By Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, Superintendent of Schools
In 2008, Bishop DiMarzio promulgated the Preserving the Vision, strategic plan for Catholic education within the Diocese of Brooklyn. The priorities, goals and strategies found in Preserving the Vision all support the strengthening of Catholic education within the Diocese of Brooklyn. Essential to the success of Preserving the Vision are the partners in Catholic education: our pastors/administrators, principals, boards of directors, teachers/staff, parents and students.
Recently, Pope Francis addressed the importance of Catholic education. In his address, Pope Francis stressed that Catholic schools are places that develop the whole child: mind, body and spirit. Pope Francis went on to state that Catholic schools give students hope and optimism – all centered in a values-driven community.
Here within the Brooklyn Diocese, we are blessed to have Catholic schools and academies that exemplify these characteristics by providing students with a quality Catholic education. Essential to providing a quality Catholic education are the following: sustaining of the mission of Catholic education, the essence of providing students with the necessary skills to be successful in the future (academic excellence), dedicated administrations, faculty and staff and recognizing that Catholic education is an essential part of the Church’s mission.
The mission of Catholic education and our Catholic faith is paramount. Our parish schools/academies and secondary schools are places of evangelization, of complete formation and of service to others. Faith and morals go hand in hand and our Catholic schools/academies work to ensure that everyone who enters is treated with respect and that the values and virtues of the Gospel message are part of the fabric of the school.
Pope Francis went on to state that “service to others is an important part of Catholic education and we must be willing to help those who have less.” This is so true in our Catholic schools and academies.
In our Catholic elementary parish schools and academies each day, we witness and experience an environment that is built upon Gospel values and virtues. Catholic identity permeates all aspects of the school/academy community and is at the forefront of all that we do. When you talk to pastors/administrators, parish priests, school principals, academy directors and teachers, you always hear about the religious experience students have throughout the year. Through the Pastoral Assistance Plan, parish school and academy communities are provided with weekly and monthly liturgies, feast day prayer services, service to others in the community, student of the month recognition based on values and virtues and of prominent importance the teaching or religion and the infusion of religion into subject areas. The presence of our pastors/administrators and parish priests in the parish schools/academies help to further develop the important relationship between parish and parish school/academy. The parish school/academy is a vital part of the parish community.
As Bishop DiMarzio wrote in his Pastoral Letter: Be Not Afraid, “Our Catholic Schools need to assist our parishes in professing a common faith in Jesus Christ as well as develop the desire that all come to know and share in God’s life through Christ’s Body, the Church.” To attain a full understanding of our faith, “our Catholic school administrators and teachers should partner with parents in educating the whole child spiritually, academically, physically and emotionally.” Our faith is the cornerstone of our parish schools/academies and our students are the future of our Catholic Church. We must continue to encourage them to be bearers of the Good News.
Catholic schools are charged with infusing their curriculum with Catholic identity while striving for academic excellence. It is not Catholic identity or academic excellence – it is “both and” – they are equally important. Academic excellence and strong Catholic identity are crucial to the success of our schools/academies and more importantly, to the success of our students in a world that is continually changing. Key to this success is that our students are being provided with a well-rounded academic program that allows them to develop their critical thinking skills and apply what they have learned to real-life situations. A curriculum that involves the core academic subjects of math, English Language Arts, social studies, science, physical education, as well as, a curriculum that is rich in music, the arts and languages other than English.
Central to the curriculum is the use of 21st-century technology within the classroom setting and allowing students to develop skills that will prepare them for college and careers in the 21st century. A major part of helping our students succeed is the linkage that exists between parents, their parishes and the hard work and dedication of the teachers and administrators in our schools and academies. Catholic education is truly holistic – education that addresses the needs of body, mind and soul.
Educational growth is not limited to our students. Essential to the success of our parish schools/academies is the leadership of our principals. As catechists and instructional leaders, they work to fulfill the mission of Catholic education. For our principals, Catholic education is a ministry to which they are dedicated. Hard work, commitment and collaboration are essential benchmarks of our principals.
Each year, principals and teachers in our Catholic schools/academies participate in numerous professional development opportunities sponsored not only by the Diocese of Brooklyn but by other city, state and national agencies. We must recognize the efforts put forth by the teachers to provide students with quality Catholic education. Principals work tirelessly with their teachers to maintain and enhance the quality of Catholic education offered to the students. Each year new programs are added and new learning opportunities are offered. Through the support of the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Trust, Futures in Education and the Catholic Foundation, our parish school and academies are provided with many valuable resources. We are most grateful for their support of Catholic education. Principals and teachers also work with parents, the primary educators, to prepare students for the challenges of the future. We must recognize the continued efforts of our teachers and parish school/academy staff who work tirelessly to support the mission of Catholic education within the Diocese of Brooklyn. They are committed to the ministry of Catholic education and make a difference in the lives of the children entrusted to them on a daily basis.
In our academy governance structure, we applaud the efforts of our boards of directors, who tirelessly provide their time, talent and expertise to enhance the mission of Catholic education. Their many contributions to marketing, development, finance, strategic and business planning, and facilities allows the principal of the academy to be the chief catechist and instructional leader. The success of the academy governance model is built upon the relationship, communication and partnership with the entire academy community. Over the next three years, we look to the academy governance model to ensure a strong and viable means of Catholic education within the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Through their many sacrifices, our parents are essential to the success of Catholic education within the Diocese of Brooklyn. As partners in Catholic education, parents are encouraged to participate in the life of the parish school/academy. Involvement in the Home School Association and the Home Academy Association is just one way to participate. Parents are also partners in the education of their children. Through parental support of their children and guiding their children to be successful, the future of our city, state, nation and Catholic Church will be guaranteed.
Our students are our future. As we begin this new academic year, let us not forget them as they too will work hard to be successful. Let us pray for their success this year and remember each day that they are our future and they need our support and guidance.
Catholic schools are an important part of not only of the Diocese of Brooklyn but of the entire Church within the United States. We have many challenges but need to work together to make our Catholic schools: vital, viable, excellent and enduring. We have much to offer in our Catholic schools/academies and it is through the dedication, hard work and untiring efforts of parish priests, principals, the directors of the academies, teachers, staff, parishioners, parents and students that we continue to keep Catholic education at the forefront of all that we do.
As we prepare to begin this new academic year, let us once again be guided by the words of Pope Francis: “the Lord is always nearby, lifting you up after you fall and pushing you to grow and to make ever better choices, with great courage and generosity, with magnanimity for the greater glory of God.”