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DIFFERENCE MAKER: NCCS principal works with ‘difference makers’ every day

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl Principal Andy Ludwig enjoyed Karen Nalepa’s seventh grade math students’ Pi Day project on March 14.

When Northern Chautauqua Catholic School Principal Andy Ludwig learned that he had been named a “Difference Maker” in education by the OBSERVER, his response was simple: “I’m the one surrounded by difference makers: our teachers, our board, our parents. All I have to do is support these people.”

But what exactly does that support look like? For Ludwig, it includes the responsibilities one might expect of a school administrator, like reviewing students’ state tests — his task on a recent afternoon in mid March. Despite the work that lay before him, Ludwig did not hesitate to take a call from math teacher Karen Nalepa.

“These can wait,” he said of the multiple plastic crates of exams that filled his office. “Let’s have some pie!”

Up on the third floor, Nalepa’s seventh grade math students welcomed Ludwig to take part in their project: celebrating Pi Day with pie! Nalepa explained that her students were tasked with selecting four different pie flavors (from the 15 pies students and teachers brought in), predicting which would be the favorite flavor and making a bar graph to show the actual popularity of their selected flavors among all of the students and teachers who stopped by for pie. Ludwig couldn’t be happier to assist students in their research.

As he strolled the halls of his school, pie in hand, Ludwig pointed out the classroom of another difference maker, science teacher Dan Vona, who recently cooked and shared a meal with his science class. This hands-on activity served as a lesson in both nutrition science and the digestion process, Ludwig explained.

In the gymnasium, Ludwig pointed out physical education teacher Vince Fogarty surrounded by his energetic students. “What makes it so special to watch is him having a special education background. He sits and talks to his classes and connects with every student,” Ludwig explained.

Ludwig, who retired from his position as Fredonia Middle School principal last year, brings a fresh attitude to the school. “So often, you walk in a public school and you’re treated like the enemy,” he said. “You know, this attitude of ‘What do you want? Why are you here?'” Although Ludwig recognizes the importance of secure entries and “buzzing” in visitors (a standard practice at NCCS), he noted that the public school “welcome” can be impersonal and unfriendly. “You don’t get that when Abbey welcomes you in here,” Ludwig said of another “difference maker,” school secretary and alumna Abbey Whitcher. “Instead it’s ‘We’re happy you’re here! What can we do for you?'”

Ludwig’s attitude of service toward his staff and parents is unmatched only by his desire to serve his students — whether it’s incorporating them in the morning announcements or bringing them together with Cassadaga Job Corps students for a day of reading to celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday.

Most recently, Ludwig made the last minute decision to gather students in front of the school to celebrate the Dunkirk Lady Marauders’ state champion bowling team, which included NCCS alumni, and family members of current students. “We asked the team to come by our school and changed our schedule,” Ludwig explained. “The kids made signs and went outside to see the girls. Makayla (Pasierb) got off the truck to hug her cousin, Henry. It was a great moment.”

Reflecting on his approach, Ludwig said, “It’s about what we can do for these kids. How can we make things fun? It’s easy to say ‘no’… There’s every excuse not to do something. Or, you can just make it happen.” A difference maker, indeed.

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