“I love this school, and I appreciate all it has done for so many children, including my own, for so many years.” That’s the perspective of Karen Forte, the new principal of Our Lady of Fatima School in Los Banos.
Forte has been a part of the pre-K through 8th grade school for 20 years as a parent, volunteer, teacher and now administrator. She believes she has the education, experience and determination for her and the school to succeed.
Forte was appointed interim principal last month for the 2019-20 school year by Mona Faulkner, Fresno Diocese Superintendent of Schools, not long after Kendyl Darnell left to serve as an educator in another school. Forte will also teach this year, as the OLF English instructor for 6th, 7th and 8th grades
“For more than 60 years Our Lady of Fatima School has been providing a solid academic curriculum with many extra-curricular activities,” Forte said, “while fulfilling its main purpose of building a strong foundation in the Catholic faith.
“I want to continue that long tradition,” she said, “and help our students become successful in school and in life.”
Forte has been an active part of OLF since 2000, when her oldest child Adam enrolled in the school’s kindergarten at the school. Since then she has enrolled her three other children at OLF: Kyle, Claire and her youngest, Olivia, who is currently attending.
“I have seen how Our Lady of Fatima has developed character and academic skills in my children,” she said, “and I know it has helped many other children as well.”
As soon as her first child entered kindergarten Forte became active in the school, which emphasizes parents’ participation in their children’s education. In her second year at OLF, she was elected Parents’ Club treasurer and soon volunteered to do other tasks. Before long, Forte became a member of the Fresno Diocesan Advisory Board of Education, and one year served at its chair.
Four and a half years ago, after her first three children had graduated from OLF, Forte suffered a devastating loss when her husband Anthony passed away, when Olivia was 5.
After a long period of grieving, she realized she needed to do more to support her family while at the same time providing help the school needed. In the spring of 2016 and then again in the spring of 2017 she served as a long-term substitute teacher at OLF and began to realize education was her calling.
Many years prior Forte had earned a bachelor’s degree in ag business from Fresno State, while also nurturing her love for reading and writing. While substitute teaching, she also began taking courses online from Fresno State to earn her teaching credential.
She has completed all her coursework and most of her required teaching experience for the credential. Once she finishes this coming academic year, her credential will be complete.
When Forte was offered the job of interim principal, she took some time to reflect and pray about it. She decided that serving as principal was something she was called to do.
Forte feels confident she can do the job. “I know the school well,” she said, “and the children, parents and community it serves.” She believes she can work with the teachers and staff who will be returning this year, as well as three new teachers she has hired.
She also realizes the buck stops with her, and she’s ready and willing to make decisions for the good of the students.
Forte has two primary goals for herself this year. First, she wants to get to know the schoolchildren and their parents. She will be visiting classrooms often.
Second, she would like to build enrollment. “Last year OLF had a total of approximately 140 students,” she said. “I’d like to increase that by spreading the word about how good our school is.
“We have so many good things going here,” she added, such as “small class sizes, an excellent curriculum including religious education, talented and caring teachers, a strong athletic program and an active student government. We also have updated our technology, providing iPads for students in the lower grades and Chromebooks for students in the higher grades.”
“Our tuition of $4,530 for participating parents is reasonable,” Forte said, “especially compared to similar private schools in the Bay Area. I realize this represents a sacrifice for parents, but when they look at the opportunities for their children before, during and after school hours, it’s a great value. We have payment plans and keep looking for new ways to provide financial aid and scholarships.
“Our door is open for new students at any time,” Forte said. “I would encourage any parent who is even remotely thinking about sending their child to OLF to give the school a call and make an appointment to see me. I’d love to talk with them about all the good things OLF can do for their children.”