Dr. Lisa Grillo, a 1989 graduate of Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, Maryland, has returned to her alma mater to serve as president of the all-girls school sponsored by the Daughters of Charity.
“It’s just been a joy to be back at my alma mater, a school that I believe in,” Grillo said. “We have been educating young women since 1959. As an alumna and daughter of Seton, I believe deeply in our school’s mission to prepare well-rounded young women to become exceptional scholars and leaders who are in service to others.”
Last August, Grillo was named interim president of the school. Her appointment as president was announced at the end of December. Sister Jane Graves, a Daughter of Charity and chairperson of the school’s board of directors, announced Grillo’s appointment in a statement on the school’s website, praising the new president for her “wealth of experience as an educator and administrator and professor.”
“It is clear: her (Grillo’s) passion for Seton and her vision for the enduring value of a Seton education is inspiring,” Sister Graves said in the statement.
Over the past 25 years, Grillo has served in school districts across Maryland, the District of Columbia and North Carolina as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent for special education services and chief human resources officer.
As a principal at a Washington, D.C. public school, Grillo led her school community in earning Autonomous School Status, an award given to a select cohort of high-performing schools. As the chief of human resources for Baltimore City and Baltimore County, she designed talent management frameworks and oversaw performance management systems. She most recently served as an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Howard University’s School of Education.
Of her decision to return to Seton, Grillo said, “I missed school leadership, but I knew I wanted to be in an environment that was rooted in Christian values. I no longer wanted to separate my deep faith from my leadership.”
“The call to serve (at Seton) I just knew was God speaking,” she added. “This is one of the best decisions I made professionally.”
Returning to her alma mater “is surreal in many ways,” Grillo said.
“I credit Seton with my development as a leader. I was president of the student government as a senior. I learned to be a leader here, and now to come back and exercise the skills I learned here means I have come full circle,” she said. “I love Seton, and I was fully prepared for college when I left here.”
After graduating from Seton, Grillo earned her bachelor of arts and master of teaching degrees from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, and her doctor of education degree in educational administration and policy from Howard University.
In her new post, Grillo said she enjoys working with those she has known from her days as a student.
“I was taught by Daughters of Charity, and being with them and working with them as colleagues has been exciting,” she said. She added that she also works with Nancy Hernick who was a physical education teacher during Grillo’s time as a student and now serves as director of operations at the school.
She also works with former classmates and other graduates of the school.
“Seton is an alumni-led school. Of the 11 members on our school-based leadership council, seven of those are alums, two have daughters who went to Seton and one is a Daughter of Charity and one has been a staffer for more than 30 years,” she said.
In returning to Seton, Grillo said she had to adapt to “how students are different now.”
“They are much more technology focused. They are autonomous, and they are confident. Seeing young women showing their confidence and their beliefs in certain areas such as justice, has been inspiring to me,” she said. “These girls are actually realizing the vision of women who are strong and confident and serving others and focusing on certain areas of justice.”
One thing that has not changed, she noted, is that “Seton continues to boast a strong rigorous environment of education for students. That is one of the hallmarks of our school.”
Seton’s curriculum includes pre-career programs in several areas including pharmacology and law, as well as advanced placement and honors level courses. “We have a wide menu of AP and honors classes and diverse courses – there really is something for every girl across a wide spectrum here at Seton,” she said.
“We have high expectations for our students, and each year they exceed our expectations. Our students are phenomenal, not just academically, but they come out with a strong understanding what it means to be a Seton student – that we server the poor, focused on others in need. They are women of great character as well,” she said.
Another thing that has remained constant at Seton, Grillo said, are some of the school traditions.
“We have traditions that haven’t changed – the big sister, little sister program, class rivalries,” she said. “And our alumni haven’t changed. We have always had a very strong alumni network. When I came back I knew I would receive the support from alums.”
Taking the helm of Seton during a global pandemic, Grillo said one of her first strategies has been to ensure “we stay unified as a community.”
“We have always had a very strong community – our students, our teachers, our parents, our alumni, our donors. I am trying to find ways to keep us connected as a community,” she said. “We’ve had virtual classes, virtual meetings, webinars and virtual prayer services. One drawback is that I have not been able to interact with the parents the way I would like. Parents love to come into the school building because they are so involved in their daughters’ education.”
Despite the restrictions of the pandemic, she said the school has embarked on a three-year strategic plan to enhance innovation in academic programs, boost athletics, and bring more alumnae back to be active in supporting Seton.
“This has been a joy and a blessing to return to Seton,” Grillo said. “I prayed to the Lord for an opportunity to put the gifts and talents He gave me to good use, and I am very glad to be able to do that here at my alma mater.”