It wasn’t an announcement that Woodlands Academy students or faculty wanted to hear. But after 47 years, Principal Madonna Lee Edmunds announced this spring that this school year would be her last.
“I’ve been thinking for the last year or so that I might not have the stamina I need to for this job any more,” Edmunds explains with a gentle laugh. “This is a role for someone with more energy—and maybe more vision for what the future holds for Woodlands.”
Teaching at Woodlands Academy was Edmunds’ first job after she graduated from Barat College—a Sacred Heart sister school and Woodlands’ one-time neighbor before the property was razed in 2014. “When I graduated from Barat, I had three job offers that I was considering,” she explains. “At the time, the nuns who were in charge wanted me to teach French to all of our students, which then included an elementary school. I taught everything from sixth grade French to advanced placement classes.”
It wasn’t long before Edmunds’ gifts for leadership were recognized by the Sacred Heart sisters and they asked if she could be more involved in the administration of the school. “I said I would, but only if I could continue to teach because that has always been my love—working with the students. There is no greater joy than watching students learn,” Edmunds says. “About 25 years ago, I switched my focus from French to Latin—and have been teaching Latin ever since. This year, I have two Latin classes and an independent study for the students who wanted to continue exploring the language.”
To try to estimate how many young women Edmunds has met, inspired, and loved over the years is far too great to count. Even though 47 years has passed, Edmunds believes that the girls coming to Sacred Heart have remained the same with only small differences. “The girls are much more aware nowadays of what’s going on in the world,” she explains. “Much more socially aware, much more committed to social change, much more interested in science, math, and architecture—a lot of girls with strong interests in these areas which wasn’t the case when I first started.
The rigor of the school is so much more. We have many students taking four and five years of math and science—doubling up some years in certain subjects so they can do this.”
Having been a product of public high school education herself (when Edmunds was a child, parents needed to register for Woodlands at birth—a fact her parents didn’t know), she believes in single-sex education for girls more than ever. “Sacred Heart has always been about relationships. It’s the relationships that we establish with the girls that are really critical and wonderful,” Edmunds offers. “I think there’s nothing more important than for girls to have this time in in their lives to figure out who they are as young people. The research says that, as well. I know some voice concern about our girls moving on to a bigger college environment and whether they will be ready. But they are. They want to be heard. One of my greatest joys has been watching the students come to us as very little girls and developing into beautifully articulate, strong, young women, and going out into the world and making their mark. It’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
As for the next chapter Edmunds is about to write, for now—the pages are blank. “Years ago, Gwen Gregory [a former colleague] had a little retreat for us up north with people who had retired or people who were thinking about it,” Edmunds says. “And this nun who ran it said something to me that left a lasting impression. She explained that most people spend their lives doing for other people, doing for their work. But when they retire, they finally have the chance to just be and figure out what they want their relationship to be with God. That really stuck with me because I think that’s so true. It was very profound.”
When asked if Edmunds wishes she had done anything differently in her time at Woodlands, her answer may surprise you. “I don’t think so. I can truly say I have been blessed. This has been a vocation for me and I have loved every minute I’ve been here. I still feel like I did when I was 5-years-old peering into school windows, hardly able to wait until I could go to school myself. That’s how I’ve felt every day of my years here at Woodlands. I truly couldn’t wait to come to work.”