One of nine recipients of NCEA’s national award
EAST FLATBUSH — A Catholic High School that was once slated to close is now thriving, and the principal who led its comeback has now been recognized with a high honor.
The National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) recognized Providencia Quiles, the president and acting principal of Nazareth Regional H.S., for her leadership in keeping the co-ed Catholic high school up and running for the past nine years.
Quiles was one of nine people to receive the 2021 “Lead. Learn. Proclaim. Award,” highlighting outstanding work in Catholic education communities across the country.
“We draw on the Church’s long tradition of educating the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. This is done as a community pursuing faith, truth, beauty, goodness, wisdom, and virtue,” said NCEA Interim President and CEO Kathy Mears.
“These leaders are the core of our Catholic school education system and serve as inspiration to all of us working within the framework of Catholic education,” she added.
Nazareth had been slated to close in 2012 due to debt and declining enrollment. Quiles, who had been principal for less than two years, and other crucial stakeholders —
including Sharon Patrick, former chief operating officer of Martha Stewart Living and aunt of one of Nazareth’s teachers — rallied with the community to reverse the decision.
They presented a long-term strategic plan to the Diocese of Brooklyn, raised $693,000, and had 81 students enroll as freshmen for the fall.
Given her background, Quiles said she presented the plan to the diocese, paid off the school’s debt within four years, and brought new aspects to the school and curriculum every year to keep enrollment up.
The school built new labs and centers, added extracurricular clubs that reflected students’ interests, and offered more AP courses in conjunction with St. Joseph College and St. Thomas Aquinas College.
The student body is 99-percent minorities, and the school has had a 100-percent graduation rate over the last four years.
Enrollment has increased 30 percent in the previous nine years, with 310 students currently learning under the hybrid model.
Students are more engaged with the high school’s newest additions, like the 3-D virtual lab, science lab, media center, and are more involved in the re-energized campus ministry and community service programs.
Additionally, Nazareth will be offering 12 advanced placement courses next year, allowing upperclassmen to earn over 60 college credits before graduation.
Quiles said she was surprised to hear that she had been selected for the award.
“When the NCEA called me, it was a bit of a shocker,” Quiles said, who had no idea she was nominated. “I’m very honored that people think of me in that way, but Nazareth has been, and is, part of my family.”
She calls herself a “career switcher.” She had a business background and worked in marketing before she joined Nazareth as an English teacher in 2005. A few years later, she became assistant principal and later stepped in as principal in 2010. Quiles became president of the high school last summer. She continues to serve as principal until a replacement is found.
“When we had gotten the news that the school would be closing, I really wanted to get feedback from the community more than anything because I was so new, so green to the situation,” she said. “I really wanted to know whether they wanted to fight for this school.”
She continued, “When they said they wanted to keep their school open, I committed to being their advocate.”
Nazareth Regional High School students praised the job Quiles has done at the school and called the award well-deserved.
“I couldn’t think of anyone else to receive this high of an honor,” said senior Courtney Bentham. “She has fought the battles and pushed us for greatness all while keeping us whole. A true, bona fide, one-of-a-kind hero. That’s what Mrs. Quiles is.”
Fellow senior Jaharie Waterman shared the sentiment.
“Mrs. Quiles has taken Nazareth and molded it into this great school. She genuinely cares for the students,” Waterman said. “If a student were to ask for something new … Mrs. Quiles would do everything in her power to make these things happen.
“In my opinion, she has made Nazareth the best high school for students to go to and learn.”
Dr. Patrick Slattery, executive director of Xaverian Brothers Sponsored Schools, nominated Quiles for the award because he thought her story, as well as Nazareth’s, was important to share.
“When you look at what Providencia and her team have done in the past decade — climbing out of the budget deficit, reversing the enrollment shortfall, and growing Nazareth Regional to be an educational leader in the Brooklyn community — it’s amazing,” Slattery said. “And Nazareth knocks it out of the park with the benchmarks of living out Gospel values and bringing students to understand their God-given gifts.”
Assistant Principal for Academics Nancy Roberts remarked on Quiles’s leadership, forward-thinking vision, and passion, which she believes saved the school in multiple ways.
“When she became principal, I always say she made the school into a place I always wanted to work at,” Roberts said. “But it’s not just about 10 years ago. It’s about the now as well and what Nazareth can offer to students in the future.”
Chairperson Sharon Brown-Veillard added, “We’ve definitely reached a level of sustainability in making sure the school remains in the community and is educating kids for the future.”
Reflecting on what she and the school community have accomplished to date, Quiles remains confident in Nazareth’s direction moving forward.
“I always feel like God has a plan for all of us and that He knows the challenges He gives us,” she said. “We’ll be able to deal and cope with them, and we’ll move in the right direction.”
“But, most importantly,” she added, “while we’re in Catholic education, we need to really show the utmost compassion, love, and faith to our kids.