Seventh-grader Ronald Mendez, 12, could not have asked for a more prestigious first day at his new school, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Manhattan, Oct. 4. In history class, he and a few new peers met archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools Michael Deegan and New York City Department of Education Chancellor David Banks.
“I’m surprised—it was random, so random,” Ronald told CNY as he laughed out loud. “So basically they control all of the schools in New York City?” he asked astonishedly.
The two administrators were touring Queen of Martyrs at 71 Arden St. in the Inwood section and two public schools on nearby Broadway.
Deegan, speaking with CNY before the first tour, said he and Banks met at the new chancellor’s office in May. They spoke about their “shared goals for educating children in New York City.”
“We both agreed that 400,000 of the million children that attend public schools are Catholics—so they’re our children—and every child in a Catholic school, while we certainly feel that they are our children, they’re really his children as well,” Deegan said. “So we share a bond and a relationship that transcends what we do and how we do it…but in the end our common mission of educating children, to give them that great opportunity here in New York City, is our shared partnership.”
Eighth-grader Mya Compres, 13, was one of the student tour guides at Queen of Martyrs selected to show the school administrators around. “I’m glad I was picked to tour,” she said, “and also I’m glad that we were picked to have the tour here because this is a really good school and I really like it here.”
Mya said she enjoys the rooftop garden and greenhouse, where produce is grown, harvested and shared with the school community. “It’s pretty interesting and also the raspberries up there are so good,” she added.
Catholic school has also helped Mya grow in the Catholic faith, she said, citing the school’s shared prayer times twice daily in the church on-site as well as religion classes where she and her peers learn about “how we can include the Catholic faith in our daily life.”
A tour highlight at Queen of Martyrs, on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi no less, was the school’s extensive animal husbandry program, with its array of tropical and nontropical fish; cockatoos and cockatiels; Madagascar hissing cockroaches, an African fat-tailed gecko, bearded dragons, red-eared slider turtles, a snake and much more.
Banks, speaking with CNY, described Queen of Martyrs School as “an amazing place. The warmth that you feel in that place is just palpable, a joy. And I heard that from the kids as well as from the adults.”
Banks gave high marks to being in “a strategic partnership” with Deegan. “All of the children of New York City belong to all of us…The signal is that they’re all of our kids and we need to be working together, learning from each other, supporting one another. And that’s what I’m committed to doing.”
Andrew Woods, principal of Queen of Martyrs, was happy to host the administrators. “It recognizes all the work that we do here, academically, socially,” in providing a Catholic education to students, he said.
After Queen of Martyrs School, the superintendent and chancellor visited Muscota New School and Amistad Dual Language School at 4862 Broadway.
After entering the building that houses both schools, and before beginning the tour of Muscota New School, Deegan said he remembered the building being constructed while principal at the now-closed St. Jude School.
As students performed a dance on stage in the auditorium of Amistad, five alumnae of St. Jude School who work at the public school had a jubilant reunion with Deegan, who had been their principal.