By Dr. Thomas Chadzutko
During his visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels in East Harlem last September, Pope Francis said: “School then ends up being one big family. A family, where together with our mothers and fathers, our grandparents, our teachers and friends, we learn to help one another, to share our good qualities, to give the best of ourselves, to work as a team, for that is very important, and to pursue our dreams.”
Here within the Brooklyn Diocese, we are blessed to have Catholic parish 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 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 are places of evangelization, of complete formation and of service to others.
Faith and morals go hand-in-hand and our Catholic parish 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 parish schools and academies.
Gospel Values and Virtues
Each day in our Catholic parish schools and academies, 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, parish priests, school principals, academy directors and teachers, you always hear about the religious experiences students have throughout the year. The presence of our pastors and parish priests in the parish schools/ academies help to further develop the important relationship between parish and school/academy. The parish school/academy is a vital part of the parish community.
In his pastoral letter, “Be Not Afraid,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio wrote: “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 schools/academies, and our students are the future of our Church. We must continue to encourage them to be bearers of the Good News.
Catholic parish schools and academies 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” – as they are equally important. Academic excellence and a strong Catholic identity are crucial to the success of our parish schools/academies and more importantly, to the success of 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.
The curriculum involves the core academic subjects of math, English language arts, social studies, science, physical education, as well as 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.
A major part of helping students succeed is the link that exists between parents, parishes and dedicated teachers and administrators in the schools and academies. Catholic education is truly holistic – an education that addresses the needs of body, mind and soul.
Educational growth is not limited to our students. Each year, principals and teachers in our Catholic parish schools/academies participate in numerous professional development opportunities, sponsored not only by the Diocese of Brooklyn but also 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. Principals and teachers also work with parents, the primary educators, to prepare students for the challenges of the future.
In the academy governance structure, we applaud the efforts of our boards of directors, who tirelessly provide 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.
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 /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 the future, and they need support and guidance.
Catholic schools are an important part of not only the Diocese of Brooklyn, but also of the entire Church within the U.S. We have many challenges, but need to work together to make our Catholic parish schools and academies vital, viable, excellent and enduring. We have much to offer in our Catholic parish 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.
Pope Francis reminds us: “Catholic education allows us to celebrate the opportunities which enable each of us all, not to lose hope of a better world with greater possibilities. Catholic education allows us to dream and to move ahead in our lives. Everyone has a role in attaining dreams and we all must work together to ensure that dreams are met.”
Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, Ed.D., is the superintendent of schools in the diocesan Office of the Superintendent-Catholic School Support Services.