In an administrative exercise reminiscent of show and tell, a number of educators from across the archdiocese went to the head of the archdiocesan class, if only for a few hours after the school bell tolled last week.
Accompanied by their principals who had nominated them as potential future leaders, 37 candidates were honored Feb. 23 during an evening of recognition and leadership discernment at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan.
Hosted by Dr. Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, and Steven Virgadamo, associate superintendent for leadership and recruitment, the reception included dinner and remarks by Dr. McNiff and Virgadamo and a motivational video that chronicled testimonials from principals in the archdiocese.
“Thanks for what you do for these children every single day,” Dr. McNiff told the candidates, who were asked to consider discerning a future role as principal.
The criteria for the candidates chosen to attend the reception, the superintendent of schools explained, was that they were successful and happy in the education profession, and already a great ambassador for Catholic schools. “That’s the criteria, and look who showed up tonight,” he said with gratitude.
Virgadamo introduced the leadership candidates to representatives of the Curran Principal Academy, a leadership formation program for aspiring Catholic school leaders. Applications for fellowships to the academy are due March 15. Eligibility requirements include being a practicing Roman Catholic with an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher, and at least three years of successful teaching or other professional K-12 experience.
Diane Fitzgerald, 52, a Catholic schoolteacher for 29 years, said the administrative knowledge she’s acquired from some exemplary principals has piqued her interest in a similar post. “I love the Catholic school system, so to be invited here tonight, to be encouraged to pursue a further career in it,” is appreciated, she said.
The common denominator among Catholic educators at St. Theresa School in the Bronx, where Ms. Fitzgerald teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grades, is their dedication and passion to the job, she said. “We’re here because we love what we do. It’s not about anything other than the children and doing what’s best for the children.”
Former students who return to St. Theresa’s to report on their successful careers as doctors, nurses and lawyers—and three priests since she started at the school—bring the job full circle, Ms. Fitzgerald said. And when those same alumni thank the teachers for their positive influence, “it’s rewarding to hear that,” she said.
Angela Vetrano, 35, who teaches sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade English at Sacred Heart School in Yonkers, cited as a recent high point being chosen as the subject of a college thesis by a former student.
“It’s humbling,” she said of being cited as an example of a good teacher. “When somebody who I haven’t taught in seven years tells me that out of all of her (years in school and college), she picks me, that’s an honor.”
Michael Consolmagno, 27 and Richard Clark, 35, both alumni of St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School on Staten Island, were also grateful for the invitation. Among other duties, both work with technology.
Consolmagno is a liaison in the high school preparatory program, which teaches junior high students in nine grammar schools how to successfully transition to high school, including through the use of the iPad. Being entrusted to help alleviate students from the “burden of being scared” for high school is both a privilege and a blessing to him, he said.
Clark, who is an administrator of the school’s seamless online learning environment, teaches a writing lab for juniors. “I’ve always viewed this as a calling, so I’m just glad to be a part of this,” said Clark, who has also served as the school’s head football coach.
While the evening of recognition and leadership discernment at archdiocesan headquarters marked an important night for Monica DeOliveira, 28, a kindergarten teacher at Sacred Heart School in Yonkers, she noted the day was a milestone for her students, who celebrated their 100th day of school. “It was a fun craft day that we had. It made me love what I do so much, to see these kids smiling and laughing,” she said.
Maintaining the school’s Catholic identity is a leadership must, she said, and can be built through a close relationship with the parish pastor, from coordinating student tours of the church to welcoming the pastor into the classroom. “It’s our job,” Ms. DeOliveira said, “to make sure that we’re intertwining (church and school) as much as possible.”
Lawrence Hansen, 39, who teaches eighth grade English at St. Clare’s School on Staten Island, said that to be an effective principal, one must understand the students, teachers and families, and their dynamic, as well as how the school can benefit the community. “We are truly a family. That’s reflected in this school and in the students and in the parents.”