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Immaculate Conception makes HERstory with Kadesha Gordon, first African-American principal

This moment was 100 years in the making.

Kadesha Gordon, an African-American woman and life-long Catholic, reared in the faith at St. Augustine Catholic Church in South Memphis, has found her way to Midtown.

She is the new principal, and the first American American to hold the position, of Immaculate Conception Cathedral School (ICCS), a pre-K through eighth grade school.

The school is on the campus of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the mother church of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis.

Gordon reflects on how her faith, her love for educating children and her Catholic upbringing shaped her for this moment. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

“I have an immense sense of pride and responsibility…to my entire community,” said Gordon. 

“I don’t just need to be good at my job, but I need to be GREAT. For those who are looking at me. The parents, children, culture. There is pressure but I welcome it! I’m ready to come to work and kill it every day.” 

Early on, Gordon showed educational aptitude through her work with children as a teen catechist at St. Augustine and believes it was always God’s will for her to be in this space.

Bill Pettit, board chair for ICCS and IC deacon, agreed that Gordon is great for ICCS.

On behalf of the board, we gladly welcome Ms. Gordon as our new principal,” said Pettit. 

“She brings a strong sense of achievement, a great can-do attitude, and a love of children to ICCS. She will help our students become the great thinkers of tomorrow. We look forward to great years ahead with Ms. Gordon and her staff.”

Immaculate Conception Cathedral School Principal Kadesha Gordon, who has high expectations for this year, looks on as ICCS second graders count by five. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Having taught for 12 years in public, private and charter schools, and entering her 13th year as a first-time principal, Gordon couldn’t pinpoint just one person or experience that prepared her for this significant role.

“I gained so much wisdom from my years in the classroom and learned how to treat people – the most important piece,” said Gordon. 

“My mentors, students, my own children, faith, morals, my sisters, my upbringing, how I raise my children and live – it’s ALL prepared me to lead and instilled an inexplicable confidence in me – and God – that lets me know I can literally do anything.” 

But a career in education wasn’t always Gordon’s first choice. 

Gordon, who attended public schools in Memphis, matriculated to Stillman College, an HBCU in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as a biology- pre-med major. And soon after, faced a challenge. 

“After I graduated, I realized I did not want to become a doctor,” said Gordon. 

“I returned to Memphis, then back to Alabama before getting an emergency teaching license to become a science teacher in Alabama. That’s when I knew I was on the right path.” 

Gordon moved back to Memphis to obtain her Master of Arts in Education at Union University, before answering the call to teach in Memphis.

“In the beginning of my teaching career, I didn’t have confidence in my teaching abilities, as I didn’t follow the traditional path,” said Gordon. 

“But over time, I learned to trust myself and my abilities.”

Those abilities enabled her to be successful in environments like Manassas High School, Corry Middle, Geeter Middle, Resurrection Elementary and Memphis Business Academy (MBA) Charter School.

It was at MBA that Gordon realized she could be herself; a kind, bubbly, honest leader, and still get the work done. 

“I remember meeting Dr. Menthia Bradley, a fellow African-American woman principal, at MBA,” said Gordon. 

“She was like me…so nice; the sweetest. You could tell she really cared. I had never seen anyone like her before. She’s the reason I believe someone with my personality can do this job.”

The road ahead

Though her office isn’t quite decorated yet, Principal Gordon is ready for a successful year as the top leader at ICCS. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

This school year, ICCS introduced a new curriculum: Classical Education Model. It relies less on technology and more on teaching students to problem-solve, analyze and become better communicators.

Remember “reading, writing and arithmetic?” This curriculum is a return to these principles, along with language (Latin) and communication. 

Cathy Armstrong, director of recruitment and enrollment for ICCS said if anyone can implement this new curriculum, it’s Principal Gordon. 

“Under (Gordon’s) leadership, we believe the Classical curriculum will create real-world thinkers in a city that needs real-world problem solvers,” said Armstrong.

“I’ve been with ICCS for more than 13 years. Some of our greatest strengths are our small class sizes, a caring and concerned faculty, and our diversity.

“And to have Ms. Gordon serve as our first African-American principal is exciting as we begin our next 100 years of educating in the Mercy tradition.”

Armstrong and Gordon both agree that the family-like atmosphere provides a solid foundation on which the school can thrive as it adopts its new curriculum, amid some uncertainty.

“We’re a team…a family, in this together. We will see the school burst at the seams, and see teachers and parents happy and supported,” said Gordon.

“The curriculum will become second nature and the students will learn so much. I expect all of that to happen this year.

“I know we will get rolling and kill it! And at the end of the year, we will all look back and bask in our collective success! I’m excited to see that, and eager to serve and see the school grow like never before.” 


(Photos: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/

The New Tri-State Defender)


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