We’re in the middle of Catholic Schools Week, which extends through Saturday. Activities and special celebrations are taking place at many Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese, as we told you in myriad listings in our last issue.
There’s another school-related celebration that you should know about. Although it was held before Catholic Schools Week began, it would be hard to find another event honoring individuals more crucial to the success of Catholic schools, and to their future.
The Evening of Teacher Recognition and Call to Discernment, held Jan. 25 at Dillon Hall on the 20th floor of the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan, was an opportunity for the archdiocese’s Superintendent of Schools Office and the Curran Catholic School Leadership Academy to honor 17 teachers from schools all across the archdiocese and also to ask them to consider a special invitation.
The teachers, who were selected for the honor by their principals, were asked to discern whether they have a call to leadership in Catholic schools, specifically as principals.
The honorees were invited “to pray for God’s guidance,” as they “discuss options with their family and friends.” It added that “any honoree who finds that at this moment in their life the answer regarding a call to consider Catholic school leadership is ‘yes,’ then we look forward to discussing a career path and steps to becoming a Curran Catholic School Leadership Fellow with you.”
The Curran Academy, which is supported by donor funding, offers financial grants to fellows who are teaching and pursuing their master’s degree in education at Fordham University, St. John’s University and the University of Notre Dame. The teachers who were recognized have until April 1 to make their application to be part of the next cohort of fellows.
David Markham, a second- and third-grade teacher at St. Simon Stock parish in the Bronx, was one of the honorees who attended the dinner and recognition ceremony, where the teachers heard remarks from Dr. Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools, and Steven Virgadamo, associate superintendent for leadership and recruitment who is executive director of the Curran Academy.
In an after-school interview a few days later, Markham said that he was “blown away” by the ceremony. Every detail, from the corsage he received early in the evening to the event program to the ceremony’s setting was “brilliantly done,” Markham said.
“You have to take a step back—it’s nice to see where your hard work pays off,” he said.
It was easy to see from Markham’s enthusiasm and the pleasant way he communicated the good things happening in his classroom that he would be the type of teacher who would warrant such recognition.
He told me about four or five interesting projects and concepts that he was addressing with his students. One stuck out. It was a student of the month contest with a couple of twists. The theme for February’s contest was forgiveness. Students cast their votes on index cards, fostering participation in the voting process and also that “your voice makes a difference,” the teacher said. Markham said he encourages students not to vote for their best friends, and to “think about their vote.”
After the first ballot, two female students were tied. In the second vote, they each voted for the other. One student prevailed, although their teacher gave a prize to both. Interestingly, it was brought to Markham’s attention that girls have won each monthly vote thus far, so the students decided that next month the honor should go to a boy.
This is Markham’s first year teaching at the lower grade levels, after three years as a sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at St. Simon Stock. The 40-year-old earlier taught for two years at St. Lucy’s School, also in the Bronx.
Along with his effectiveness in the classroom, Markham serves the broader school community by assisting with the yearbook, including serving as a photographer at events, and also is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at school liturgies, said Kinsley Jabouin, the principal of St. Simon Stock.
Virgadamo said “the building principal is a key ingredient in the success of Catholic schools.” He explained that such leadership, or the lack of it, often spells the difference between a thriving school and one that is merely adequate.
Virgadamo added that most of the needed candidates for principal positions are already employed in the archdiocese’s Catholic schools. The key is to identify them early in their career, he said.
In Markham’s case, he said that he plans to give the Curran Fellowship serious consideration in the next couple of months.
Teachers, he said, “have the drive to find success in others.” The chosen teachers have found that their students are not the only ones with new gifts to develop.