Put Out into the Deep

Catholic Schools Remain Strong

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Recently in an address at the Vatican to students and teachers, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, shared that “schools are a precious means for making a contribution to the progress of the Church and of society as a whole.”

Within the Diocese of Brooklyn, we are blessed with 84 Catholic elementary schools/academies, three religious congregational or private Catholic institutions and 18 Catholic high schools. This week, I welcome all of you to a new academic year and wish to share, in particular, an update on elementary education here in Brooklyn and Queens.

Christ is at the heart of Catholic education, and the Holy Spirit always gives life to the heart. And, the heart of Catholic education within Brooklyn and Queens can be seen as the Preserving the Vision strategic planning process for Catholic education within the Diocese. Preserving the Vision sets forth priorities for Catholic education including strengthened Catholic identity and academic excellence, increased enrollment, enhanced instruction, stabilized infrastructure of school buildings and strengthened leadership and collaboration.

Additionally, Preserving the Vision highlights the commitment of academies and schools to the New Evangelization “in order to meet the challenges which today’s society and changing cultures are posing to the faith.”

Another priority specific to Preserving the Vision is to transition all of our parochial schools to academies by the Year 2017. To remind you, the purpose of this priority is to shift the governance of parochial schools from relying solely on the pastor and the principal to relying on a strategic balance of clergy and lay people who are experienced in the areas needed to assist the academies in their growth, most especially in the areas of finance, development and marketing. In this model, it is important that we recognize and support the principal of each school as the chief instructional leader and catechist.

Including 10 new academies this year, 42 parochial schools already have transitioned to Catholic academies. Two academies maintain two campuses, and we remain focused on transitioning the remaining parochial schools to academies within the next three years. Because of strong leadership, enrollment at the Catholic schools within the Diocese of Brooklyn has also remained stable for the past four years, despite demographic shifts.

Individually, schools/academies have grown in varying ways. As we start this year, I am grateful for the Latino Promotional Team program in 18 schools/academies. Through this program, a parent, alumnus or staff member of Latino heritage, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, volunteers his or her time to welcome other Latino families interested in enrolling their children at the school/academy. Not only do these volunteers help to increase the student population at their locations, but they also raise awareness of the benefits of a quality Catholic education.

Multicultural education is addressed in many ways. One such innovative way is at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Academy in Flushing. Its Two-Way Immersion Network for Catholic Schools (TWIN-CS) program mixes native English-speaking students with peers who speak Mandarin, allowing both groups of students to become bilingual. Additionally, enrichment programs continue to expand throughout Brooklyn and Queens, especially in the arts and the Latin and Greek Roots Challenge Program. This language arts initiative is an interactive program designed to introduce students to Latin and Greek roots and their meanings.

Universal Pre-K (UPK) is a successful program hosted by 22 of the Catholic elementary schools/academies within the Diocese of Brooklyn. Pope Francis writes that “the educational field is not limited to the conventional school. Encourage each other to seek new forms of non-conventional education in accordance with the needs of the times and of people.”

UPK is a government-funded program, secular in nature. Typically, 50 percent of the students in UPK at Catholic schools/academies within the Diocese of Brooklyn enroll in their host school’s kindergarten program and remain in the school. Consequently, UPK classes open the doors of Catholic schools/academies within the Diocese to new families, allowing them to be immersed in Catholic school communities. In addition, schools/academies benefit from UPK, as it helps them to increase their enrollment and provides an opportunity to encounter new families.

Locally, Catholic school/academy students go above and beyond in service to their communities. Often, these students volunteer their time as active community members who participate in liturgical celebrations when needed. Students at St. Patrick Catholic Academy, St. Athanasius School and Our Lady of Trust Catholic Academy, all in Brooklyn, were honored for their service to the wider community and received the Daily News Community Youth All-Star award this summer.

It is my hope that the newly re-formatted diocesan website and our recent radio advertising efforts on behalf of our Catholic schools will raise awareness of these many successes in Brooklyn and Queens.

Of course, challenges remain. For instance, the success of the academy governance model builds upon the service and talents of qualified members of the board of directors of each Catholic school who are strong leaders committed to the mission of the Church and a vision of Catholic education.

Our Holy Father reminds all of us “do not be disheartened in the face of the difficulties that the educational challenge presents! Educating is not a profession but an attitude, a way of being; in order to educate it is necessary to step out of ourselves and be among young people, to accompany them in the stages of their growth and to set ourselves beside them.”

All those committed to the mission and ministry of Catholic education within the Diocese of Brooklyn have put out into the deep to educate students and to lead those entrusted to their care to Christ.

As we begin this academic year, let us rejoice in the work of the Lord that has been accomplished through the Catholic schools and academies in Brooklyn and Queens.

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