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

Panel Discussion, Awards Highlight Principals’ Meeting
By DAN PIETRAFESA

Tara Hynes learned over the past year the importance of a pastor’s presence in a Catholic school.

The principal of Our Lady of Good Counsel School on Staten Island shared her stories with 200-plus Catholic school leaders in a one-hour panel discussion on the roles and responsibilities of school leaders and pastors at the archdiocese’s semi-annual principals meeting at Marina del Rey in the Bronx Oct. 27.

“We have some real chemistry at our school and I was happy to talk about it, and all of the improvements Father Ambrose (Madu) has made at Our Lady of Good Counsel,” Mrs. Hynes, a third-year principal at Our Lady of Good Counsel, told CNY.

She said Father Madu came to the parish “with this great sense of energy.”

“He’s a very dynamic man, and he brought that excitement to the classroom,” the principal said. “In monthly Masses, he involves the children when he’s speaking in his homily and the kids love it. I’ve noticed since he’s been there, the children’s responses are so much in tune with what the Gospel is all about because he really has them focusing on the important message the Gospel has.”

Mrs. Hynes was joined on the panel by Father Jonathan Morris, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Bronx; Kathleen Leahy, principal of St. Martin de Porres in Poughkeepsie; Bob Billings, principal of Our Lady of Refuge in the Bronx; and Father Arthur Mastrolia, pastor of St. Anthony in Yonkers.

“Presence is critically important because there can be no relationship without presence,” Father Mastrolia said. “The principal has to make an effort to involve the pastor but the pastor also has to come to the realization that these are the people that he’s been entrusted with if they are within the boundaries of his parish. I’m fortunate because it’s easy for me to be present with the proximity of the rectory to the school. I enjoy the children’s company.”

Brian Donahue, a first-year principal at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Shrub Oak, was attending his first principals’ meeting.

“There were some good ideas generated here and to hear other people’s best practices was very uplifting,” Donahue said.

Dr. Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools in the archdiocese, said a pastor’s presence is even more important now since the archdiocese changed to a regional school structure.

“This topic is important for any Catholic school, particularly for us, because we changed our governance model and I think unknowingly we gave the impression pastors don’t still need to be involved with the schools,” Dr. McNiff said. “They have to more than ever. For us to sit down as colleagues to talk about that, let’s not lose that and how do we preserve it. I was very pleased with how that went.”

After the panel discussion, the Superintendent’s Cups were distributed for the first time to schools from the nine regions showing growth in math and English Language Arts (ELA) scores. The winning schools will hold the trophy and case until the awards are given again next fall.

Guardian Angels of Manhattan region, St. Benedict of Northeast/East Bronx, St. Luke of Northwest/South Bronx and Holy Trinity of Dutchess County won regional awards for both math and ELA.

Other math winners were St. Stephen/St. Edward of Orange/Ulster/Sullivan counties region, St. Patrick of Putnam/Northern Westchester, Immaculate Heart of Mary of Central Westchester, St. Teresa of Staten Island and St. Gregory Barbarigo of Rockland County.

Other ELA winners were Sacred Heart of Central Westchester, Our Lady Help of Christians of Staten Island, St. Anthony of Rockland County, St. Augustine of Putnam/Northern Westchester and Most Precious Blood of Orange/Ulster/Sullivan counties.

With the fall meeting completed, Dr. McNiff and his team will soon begin preparing for the next principals’ meeting.

“We don’t do it enough, but I understand why. It’s hard to pull the principals out of their buildings, but this collegiality, it affirms for each other it’s good work, we’re all in it, and we all can share war stories and feel like we’re not alone,” he said.

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