Put Out into the Deep

Catholic Schools Raise the Bar

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This year, Catholic Schools Week was observed from Sunday, Jan. 27, to Saturday, Feb. 2, with the theme “Catholic Schools Raise the Standards,” a theme which focuses on the new initiative of raising the bar on the national standards and benchmarks for effective Catholic elementary and secondary schools, and high standards at Catholic schools across the country. The logo “illustrates a chart of steady growth culminating in the highest achievement of all, a cross representing the faith that underscores all Catholic education.”

The theme is so appropriate, as we are not only reminded of the high academic achievements attained by Catholic schools and academies within Brooklyn and Queens, but also of Christ who is the foundation on which all Catholic schools and academies are built. I am reminded of the quote that Bishop Thomas V. Daily had posted in every school building in the diocese:

“Let it be known to all who enter here that Christ is the reason for this school, the unseen but ever present Teacher in its classes, the model of its Faculty, the inspiration of its Students.”

Strengthening Catholic Education

Indeed, gratitude must be given in reflection upon Catholic education within the Diocese of Brooklyn. “Preserving the Vision,” an initiative which as you may know began three years ago and continues today to be an instrument of strategic planning for the future of our Catholic schools here in Brooklyn and Queens, continues to encourage and enable schools and academies to assess and strengthen both Catholic identity and academic excellence.

Through “Preserving the Vision,” Catholic education within the Diocese of Brooklyn has strengthened tremendously. An ongoing strategic planning process has enabled the Diocese to guide schools and academies in the completion, implementation and review of strategic plans designed to help them prosper. The process enables newly formed academies to successfully transition into a two-tiered governance model allowing for academies to be governed by a board of directors who specialize in school management, as well as a board of members including myself and pastors involved with the school. “Preserving the Vision” will allow for every school to be transitioned to this effective model by 2017.

With the children at the heart of Catholic education, improvements also advance at the diocesan and local levels in areas such as marketing, public relations, development efforts, technology to enhance instruction and communication, and in providing training and resources for administrators and teachers to implement the expectations found in the N.Y.S. Common Core Learning Standards. Today, we boast 91 Catholic schools and academies with 30,048 children of all races and many ethnicities.

It is my pleasure to announce that 25 of those 91 schools and academies have already transitioned into the academy model, which is so vital to the health and sustainability of the school communities within Brooklyn and Queens. Moreover, our board mentors have been hired within the Diocese of Brooklyn for additional assistance to the boards of directors. These mentors work to ensure that the board of directors fully utilizes all resources that are available to them to be successful in their governance responsibility and to enhance the working relationships among the board of directors, the members of the academy, the principal and the parent community.

The Diocese of Brooklyn is truly blessed to have these mentors to ensure that this vital governance model is fully implemented through their on-site assistance and regular participation. They are able to provide valuable feedback to the board of directors and the members regarding items such as the agenda, the notes and outcomes of the meetings and the challenges. Additionally, they understand board assessment processes and will use this knowledge to develop and implement professional development plans for the needs of the boards. These mentors follow-up with the board chairperson on key issues to provide recommendations that will further each academy to viability and full vitality.

It is understood that the academy model is new and confusing to many. When I speak of mentors aiding in the development of roles for board secretaries, treasurers and sub-committees, it almost seems that there is a certain complexity to academies. Yet, the Church sometimes must guide her members in defining their roles and vocations. There are roles to fill, and we must rejoice that the women and men who serve us can guide others to define these new roles and to aid them in their transitions.

St. John’s University also continues to serve the Diocese of Brooklyn through partnerships in the St. Vincent de Paul Program. The program provides directors with ongoing professional development as continued board evaluation is essential for boards of directors.

Furthermore, regarding the success in schools and academies within Brooklyn and Queens, we must remember the monetary generosity of others. Scholarships totaling $951,358 were awarded to 560 students within the Diocese of Brooklyn by 237 “Angel” sponsors through Futures in Education. An additional $2,399,599 was awarded to 2,898 students through Diocesan scholarships and $3,250,000 to 1,850 students through the Bishop’s Program. Finally, 247 students received a total of $525,855 in financial aid through high school scholarship programs.

Following Hurricane Sandy, you may recall the additional emergency scholarship fund that was established through Futures in Education. Applications were immediately distributed to principals and returned to PSAS by Dec. 14, 2012 for analysis. These applications were hand-delivered in the Rockaway and Howard Beach schools. Overall, more than one million dollars in relief was requested from approximately 700 students, with additional families requesting any help at all. Today, I am pleased to announce that Futures in Education expects to award in February over one million dollars to 764 students affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Great Gratitude

As much as I cannot express the great gratitude I have for donations of over eight million dollars toward the education of children, neither can I express the great gratitude I have for parents who are their primary educators and who make such sacrifices to send their children to Catholic school, nor can I express the fullness of my gratitude toward our Catholic Schools Office. Under the direction of the Superintendent for Catholic Schools Support Services, Thomas Chadzutko, Ed.D., and with the daily supervision and collaboration of Sister Angela Gannon, C.S.J., Secretary for Catholic Education and Formation, and our Vicar General, Bishop Frank Caggiano, the Schools Office has worked tirelessly throughout the year, and especially through Hurricane Sandy, to keep our children safe and in school.

Again, the theme of Catholic Schools Week this year is “raising the standards,” a theme comparable to putting out into the deep. As a community, we have raised the bar, not only in academic achievements, but in charity and self-sacrifice. Despite the many hardships families and school communities have endured in the past months, Catholic education within Brooklyn and Queens continues to put out into the deep, raising the bar to persevere and to thrive with Christ as the constant guide. I look forward to my visits to Catholic schools this year, where I will continue to play games of “Stump the Bishop” with children and to answer their questions about religion, although I still cannot tell them about the new math.