Bar Set High for School Year, Superintendent Says


Blended learning has proven to be such an effective method in educating youngsters that it’s essentially being promoted to the head of the class this school year in 18 elementary schools.

The archdiocese has announced an additional 15 schools that will adopt the practice alongside the three schools that piloted the program last year.

Blended learning is generally applied to the practice of using both online/digital and in person learning experiences when teaching students. It is a formal education program in which some student learning content and instruction are delivered online with some element of student control over time, place, path and pace. Such activities are coordinated by a teacher in a traditional classroom setting.

The three schools that piloted the program last year and will continue with the practice this year are St. Ann’s in Manhattan; St. Thomas Aquinas, the Bronx; and Immaculate Conception, in Tuckahoe, Central Westchester.

The 15 additional schools that will offer blended learning include, in Manhattan, for grades three through eight: Our Lady Queen of Martrys, Our Lady of Lourdes, and St. Gregory the Great. In Northwest/South Bronx: St. Philip Neri, grades three through five, and St. Angela Merici, kindergarten through eight. In Northeast/East Bronx, St. Helena’s, grades three through five. In Central Westchester, for grades three through five: St. Eugene’s and St. Peter’s, both of Yonkers, and Holy Name of Jesus, New Rochelle. In Northern Westchester/Putnam: St. Patrick’s, Yorktown Heights, grades six through eight. In Ulster, for grades three through five: Kingston Catholic and St. Joseph’s, both of Kingston. And on Staten Island, for grades six through eight: Our Lady of Mount Carmel-St. Benedicta, St. Peter-St. Paul, and St. Teresa’s.

Enrollment for the academic year—the application process for elementary schools was offered online for the first time—looks “very promising” at this point, said Dr. Timothy J. McNiff, superintendent of schools.

Figures are not yet available, as the official census closes Oct. 1.

The regionalization process of recent years is working, the superintendent said. “Clearly it’s stemmed the school closure mode that we were in, and it’s making our schools more sustainable” financially, academically and enrollment-wise, he said.

Catholic identity in the schools continues to be a priority, Dr. McNiff said. To support the effort, Sister June Clare Tracy, O.P., was asked to transition from her service for the past two decades as the Manhattan region’s superintendent of schools to the newly established post of executive director for Catholic Identity, effective Sept. 1.

“She’s a pro,” Dr. McNiff said of Sister June Clare. “Her life has been dedicated to this. She will intuitively provide great leadership to our boards and our schools on how we promote our Catholic faith.

“For anyone who believes giving a child the opportunity and the understanding to develop a relationship with their God is paramount, then it just stands to reason there is no other institution, outside of the family, that does this more consistently and more effectively than the Catholic schools,” the superintendent said.

“We root it in teaching the tenets of the faith,” Dr. McNiff continued. He noted that Catholic identity is complemented in a range of faith components, including prayer and liturgy.

All of that, he added, must be predicated on one other condition: “adults, in the building, that are modeling this for the kids on a daily basis.”

Regarding finances, Dr. McNiff said that “while we are finding financial stability with our plan, we recognize our operating budgets are still in need of more resources for teachers.”

He cited examples where help is happening.

In addition to what the Inner-City Scholarship Fund is doing for families on tuition assistance, Dr. McNiff said, “this office is now and has been more aggressive in its own fund-raising for instructional support.”

Since 2016, approximately $5 million has been raised “for this explicit purpose,” he said.

According to Dr. McNiff, that money is now being invested in more schools participating in the blended learning model and in early childhood education.

“Of the $5 million,” Dr. McNiff said, “$1 million has now been designated to provide STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) opportunities for our Catholic high schools.”

The vision, he continued, includes exploring where to secure space to have an archdiocesan STEM lab “where kids would take field trips.”

“In addition,” he said, “I credit the Archdiocese of New York for playing a significant role in Albany in re-establishing our presence, and as a result, millions of dollars statewide of which we will be enjoying, are coming to support teachers with their professional development.”

Specifically, that amounts to $3.4 million statewide. “The archdiocese, given its size, will get a significant portion of that amount,” Dr. McNiff said.

The funds could begin to come as early as September.

What continues to evolve with the strategic plan, Dr. McNiff noted, is the depth and variety of stakeholders who are helping, he said.

They include donors, pastors, people serving on the various boards within the system, parents engaged in their local schools and more politicians advocating for Catholic education, the superintendent of schools said. Additionally, “the stalwart efforts” from principals and teachers “have remained steadfast.”

“The true secret of why we’re succeeding: this collection of people who are providing time and leadership,” Dr. McNiff said.

“That universal focus,” he added, “is broader today than it’s ever been.”

Dr. McNiff also acknowledged the partnership with the city and state in universal pre-kindergarten (UPK). “The city gives us high marks for being a UPK partner,” he said.

The superintendent has some words of welcome, and welcome back, for students. “We’re really excited to see you again in September,” he said.

“The bar is going to continue to be set high for one reason, and one reason only,” he noted.

“I know they can reach it.”


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