Lisa Cenca, A Woman Making A Difference 2021

Congratulations to our 2021 Award Recipients

Women Making A Difference Virtual Event

March 25, 2021 6:30 PM

“And one day she discovered that she was fierce, and strong, and full of fire, and that not even she could hold herself back because her passion burned brighter than her fears.” – The Beautiful Truth by  Mark Anthony

Lisa Cenca
Founder/Former Principal Malden Catholic School for Girls

Ms. Lisa Cenca has been an educator for over 20 years. She began teaching Language Arts in Lynnfield, MA, working with students who were generally striving. However, she began to question why some students were still facing reading difficulties at the middle and high school levels despite every support. Her desire to help students learn more effectively led her to working with secondary students with learning challenges. She was hired to create and implement a literacy program at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence for English language learners and students with learning differences. Later, she joined the faculty at Malden Catholic, where she created and successfully implemented the Brother Kevin Program, which allowed students with unique learning styles to navigate the competitive college preparatory curriculum at Malden Catholic.

Additionally, Cenca was charged with designing and facilitating the international student program at the school. She advocated for these often voiceless students. The program tripled in size under her leadership.  At the same time, Cenca began consulting with global educational leaders who were building new schools overseas.  She helped to develop curriculum plans for schools in Ghana, Turkey, and S. Korea. 

However, her most recent appointment as Founding Principal of Malden Catholic School for Girls was a milestone in her career.  After an extensive search for the first principal of the new girls school, Cenca emerged as the most qualified candidate with the greatest passion for helping girls. 
She was hired and asked by the Executive Board of the school to recruit an inaugural class of young women, assist in the designing and oversight of building a new seven million dollar wing for the school, create a unique and dynamic curriculum, hire and train new faculty, and plan the marketing events leading up to the school’s opening in September 2018. 

The school started with a full enrollment female students that year, a number beyond anyone’s belief. The centerpiece of her curriculum design was based on girls leadership, celebrating the school’s values. Cenca designed a specialized educational program that made leadership learning and training a priority for young women and provided them with increased access to female mentoring relationships.  The program took place over four years to develop the skills, confidence, and leadership qualities to change the direction of girls’ lives.  The leadership-based design enabled young women to build skills as flexible and self-directed leaders, collaborative team members, practical and innovative problem solvers, effective communicators, and information researchers who are globally aware compassionate citizens.  

Cenca thought that learning leadership skills was extremely valuable but was not enough.  She further designed a four-year experiential social justice program where young women learned about significant world issues, determined what they cared about, then they brought their mastery of leadership skills to create community projects that help address concerns such as homelessness, equity, environmental issues, animal cruelty, and access to education.

Cenca is most proud of the work she did to enable girls from every racial and socio-economic background the opportunity to have equitable access become strong, independent thinkers who are self-advocates, ready and able to navigate their future success. 

When the school shifted its administrative structure under a new headmaster, Cenca recognized that her Leadership Program could impact more girls across the country, maybe even the world.  She was accepted into Harvard Graduate School of Education where she hopes to scale this educational model for girls.  Most recently, Cenca was chosen as a member Harvard’s Venture Program, a highly selective group of entrepreneurial thinkers who hope to change the world with revolutionary new ideas. Cenca will collaborate with experts from all thirteen Harvard Graduate Programs. 
During her years as a school leader, she helped to bring over two-million dollars in new funding.  Her efforts and energy were fueled by her desire to change the trajectory for girls’ futures. Her mentors have been her sisters Cynthia and Jennifer, who are also educators and exceptional women of character and purpose.  Cenca’s parents, William and Lucy Needham have provided her with loving support and encouraged her to make the most of her gifts and talents. She is also a very proud single mom of two children, Matthew and Felicia. She feels blessed to have a large wonderful family surrounding and supporting her as she pursues her Harvard degree. Her advisors at Harvard have already proven to be extremely important as she moves to the next steps in her future.  Above all, she is grateful for the opportunity to serve children as part of her life work.