by Marie Elena Giossi
School is back in session and at St. Mel School, Flushing, the new academic year brings a new principal who hopes to infuse new life into this learning community.
St. Mel’s school and parish community formally welcomed Principal Chris Stein at the opening Mass of the school year on Wednesday, Sept. 11. Nursery through eighth graders, their parents and parishioners were in attendance at the 9 a.m. Mass, celebrated by Father Gerard Sauer, pastor.
The liturgy coincided with the parish observance of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Following Mass, the congregation processed to the schoolyard where they observed a moment of silence for the victims before releasing hundreds of red, white and blue balloons in their memory.
As everyone watched the balloons float toward the heavens, Stein looked at the faces of the children, parents, teachers and parishioners with pride.
“St. Mel’s provides more than just a Catholic school. It’s a family,” said Stein, who arrived on Aug. 1. “It’s been a wonderful journey thus far.”
A native of Hyde Park, N.Y., just north of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., he comes to the Flushing school with several years of teaching experience in public and Catholic schools on the elementary level. He holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from SUNY Plattsburgh and a master’s in educational leadership from the College of St. Rose, Albany, N.Y. He also has his N.Y.S. School Building Leader certification.
At St. Mel’s, his first principalship, he leads 310 students in what he describes as a “strong and growing” school with a blend of teaching veterans and newcomers. An active Home-School Association (HSA) with dedicated parents forms the backbone of the community.
One of the youngest principals in the diocese, Stein looks forward to bringing new life, vigor and energy to St. Mel’s, while keeping the focus on what matters most.
“Christ and academics – those are the reasons we are here,” said Stein.
Vision for the Future
His vision is for St. Mel’s to be a growing, Christ-centered and academically challenging learning community with close connections to the parish church.
Not one to sit on his hands, he is already working with teachers on ways to implement the Common Core Learning Standards and has started the practice of leading the school in a daily act of contrition.
He is excited about St. Mel’s use of technology in the classroom, which includes laptops and SMARTBoards, and hopes to enhance the technological offerings to prepare students for high school and beyond.
A firm believer that “outreach exemplifies faith,” he wants the school community to be actively involved in the parish and wider community.
As he acclimates himself to his new community, Stein says he is grateful to have the support and assistance of Father Sauer, the school parents and especially the teachers. He appreciates that everyone wants to work together “to make our school the best it can be.”
Lucky for Stein, he’s already earned an A+ in MaryAnn Schlechter’s grade book.
“He’s (Stein) a joy to have here,” said Schlechter, eighth-grade teacher.
“He comes to visit the classrooms. He greets the students in the morning and at dismissal in the schoolyard. He’s brought a warmth to the school,” she said.
Schlechter, who is also the Student Council moderator, looks forward to showing Stein how community- and service-oriented St. Mel’s students are.
Each year, the Student Council leads the school in conducting various outreach projects to assist the parish as well as local charities, including The Bridge to Life and St. Margaret Mary Outreach Program in Astoria.
“St. Mel’s is the school we choose as our children’s home away from home,” Cathy Trovato, alumna, parent and HSA president, told Stein as the school community welcomed him at Mass.
“We are sincerely happy to welcome and include you into our family fold,” she said.
As a token of the HSA’s commitment to his growth at St. Mel’s, parent Dorian Mecir presented him with a cactus terrarium.
“The cactus symbolizes warmth, protection and endurance – all of which we extend to you and trust that you will provide for us,” Trovato added.