Superintendent of Schools Gives High Marks to Remote Learning

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Michael Deegan, superintendent of schools in the archdiocese, reflected on poignant examples of how well students across the archdiocese are coping at home amid the coronavirus pandemic that has closed their schools since March 16.

Referring to videos and social media posts showcasing the prayers of youngsters that have been sent to his office, Deegan said he has been deeply moved by “the child who stands in front of the crucifix” and says an Our Father dressed in his school uniform, then turns to the American flag and recites The Pledge of Allegiance, “or the child who knelt at their bed and said a ‘Hail Mary’ or an ‘Our Father’” before going to sleep.

“It’s gratifying to feel and to see that our Church, our faith, our prayer life continues even remotely through the vehicle of our Catholic schools,” Deegan said. The superintendent spoke with CNY in a phone interview March 27. 

An April 1 post on catholicschoolsny.org states that in accordance with state and federal guidelines, all school buildings will remain closed and home-based learning will continue through Thursday, April 30.

“My staff, the principals, the teachers, have not only risen to the occasion, they have exceeded our expectations in terms of stepping forth and working with our parents and our children to provide them with home-based, remote learning,” Deegan said.

“I could not be happier for them, and I couldn’t be prouder of our principals and our teachers. They’re making this happen.”

Asked what grade they merited, “I would give—and I’m a tough marker,” he joked, “an A+ for effort. I would give an A- recognizing that among the things that we have committed to is, over the next week or two, to continue to solicit feedback from our parents and teachers and principals, what are the things that we’re doing well that we need to continue, what are the things that we need to improve and enhance, and what are the things we’re not doing that we need to do.”

Overall, he added, “everyone is open, everyone is rallying around the circumstances we find ourselves in.”

About a month ago, Deegan initiated and created the Health and Safety Task Force of the Office of the Superintendent of Schools. “The initial and primary responsibility was to monitor the health of our school communities. But it clearly took on an added dimension of how to create remote, home-based learning opportunities for our children.” 

Various subcommittees included the health and safety committee; the teaching and learning committee; government relations committee; food service committee; staff management committee; and an operation management committee. 

“We were really positioned, at least having the infrastructure, never realizing that it was going to be this cataclysmic.”

The superintendent’s Health and Safety Task Force works in tandem with the archdiocesan task force, said Deegan, who acknowledged the diligence of his staff.

“They’re putting in 12-hour days just to ensure that our children are getting the best education that they can.”

Families are directed to catholicschoolsny.org for many resources related to the coronavirus. The site includes a live Twitter feed that shows how home-based learning is working for Catholic school students.

“Our kids are joyous and joyful because of what the teachers and the principals are doing,” Deegan said.

As a Church and as a Catholic school system, “we are blessed” to have a foundation of faith and prayer upon which to rely, the superintendent added. 

“We’re very fortunate that we already have the infrastructure of the Church to support us during this crisis. And because of that we have His grace to sustain any challenge that may come our way.” 

Theresa Lombardo, the fourth grade teacher at Sacred Heart School on Staten Island, is grateful for how things are going so far for her and her 17 students. “It’s really entirely new, what we’re doing across the country,” she told CNY by phone April 3. “Every day you learn something new, you take on a new challenge. You navigate through what comes up that you didn’t expect and you just go into every day like a teacher would. In our profession, every day is different...

“This is multi-faceted. We’ve always looked to the whole child when we teach,” she said, whereas now they’re looking at the whole child in a whole new circumstance. “Every family is dealing with different things within their home as a result of this home-based learning, so you have to take that into consideration.”

Mrs. Lombardo, the school’s sole fourth grade teacher, has begun utilizing Zoom video conferencing for ELA and mathematics. “We fit perfectly on the screen; that is a huge plus,” she said. 

She also uses Google Classroom, among other teaching platforms. “All day, we can chat with them on Google Classroom,” she said. “From the time they get up and they start working on the assignments, it’s new material, because we’re moving on with our curriculum. 

“They have questions. So we’re available, we’re online, essentially, all day, to help them.”

Zoom is blazing a welcome trail in their at-home school day. “Being able to finally see them, it’s going to change the rest of the days,” Mrs. Lombardo said.

Theresa Recine, a sixth-grader at St. Denis-St. Columba School in Hopewell Junction, went on a virtual field trip courtesy of her science teacher and NASA last week. “Things are going very well,” she told CNY in a phone interview April 3 from her home. 

“They’re giving us assignments that are not too hard for us, but we’re still learning what we would be in school,” she said. “And they’re giving us very fun things to do,” such as the science class virtual field trip. 

“It was a video that NASA posted about what they do in space,” Theresa said. “It was really cool.”

Zoom is a helpful tool for math class, Theresa said, where she and her peers are immersed in algebra. Google Classroom is also used for various subjects.

Theresa’s brother Luke Recine, a junior at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie, had a lot to say about his school’s adherence to Catholic identity at school and now at home through remote learning.

The global coronavirus crisis, he told CNY, offers a reminder “to leave everything in God’s hands,” while paying attention to “the proper safety measures that we have to, to keep ourselves safe.” And to pray “a rosary for this to end.”   

Regarding academics, he said, “The teachers put the material there, but it’s up to you to learn it. All my teachers are doing a great job.

“Really, our school is handling this probably the best way that they could,” Luke said. “Everyone is being very understanding.”

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