First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Schools Week, Strategic Planning and Parade Showcase Learning
Dr. Timothy J. McNiff

Plans for special education teachers and resource rooms, continued cutting edge science and technology programs, a chaplaincy program and a renowned parade that highlights Catholic schools in the archdiocese and the superintendent of schools.

These are just some of the things a new calendar year will bring. High up on that calendar is the National Catholic Educational Association’s Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 28-Feb. 3.

Catholic Schools Week “offers a way of looking in the rearview mirror,” celebrating and thanking all who have made it a success, “particularly our religious orders,” said Dr. Timothy J. McNiff, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese.

“It’s a time to also look forward with confidence, to make sure that the future is going to be just as bright.”

Taking stock of the past year, Dr. McNiff told CNY that he has much to smile about “because so many great things are happening.”

He cited as an example how students from schools in the archdiocese stepped up to support hurricane victims and the relief effort, raising collectively, in excess of $200,000.

“We always are teaching our students about Catholic social justice and the need to protect the poor and disadvantaged,” Dr. McNiff said.

Their generous donations underscore to the superintendent that students are listening, hearing and appreciating what they are being taught.

Dr. McNiff said he is also pleased with how the Engineering Tomorrow STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program provided in archdiocesan high schools “has been received, embraced and really taken off. Our students are starting to seriously consider majoring in engineering as they go on to college because stereotypes are being broken and they start to better appreciate the impact they can provide society and the enjoyment and fun that can be found in this profession.”

Teachers, too, are benefiting from technology through MAP (Measurement of Academic Progress) testing, “a tool designed just to support teachers,” the superintendent said. Now in its second year, “it’s not a traditional test that’s used to determine report card grades,” he explained. Rather, it gives teachers feedback on how well students are doing in math and English Language Arts (ELA).

The test is administered during a class period via computer and the results are tabulated instantaneously. Software packages the results to assess a class’ strengths and areas in need of improvement.

“The way teachers are embracing this, I believe, is changing instruction in our classrooms,” Dr. McNiff said.

The dual-language school, in English and Spanish, that began last fall at St. Elizabeth’s School in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan has been a big success, as Dr. McNiff can attest from a visit to the school.

“These kindergartners are taking to this like fish to water,” he said. “It’s amazing how fast they acclimate to be able to learn the same subject in two languages. And the teachers are absolutely terrific.”

The pilot immersion program is a partnership with Boston College’s education department.

“The attitude here is, we should always be in strategic planning mode,” Dr. McNiff said of Catholic education across the archdiocese.

The strategic plan for Catholic schools, Pathways to Excellence, begun six years ago, has progressed to Phase II, a three-year strategic plan.

Dr. McNiff said further details should be released by March, but offered some priorities that seem to be emerging so far.

“We’re going to continue to improve our state test scores at the end of every year. We’re almost on the verge of being so specific, we’ll say, here’s the percentage of growth we want to see every year. We’ve never been that prescriptive before.”

Special education teachers and resource rooms, one teacher and one resource room, “for children who learn differently,” will be added to four elementary schools next year—two in the Bronx and two on Staten Island.

The Priests’ Council recently approved a chaplaincy program, Dr. McNiff said, that would ask a priest, deacon or religious to serve as a chaplain for a particular school, so that every school will have a greater presence of clergy or religious.

“We’re expecting to roll that out throughout the whole (archdiocese) in September.”

Addressing the busyness of families, family engagement in the school communities is another component of the strategic plan that is being examined. “When we talk about a child’s education, we’re talking about something beyond just that particular child being in our schools during the day. It’s a family relationship,” Dr. McNiff said.

“We do this because of kids, and we couldn’t do it without parents,” Dr. McNiff said of Catholic education in the archdiocese. “But what I have said many, many times I’ll just come back to: The most important people in any school community are the adults—the teachers and the principal. They’re the ones that define the quality of a school. And we continue to get blessed by having absolutely terrific adults in our Catholic schools.”

Part of that, the superintendent continued, are “our clergy, because their presence and their counsel constantly ground us on what is truly special and unique about our schools: building that lifetime relationship with Jesus Christ.”

On the heels of Catholic Schools Week, Catholic schools in the archdiocese, and Dr. McNiff, will play a pivotal role in the 2018 St. Patrick’s Day Parade along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

“We’re so delighted that the St. Patrick’s Foundation has decided to make Catholic Education its focus,” said Dr. McNiff, who will serve as an aide-at-large to Grand Marshal Loretta Brennan Glucksman, joining 13 aides selected by the parade’s affiliated organizations in recognition of their outstanding service to the Irish-American community of New York.

“I have the distinct honor and privilege of representing the Catholic schools with that title, and being able to march in the parade. It will be a fun day…

“For us to be able to have a number of our schools and kids march in that parade, that makes a very important statement.”


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