PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, the school superintendent who has guided the education of generations of students in the Diocese of Brooklyn, is closing the notebook on his career. He announced his retirement in a letter on March 4.
Chadzutko has served the diocese for nearly 40 years in various roles — starting in the mid-1980s as a principal and then moving on to become a district superintendent and deputy superintendent. He was appointed superintendent by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in 2003.
He marked Aug. 31 on his calendar as his last official day on the job and said he hopes to assist his successor with a smooth transition.
As he looked back on his career, he pointed to his role in keeping schools open during much of the pandemic as one of his proudest achievements. While closed during the lockdown in the spring of 2020, schools in the diocese reopened that September and remained open even after public schools returned to remote learning amid the Omicron variant in the fall of 2021.
“We worked as a team — our office, principals, teachers — to reopen schools. I think it was providing a safe environment. I think that’s the thing that resonates, most definitely,” he said.
Student enrollment has increased since the pandemic, a point of pride for Chadzutko. The diocese reported a 2.4% uptick in pre-K to 8th-grade enrollment from 2020 to 2021, the first year-over-year total increase in 10 years.
“People got a chance to see who we really are and what we do in our schools. Obviously, they saw our commitment to the mission, our commitment to our Catholic faith. But they also saw that we had the technology and academic rigor. Parents chose us and stayed with us,” he said.
The pandemic led the diocese to explore educational innovations. One result was the establishment of St. Thomas Aquinas Online Catholic Academy. As superintendent, Chatzutko had a hand in planning the remote-learning school.
Ted Havelka, director of enrollment management, said one of Chadzutko’s strengths is his willingness to try new approaches.
“Tom has been a remarkably supportive leader, embracing the recent changes and challenges, with an eye on the future and what the ministry of Catholic education provides to the world,” Havelka said.
In recent years, Chadzutko sought to establish ties between diocese schools and colleges. “It took a long time and it will continue into the future — building partnerships with our colleagues in Catholic colleges and universities,” he said.
One example of this is the partnership between Bay Ridge Catholic Academy and St. Francis College in which college students will student-teach and schoolchildren will visit the science labs on the St. Francis campus.
Another point of pride for Chadzutko was his work back in 2008 with Bishop Frank Caggiano, auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn at the time, in crafting “Preserving the Vision,” a strategic plan that led to a sea change in Catholic education in the diocese.
Under the plan, schools that had up to that point been run by parishes were given the opportunity to turn themselves into independent Catholic academies run by boards of directors.
While admitting “there’s some mixed reviews out there,” Chadzutko defended the plan. “It did move Catholic education in the right direction,” he said.
His tenure has not been without challenges. He pointed to the times when individual schools had to permanently close due to declining enrollments and escalating costs.
“Those times were difficult,” he said, adding that he strived to be as transparent as possible to help parents understand why a decision was made.
“We took the responsibility seriously that when a school had to close, we stood shoulder to shoulder with the principal and the pastor. Sometimes parents didn’t know how bad the finances were,” he explained.
Chadzutko, who grew up in Maspeth, Queens, went to Holy Cross School and Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary.
He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Elementary Education at St. Joseph College and holds a Master’s in Education, Administration, and Supervision from C.W. Post University. He earned his Ed.D. in Educational and Policy Leadership at Hofstra University.
In 1985, he began a nine-year tenure as principal of Blessed Sacrament Catholic School in Cypress Hills.
“Blessed Sacrament really taught me about the Hispanic culture,” he said, noting the school had a high number of Hispanic students. “I learned a lot about their faith, their commitment to the Church, and their sacrifices,” he added.
In 1994, he began working in the superintendent’s office, first as a district superintendent overseeing schools in western Brooklyn, then as deputy superintendent of all schools. Within a few years, he was appointed superintendent by Bishop DiMarzio.
“If you look up ‘Remarkable Catholic Leadership,’ I believe you will find the name Tom Chadzutko,” said Associate Superintendent Joan McMaster. “It is an honor to work under Tom’s leadership and I will be forever grateful for his encouragement, laughter, and friendship.”
John Notaro, executive director of Futures in Education, the organization that provides financial help to Catholic school students, said Chadzutko has left his mark.
“Tom’s commitment to Catholic education is unparalleled — his legacy will continue to have an impact on generations to come. I will personally miss our daily 7 a.m. phone calls and the fun we have had doing God’s work for the children in the diocese,” Notaro said.
Even though his retirement is drawing closer, Chadzutko hasn’t made any firm plans. “It’s going to be an adjustment,” he said of retirement. “I do have some hobbies, so hopefully I can pick those up.”
One definite plan, he said, is to spend more time with his grandchildren. And he has an aunt in Arizona he wants to visit.
His advice for the next superintendent? “Get out there and visit the schools. Get to see the people in action and listen to them,” he said.