In our June 2023 edition of Rochester Woman Online, we thought it fitting, as the school year draws to a close, to feature Dr. Sherylanne Diodato, the new principal for Our Lady of Mercy (all women’s) Middle and High School as our latest cover woman.

Sherylanne not only graduated from OLM 30 years ago herself, but she now is leading the next generations of women and empowering them to build their own personal and academic confidence. She is not just a principal, but a true role model for these young ladies.

We were excited to talk with Sherylanne about her background, influencing the younger generation, what the future entails and more. We hope you enjoy what we discussed.

Please tell our audience a little bit about yourself and your background .
After graduating from Our Lady of Mercy High School in 1993, I attended the University of Rochester, and in 1997 I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology and Psychology. While finishing my Bachelors degree at the University of Rochester, I continued to expand my education by enrolling in the 3-2 School Counseling Program at the Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester. In 1998, I received a Master of Science in Education with a concentration in School Counseling and in 1999; I continued to pursue a concentration in Community Mental Health Counseling. As a life-long learner, in 2006, I received a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Educational Administration from SUNY Brockport. In addition, I pursued a PhD in Educational Administration: Education Leadership and Policy from University at Buffalo and was conferred with this degree in 2014. While pursuing my PhD, in 2010, I earned a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Teaching and Leading for Diversity from University at Buffalo. I worked in the Rochester City School District as a teacher and then as a School Counselor for 20 years. I was the Dean of the Middle School at Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women for 3 years and was appointed principal this past February.

What has it been like taking over the role as Principal for Our Lady of Mercy?
As the principal of an all-women’s Catholic Middle and High School, it has been an honor and a privilege to take on this position as an alumna and role model for the girls I lead. I feel that because of my education and faith, I am able to be a mentor, active listener, and a trustworthy leader who helps to guide and lead our young women to their highest attainable successes.

What do you feel are some of the qualifications that you possess that have better prepared you for this position?
I feel that through my 20 years of experience in Counseling in the Rochester City School District, my many years of Catholic education, and continued education and research, I have developed an educational philosophy that calls me to have an open mind and understand multicultural differences. This philosophy helps me as a leader to recognize that each individual in the educational system has a specific role to play in the development of our students. Every stakeholder deserves to be heard, and has a responsibility to provide high expectations and high levels of support for our students in order to help them become empowered to focus on their strengths and develop their talents.

Who are some of the strong women that you feel have inspired you?
My mom, Carol, was an educator at Mercy for many years. She was my teacher, mentor, and friend. She showed me how to love others and understand the needs of others. She helped me build my confidence and taught me to never give up.

How do you empower yourself and the young women around you?
It is important to empower young women through a strengths based educational model. Through this model female students will discover an increased awareness of their abilities and talents, which will lead to their personal and academic confidence.

In addition, female students will be able to transform this awareness into further growth, as they develop interpersonal relationships and collaborate with their peers. Through this collaboration female students will support and motivate each other as they work to achieve their present and future endeavors. For young women, the beginning of adolescence can present many challenges physically, emotionally, and socially. The growth mindset is fostered as young women begin an academic and spiritual journey in our community at Our Lady of Mercy. As an educator who has a wealth of knowledge about social emotional care, I share this knowledge with the young women at Mercy. This knowledge coupled with a strengths-based growth mindset educational model will enable the young women of Mercy to have agency.

The young women at Mercy will feel empowered to develop problem solving and enhanced communication skills that will enable them to overcome the challenges of adolescence. Through this empowerment young women will begin to develop self-awareness and self-confidence spiritually, socially, emotionally, and academically. These personal strengths will allow young women to become self-advocates, understand cultural differences, and be accepting and advocates for others. This empowerment will also help adolescent young women to become strong leaders in their personal, spiritual, and educational journeys.

What is one thing people don’t know about you?
I just learned how to ski and feel that even though this is a challenging activity, I love celebrating this accomplishment.
What is one piece of advice you have been given that you have never forgotten ?
Never give up and take one step at a time.

What’s the most important risk you have ever taken? Would you do it again?
Going into a PhD program in Educational Leadership and Policy at the University at Buffalo at 30 years old. It took me 9 years to complete, but I completed it. I would do it again because I learned so much about myself and I gained so much knowledge to help me be the leader I am today.

How do you balance your personal and professional responsibilities as a leader?
It is very important for me to have balance in my life. First and foremost my Catholic faith is what helps to carry me through the celebrations and challenges of my day. My family and friends are very important to me, they help me to be able to celebrate life. For relaxation I enjoy going to local theater and music events, going to the lake, gardening, and traveling.

How do you cultivate a strong and supportive team culture?
I cultivate a strong and supportive team culture by listening to people and recognizing and celebrating individuals for their strengths.

How do you approach decision-making and problem-solving as a leader?
When making decisions I always ask myself who does this decision impact and how will this decision impact these individuals. I am mindful of how the outcomes of the decision will impact the organization positively or negatively. For me as the principal of Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women, it is also really important when making decisions that I think about the impact and outcomes through a mission driven lens.

How do you handle stress and pressure in such a demanding position?
My faith helps to ground me in stressful situations. Also leaning on my teams as thinking partners helps me to work through challenging situations and problem solve to come up with solutions that will encourage growth and understanding.

How do you balance short-term and long-term goals?
I believe short-term goals help you develop and accomplish long-term goals. I always start with the end in mind and develop my goals according to what outcomes I hope to achieve within 1-5 years.

How do you stay motivated and inspired?
I am motivated and inspired by our students at Mercy. They are resilient, inquisitive, highly motivated, and leaders. They encourage me to have these qualities, even when challenges arise.
What does a typical day as principal of an all girls school look like?
There is not a typical day. Every day is different and filled with new learning and experiences that help me to think critically and purposefully.

What do you see as the top issues facing girls’ schools today?
Whether you are in an all girls school or a coed school, today, our young adolescent women are impacted by mental health challenges.

As educators we need to be aware of our student’s needs and help to empower them to find the skills to overcome these challenges.

How should schools empower young female voices today?
At Mercy we empower young female voices by encouraging them to Lead by Example. It is important for young adolescent women to have a growth mindset that empowers them to find their inner voice by participating in extracurricular activities and find success in their academics.