to ensure students are prepared not only for the world of today, but for the world of tomorrow. So as we head into this next chapter, ND will continue to lead the Mohawk Valley as a Primier, faith-based, academic institution that molds future leaders and instills virtues and values they will need to be upstanding members of society.

What Challenges Do You Feel You'll Face in Your New Role?

Like many Catholic School principals around the nation, there are some challenges that Hensel will have to face head-on, but he's up to them.

I am confident in our faculty and staff and know that regardless of the challenge of the day that we are well equipped to meet it. I think as a society, schools in general face the challenges of an ever evolving technological landscape, safety, etc. Students certainly have access to much more than they used to, but I think the key is to adapt and to continue to teach students how to use technology appropriately, safely, and productively.

He also is proud of the fact that his school has an armed, active duty school resource officer to stand guard and at the ready. That individual has training in conflict resolution.

The passion he has demonstrated during his tenure as a teacher at Notre Dame has clearly elevated him to this level and the school community should feel optimistic about its future. There is a lot he credits this accomplishment to, but most importantly, Hensel thanks his parents. Hensel says, "My parents worked so hard to send my brother and I to Notre Dame because they recognized the importance of a quality, faith-based, and value-centered education. I am forever grateful to them for doing everything they could to give us that gift. It truly changed my life." That is what being a member of the Notre Dame family is all about.

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