“This is a response to a call to serve,” she said of the superintendent’s position. “I am honored, humbled and thrilled to be brought to this point.”

As superintendent, she will oversee 13 high schools with a combined enrollment of 6,746, and 116 elementary and middle schools with a combined enrollment of 26,125. She succeeds David Lodes who resigned in January 2010.

Experienced educator

A West Allis native, Cepelka attended St. Mary Help of Christians School. As an aspirant for the Sisters of St. Agnes, she attended St. Mary Springs High School, Fond du Lac. Following graduation from Marian College (now University) with a bachelor’s degree in English, she taught junior high English from 1969 to 1973 at St. Joseph School, Fond du Lac.

From 1973 to 1977 Cepelka taught junior high English at Sacred Heart School, Yonkers, N.Y. In 1975 she earned her master’s degree in English from Ball State University.

Returning to Fond du Lac in 1977, Cepelka served as principal of St. Louis and St. Patrick schools until 1981. From 1981 until 1987, she was principal and then principal and president of Thomas More Prep-Marian in Hays, Kan. In 1984 she earned her master’s degree in educational administration from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn.

After teaching a semester at Marian, Cepelka began doctoral work in educational administration at Marquette in 1989. In addition to her studies, she was “very involved” in resident hall and campus ministry.

Upon receiving her doctorate in 1992, Cepelka became superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Salina, Kan. In 1993, she became chairperson of the education department at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., while also serving as head of the adult education department for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan.

Cepelka was an assistant professor in Marquette’s College of Education from 1996 until 1999. That year she became principal of Catholic Memorial High School, Waukesha, where she served until 2007.

Catholic education on the upswing

Cepelka said that the attention and focus given to Catholic schools’ declining enrollments and rising costs are “justifiable,” and she knows she will have to deal with those realities, but she doesn’t plan to be held captive by them.

“I believe in the future of Catholic education in a substantive way,” she said. “I view Catholic education as starting to climb again.”

Cepelka noted that during one of her interviews with the search committee, she asked them what their vision was for Catholic education.

Referring to a “new dawn” for Catholic education in the archdiocese, Cepelka  praised the bishops and a “cadre of leaders” as being “very committed.”

“If there is any archdiocese that has the opportunity to contribute to the survival prospects for thriving Catholic schools, it is the Archdiocese of Milwaukee,” she said.

Cepelka termed Catholic education “the principal teaching arm of the church,” and said, “I want to help spread that message in any way I can.”

Aware that recent superintendents had emphasized the marketing of Catholic schools, Cepelka said that there was “perfect alignment with education and marketing.”

“I look forward to being an ambassador, a personal marketer for our schools,” she said.

Recalling that as a principal she tried to be in every classroom a minimum of three times per week, Cepelka said she plans to visit each of the schools in the archdiocese during her first year as superintendent.

“I want to be personally involved in getting the word out (about what we do),” she said.