‘Work, Play, Prayer’ Requisites for a Successful School Year, Says Interim Superintendent

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Interim Superintendent of Schools Michael J. Deegan and his colleagues are eager and excited to welcome teachers, parents and students for the 2019-2020 school year, and Deegan recently summed up why.

“We had a fantastic year this last year,” he said.

Academically, New York State test scores for students in the archdiocese “are better than almost everyone else in the state. And certainly, we are quite proud of our test scores.”

Also, “as the children were leaving at the end of the year, they were so sad that they were leaving, they were crying. They were telling their teachers and their principals that they were going to miss them over the summer.”

The fact that not only the students, but also the teachers, were sad to part with each other for the summer “says that we did what we were supposed to do.”

In an interview with CNY at his office at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan July 31, Deegan referenced the 2015 visit of Pope Francis to New York, and to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem. It was then that the Holy Father said Catholic schools are a place to encounter others—parents encounter teachers, teachers encounter children—and in that encounter they encounter Christ, the Gospel and each other.

“We look forward, with great joy,” Deegan said, for the opportunity “to continue that encounter with Christ, with our children, to make them who they will become.”

Deegan acknowledged his appreciation of the “remarkable” support of pastors. “Our pastors are in our schools all the time,” he said, celebrating Mass, the sacraments and just to say hello. “Absent priestly presence in our schools, our schools would not be what they are today.”

The schools are also blessed with “extraordinary Catholic educators,” Deegan said. He noted the devotion and generosity of principals and teachers. “They go the extra mile. They work after school. They come in on weekends. They provide tutoring to the children.”

To any parent who is considering a Catholic school for their child, or any parent who is in a Catholic school who knows someone considering a Catholic school, but is concerned about being able to afford to send their child there, Deegan said he could promise this: “When they come to visit the school, they will fall in love with the school. And when they go to the school, they will be welcomed and received by the staff. And the staff will work diligently at helping to provide tuition assistance, scholarship and financial aid to enable as many children as possible to experience this life-changing experience we call Catholic schools. So take a chance on us.”

Because there is rolling admission, all parents need to do—a helpful first step is to reach out to the website catholicschoolsny.org—is call any Catholic school, Deegan said, and they will be invited to take a tour and meet with staff. “They can even meet with other parents,” he said.

Deegan discussed the progress of the strategic planning process Pathways to Excellence II. He said new programs, innovations, activities and after-school programs have been implemented. Among them: the expansion of the blended learning program and the special education piloted program. “With the incredible support of Cardinal Dolan, who is a very big proponent of special education, we have been able to expand the number of children who are receiving services in our regular school who have special needs.”

Aside from the John Cardinal O’Connor School in Irvington, there are five other schools—three on Staten Island and two in the Bronx—that are providing services to children who learn differently, Deegan said.

“Last year was the piloted year; it was very successful. We’re going to be able to expand not the number of schools, but the kind of services that will be provided,” including the number of support staff who will work with the children and the kind of educational equipment that students who learn differently will require.

Additionally, although all the schools have after-school programs, Pathways to Excellence has identified about 30 schools that are the beneficiaries of enhanced after-school programs. “We have received funding so that not only is it tutoring and homework and child care, but we have folks coming in and running cooking classes, chess, robotics” and the like.

The expansion of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program in schools has also been a priority which, Deegan said, has contributed to improved math scores.

Before the first bell rings, Deegan suggests students get into the mindset that “a balanced life is a happy life.” It is his hope, he said, that students, teachers and principals “leave room for work, for play and for prayer.”

“Our schools are rigorous but our children are surrounded with adults that are anxious to help. So don’t try to do it alone because you don’t have to do it alone.”

One last thing: “Have fun.”

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