Terrie Scheckelhoff loves to laugh.“I’m drawn to the power of joy,” she says. “And nothing recharges me more than when kids belly laugh, like real laughs,” she adds. The 11th head of school at St. Catherine’s is positively giddy when talking about education for young girls and is a highly sought-after speaker on the topics of women in leadership and girls and technology.
The self-proclaimed optimist came to the all-girls school in 2012 from Ohio where she spent 33 years at the Columbus School for Girls. She holds a doctorate in educational leadership and higher education from University of Nebraska, master’s degrees in business administration and education administration from Ohio State University, and an undergraduate degree in elementary education from Miami University. Her board posts and memberships are numerous and include the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, the Virginia Association of Independent Schools, the St. Catherine’s Board of Governors, the Country Day School Headmasters’ Association, the Headmistresses’ Association of the East, the Head’s Network and the Forum Club, Richmond.
While her background is in education, she didn’t always know where her career would go and that energized her. “I believe that you don’t start with passion, you usually start with curiosity. Once I landed here I was curious about girls’ education, especially since I grew up in public, co-ed schools. I fell in love with the power of it,” she says.
“All these years later, I still love girls’ education.”
Her leadership style is one that thrives on collaboration and growing organic decisions together with all of parties involved, including students. She does, however, take time to herself and family. Mornings are spent going through email, something she regards as “a peaceful, private time” before a busy day on campus. A hectic week ahead always prompts Scheckelhoff, a huge nature lover, to plan an ocean-side getaway or to hike Old Rag with her husband. When her two kids, now in their 20s, were still at home the family always ate dinner together even if she had to go back to work later that night. “That balance has always been key,” she says.
While St. Catherine‘s School educates girls from junior kindergarten through 12th grade, Scheckelhoff is particularly interested in the development of the middle school population. “It’s an underserved group,” she says. She explains that helping girls decide who they are at a time when they’re being told by mainstream media who they should be is critical. She’s also very excited about launching the Arts and Innovation Center, an expansion of the Grove Avenue campus. “It’s not just a facility, but a way of thinking.” Scheckelhoff admits she thinks of her work more as a lifestyle than a career and is very proud to be a part of something that provides opportunities far beyond the school’s campus. “When I’m educating young women who are going to be wonderful partners in the world, it just makes me so proud.” She doesn’t have plans to stop shaping future leaders anytime soon. “I don‘t ever want to retire, I love this.”