Diocese questioned over Catholic school shakeup
by Daniel Bush
Jun 23, 2009 | 2385 views | 2 2 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The words Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal may be etched forever in the stone facade of the Catholic school in Ridgewood.

But when the school reopens this fall, it will have a different name, a new principal, and, many angry parents say, bear little resemblance to the school they've loved for so many years.

Come September, OLMM will reopen as the Notre Dame Catholic Academy (NDCA), absorbing many but not all of the students and staff from St. Aloysius, another failed Ridgewood catholic school.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn closed both for good last week, at the end of the school year. The Diocese insists on calling its decision to combine both schools into a single institution a restructuring, not a merger.

Either way, school administrators and parents dealing with the shakeup - not to mention emotional final graduations at both schools - are not entirely happy with the outcome. Diocesan officials believe the move will strengthen catholic school education in the area.

"This is a decision that we believe will be in the best interest of children" in the area's Catholic schools, said Kieran Harrington, the Diocese's vicar for communications.

OLMM's roughly 250 students will automatically be enrolled in the new academy, according to administrators familiar with the restructuring process.

St. Aloysius had a pre-kindergarten to eighth grade student population of around 260 before it closed. Of these, at least 100 have already registered for transfer to the new academy. NDCA will also accept students from several area Catholic schools, where the remainder of St. Aloysius's students are expected to enroll.

Harrington said the new academy would be run by a board of directors charged with providing key financial and academic oversight. By contrast, the pastors of their respective parishes ran OLMM and St. Aloysius.

"This is the best way to go forward," Harrington said.

A smooth transition this fall could be complicated, however, by the hiring of St. Aloysius's principal, Virginia Daly, to head the new academy. Disappointed parents loyal to OLMM had hoped their own principal, Margaret Baxter, would take over. Speculation over who would lead the academy began immediately after the restructuring was announced by the Diocese in late February and has erupted into an explosive debate in following months.

In recent weeks, the issue has also attracted the attention of Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who sent a letter to the Diocese Bishop Francis Caggiano asking the Diocese to further consider the concerns of OLMM parents.

The decision to hire Daly instead of Baxter was made by the academy's board of directors, one of the two administrative bodies in charge of NDCA, according to Harrington. He said the board's members were chosen by the pastor of OLMM Church, Monsignor Edward Ryan, and Father George Poltorak, the pastor of St. Aloysius Church.

Harrington and Ryan declined to comment on the selection process leading to Daly's hiring, saying only that the Diocese was following the recommendations made by the academy's board of directors.

"The interviewing process is a matter of confidentiality," Ryan said. "The board of directors made a decision that we have accepted."

Understandably, Daly and Baxter have reacted differently to the news, though both spoke positively of the academy and its potential benefits for the communities it will serve.

Daly, who was appointed principal of St. Aloysius in 2003, said the school's enrollment has shrunk by roughly 50 students since then, a drop of approximately 15 percent.

She said dismantling St. Aloysius and combining it with another school was the only way for the institution to carry on in any form. (In response to falling enrollment numbers, the Diocese has announced it plans to close several other Catholic schools in Brooklyn and Queens).

"It was not possible due to enrollment numbers and operating costs for St. Aloysius to continue," Daly said, adding that the new, restructured academy would help resuscitate local Catholic school education. She did not comment on personnel issues.

Baxter agreed the restructured NDCA could potentially help Catholic school education in the long run, but she expressed candid disappointment that she wasn't retained at the new academy.

"It's sad that I wasn't rehired," said Baxter, who has served as OLMM's principal for the past 15 years. She pointed to the school's excellent state test scores at the 4th, 6th, and 8th grade levels as one important indicator the school was doing fine under her control.

"It's a disappointment that there's no recognition of accomplishments," Baxter said. She said given the situation a just solution would have been to hire a principal outside of either school.

Theresa Valentino, the parent of OLMM 8th grade graduate Danielle, said she was unhappy the school was losing its name, and its principal. Valentino said if her daughter were younger she would not send her to the academy specifically because Baxter was not hired as its principal.

"I'm glad my daughter got out when she did," Valentino said.

Anne Tracy, a parent of two younger OLMM students and an active fundraiser at the school, said she was only keeping her children at the new academy at their request. She said she plans to become less involved at the school due to skepticism of the new academy and anger over the Diocese's handling of its restructuring process.

"It's not being done properly," Tracy said. Not hiring Baxter "was a big mistake. She was the spirit of that school."

Comments
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anonymous
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June 25, 2009
How do you take a school that stands at the top of a pedestal for all these years and rip it down to the ground within a couple of months, changing the staff, changing the principal, and bringing in staff that knows nothing about the way O.L.M.M. was ran!
Pat Kiprovski
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June 25, 2009
The most disappointing part of the whole thing is the way that Msgr. Ryan went about doing this,

1. He totally kept the parents in the dark, he stopped attending functions. He had no meetings updating the parents, he hid in the rectory and learned about voice mail.

2. He constantly accused Miss Baxter of insubordination. Wrote letters to the Bishops wanting her released from duty, in each instance the accusation where false.

3. In February, we had already knew who was going to be principal, because the parents from St Aloysius told us.

4. The principal at St Aloysius, Miss Daly ignored request from surrounding catholic schools to invite the parents and students to look at their school. Miss Daily also called the cop on a gentleman who was handing literature on his school to parents.

When they had a special registration night for OLMM at St. Aloysios, the gentleman from St Bridgets was asked to leave.

5. Msgr Ryan spent more time with Miss Daly from February till May. He was asked about the difficulties Miss Daily had running school which she obviously had, He said Don't worry we have a board to run the school.