by Jim Mancari
Give a call over to Msgr. McClancy M.H.S., East Elmhurst, these days, and you’ll hear the voice message thank you for calling the “Home of the Crusaders and Lady Crusaders.”
That’s right, the 2012-2013 Lady Crusaders will be part of the first-ever co-ed class at McClancy since the school’s founding by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in 1956.
The McClancy administration is 100 percent on board with this change and is excited to kick off a unique school year.
“There are so many more opportunities out there for women, and they should get those opportunities,” said James Carey, McClancy’s principal for the past 16 years. “In every field of work, they’ve proven themselves over and over again.”
The initial idea of going co-ed was discussed in 2000, when the school brought in a consultant to look at the feasibility of making a switch. At the time, McClancy decided that it would fulfill its current strategic plan before taking further steps.
However, the demographics in the neighborhoods surrounding McClancy showed a 4-to-1 ratio of female to male students in the Catholic grammar schools — a statistic that the administration monitored closely. In order to continue their Catholic education, many of these girls were travelling each day to Manhattan, since there was no local option.
“There wasn’t an institution in this area that services the girl population,” said Christopher Tonkin, McClancy’s assistant principal for academics and supervision and a 1996 graduate. “That was one of the major things.”
Five years ago, the transition to a co-ed institution started gaining steam. The administration sent letters home to parents asking whether they would send their daughter to the school if it were co-ed. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
“My parents always said that if this (McClancy) was a co-ed school, then my sister would have gone here because they were happy with the education we received,” Tonkin said.
After receiving the blessing of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the school announced in April, 2011, that it would be turning co-ed for the fall of 2012. This gave young ladies interested in the school time to prepare for the TACHS Exam and make their decision.
At first, some alumni were skeptical, since it would alter the fraternity atmosphere of the all-boys school. But once it was explained that now the other 50 percent of the population can share in the high-quality educational experience, many alumni jumped on board.
Though interest by upperclassmen to transfer in was high, McClancy only accepted freshmen girls for this school year, rather than take students away from other Catholic institutions. Becoming completely co-ed will happen incrementally over the next four years.
Over 600 applicants – boys and girls – applied for admission for fall 2012. Normally, McClancy’s freshman class is comprised of roughly 150 students, so the administration expected an enrollment of 75 boys and 75 girls this fall. However, an exorbitant amount of qualified applicants resulted in a freshman class of 205 students.
“We said we were going to do everything we can to get these kids in and to give them the opportunity to be here,” Tonkin said.
In preparation for the switch, McClancy held co-ed transition meetings in which specialists were brought in to discuss the changes. As it turns out, 85 percent of the faculty has worked in some capacity in a co-ed environment.
“We will periodically review everything that is happening to make sure the girls are feeling comfortable,” Carey said.
While addressing the faculty before the school year, McClancy President Brother Joseph Rocco, S.C., presented the challenge of continuing the school’s mission in a co-ed institution.
“I said to them, ‘Welcome today to the new McClancy High School. It’s no longer business as usual,’” said Brother Rocco, who is celebrating 50 years since first entering McClancy as a freshman in the fall of 1962.
Going hand-in-hand with becoming co-ed, McClancy is seeing the results of its capital improvement campaign come to life. The school renovated the locker rooms and lavatory facilities for the young ladies, and a new library, media center, art room and gym floor – inscribed with “Lady Crusaders” at one end – were other highlights.
As part of a new tradition at McClancy, the freshmen attended a half-day orientation on Sept. 5 as an informal way to get acclimated with the school. Faculty members gave tours, and students got the chance to meet their classmates. The boys and girls interacted very easily, since many came from co-ed elementary schools.
“It’s nothing new to them,” Tonkin said of the switch. “It’s new to us. For them, it’s same-old, same-old. For us, it’s a new chapter.”
The students themselves are also eager for the switch. The “small-school” atmosphere of McClancy attracted many local female students.
“The teachers know you, and they care about you,” said Maria Lopes, a freshman who attended Our Lady of Fatima School, Jackson Heights, which is just a few blocks from McClancy. “They made us feel important and excited.”
“Every girl feels special that we are the ones that are making history,” said Ashley Macias, a freshman who also attended Our Lady of Fatima. “It’s a big change, but over time, we’ll get used to it.”
The McClancy girls will help reinvigorate the school in writing a new chapter in its tradition-filled history.
“It will be fun and exciting when these girls graduate for the first time,” Carey said of the new Class of 2016.
The McClancy slogan is “The school that makes a difference,” and with the co-ed switch, the school will now be able to make a difference in the lives of both young men and young women.