For many outside observers, seeing a school change its name is usually a sign of trouble or an abandonment of tradition and history. Schools share their names with the churches they are affiliated with and often carry the name of a saint or a Christian feast or event that is important to parishioners.
But as many Catholic elementary schools in the borough open their doors under a new name or the title “Academy,” the Diocese of Brooklyn wants you to know the traditions and focuses of Catholic education will not change, and the church hopes they will improve.
A number of schools have become academies, which is often done when parish schools merge. That was the case when St. Stanislaus School in Ozone Park closed and merged with nearby Nativity. The two schools became Divine Mercy Catholic Academy, located in the former Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary school building. The old St. Stanislaus school was sold by the diocese and is being developed as a public school.
Tom Chadzutko, superintendent of schools at the Diocese of Brooklyn, said the “academy” model goes back a long time and is a way to bring in expertise among parishioners.
“The academies are run by a two-tier government structure,” Chadzutko explained. “There is the parish leadership and a board of directors. The idea is to engage the lay leadership in the running of the school.”
Under the model, there is a parish council made up of lay people with various skills and areas of expertise that they can bring to the running of the schools. For example, a parishioner with professional experience in marketing or public relations may sit on the council and run the school’s marketing and public relations campaigns. Another council member with professional experience in finance or banking would assist in the finances of the school.
Maria Cuomo, principal of Notre Dame Catholic Academy, located at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish in Ridgewood, said the academy model has worked well for her school.
“It’s been extremely helpful,” she said.
Across the borough, St. Clare School in Rosedale announced in November that it will be transitioning into an academy next year.
“We’re very excited,” said Principal Mary Basile. “It’ll be more of a collaborative. Parishioners in the community will build the school’s status”
“We’ve been working on it for a while,” Basile explained. “The members of the Board of Directors will have their own expertise in different areas, used to find alternative ways to fund the school and different programs.”
Other schools that have made the move include Howard Beach’s Our Lady of Grace and St. Anastasia’s School in Little Neck, which transitioned into Ave Maria Catholic Academy and Divine Wisdom Catholic Academy, respectively.