By Michael Rizzo
An overflow crowd of more than 700 people filled the main chapel at the Immaculate Conception Center, Douglaston, Oct. 18 to attend the diocese’s Catholic Education Summit.
The view from the top was that the state of Catholic schools in the diocese is strong though challenges remain.
Led by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Superintendent of Schools Thomas Chadzutko, the gathering brought together parents, school principals, teachers, pastors and diocesan school administrators. The event included prayer, performances by choirs of schoolchildren, presentations and a panel discussion. It was streamed live on the Internet by DeSales Media.
“This is our opportunity to show where we were, what we’ve done and our road map for the future of our schools,” Chadzutko said before the event.
A main theme of the evening was teamwork.
Bishop James Massa, vicar for evangelization and higher education, thanked everyone in his opening remarks for their dedication to “do what Jesus would want done for the children and their families.”
Chadzutko added, “We are all partners. We want the best for the children entrusted to us.”
Bishop DiMarzio added another purpose to focus on.
“We need to evangelize,” he said, “and the best tool for that is our Catholic schools,” which received the biggest applause of the night.
“The mission of Catholic schools and Catholic education is to develop a sense of truth, of what is good and beautiful,” the bishop added, quoting Pope Francis.
The panel that included Bishop DiMarzio and Chadzutko used detailed slides projected on a large screen to show the results of the Preserving the Vision program since it began in 2008.
Those assembled were reminded that many schools were draining the finances of parishes and the diocese at that time which led to the academy model. There are currently 70 academies in the diocese with five new ones proposed for 2017 though specific locations were not mentioned.
A notable result showed that Catholic school students in grades four, six and eight scored better than New York City public school students in both English language arts and math test scores. Diocesan school students also did better than public school students in all of New York State in most of the same categories.
“We’re beating public schools at academic excellence and we should shout that from this summit,” Bishop DiMarzio said.
Chadzutko also spoke of how 84 percent of students stay in the diocese’s schools from kindergarten to eighth grade.
“The parents of these children love Catholic education and they are willing to sacrifice to be a part of it,” he added.
Some trends were concerning.
Enrollment is down and almost 9,000 seats in schools throughout the diocese sit empty. In addition, while Futures in Education delivered $7 million dollars of scholarships in 2015-16, another one-third of applicants got no help because of a shortfall of donations.
Technology in the classroom, early childhood programs, like the one at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Williamsburg, teacher development and special education were mentioned as priorities. Greater collaboration between parishioners and school personnel and using social media for good marketing of schools were areas cited to keep developing.
Allen Michel, the parent of children at Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy in Jamaica and a board member at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Academy, Prospect Heights, said after the event that it reinforced why he chose Catholic schools for his children.
‘God in Their Minds’
“There’s a structure you get from Catholic education that you don’t get elsewhere,” he said, “and there’s the spiritual factor. Principals and teachers have God in their minds and they put that in the curriculum.”
Ingrid Alvarez, whose daughter attends Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Academy, Corona, said she came away with a mission.
“It shows they want the parents more involved and I’ll be looking for an avenue to do that and to find other parents to work with,” she said.
“Sometimes it seems like we’re alone but tonight shows we’re working together for a common purpose,” Zofia Swiatek, the principal at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Academy, Woodhaven, said after the summit concluded and she was walking to catch one of the special busses arranged to transport attendees back to their schools and parishes.
And how did Chadzutko look back on the two-hour summit?
“This was awesome,” he said. “We showed everyone everything we know. We have a lot to be proud of about Catholic education. It’s worth the sacrifice.”