With the beginning of the school year, Catholic schools of Brooklyn and Queens welcomed a new superintendent, Deacon Kevin McCormack. A former principal at Xaverian High School in Bay Ridge and co-host of the WABC Radio show, “Religion on the Line” with Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, McCormack has nearly 40 years of education experience to share with the students, parents, and staff of Brooklyn and Queens.
The education system has been through a lot of changes in the past years, and with it, so have students and their learning requirements, according to McCormack, who said he is keen on keeping Catholic education up to date with society’s context. As students headed back for their first day of school last week, McCormack toured a handful of schools in Brooklyn and Queens, meeting some of his new students and colleagues. As superintendent, he will lead the diocese’s efforts to work with school boards and principals to design curriculums and fundraise for school maintenance, staff salaries, and learning programs.
“Students need to be able to think critically,” he said. “They need to imagine a positive world, a world in which they can make a difference. Schools have to make sure they have that right. Kids need to know their history and we need to have them ask the right questions. Sometimes, people do not think critically. They’re not able to analyze, but, in our world right now, where there are so many voices out there, we need our kids to be able to distinguish what is valid, what is authentic and what is not.”
Security at the 84 Catholic schools in Brooklyn and Queens is a number one priority, McCormack said. As the time for students to go back into their classrooms came, and after 29 school shootings have occurred this year, many parents and entire communities are concerned.
“We are updating our security systems all the time,” he said. “We’re in close contact with our precincts and all first respondents. We have regular drills to prepare our kids, our faculty, our staff and our principals.”
The diocese is trying to treat the problem from the root as well by providing access to mental health professionals for students on a weekly basis, he added.
When it comes to addressing some of the most recent polemics that have sprung in the country, such as legal access to abortion and equal marriage rights among same sex people, Brooklyn and Queen’s catholic schools stick to a religious approach for educating, said McCormack.
“The Catholic church has a very strong tradition of moral issues in the way in which they go about certain things and that’s that’s out there,” the deacon said. “The schools are not shy about what we believe, but we also don’t take it out of context because our belief is set within the context of who people are. We invite people to grow as who they are and to realize that we don’t need people to be perfect, but we need people to grow from imperfection.”
After years of low enrollment, more and more families in New York City appear to be turning toward Catholic and other private schools — last school year, enrollment at the city’s private schools increased by 3.8%, according to the New York Post. At St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Academy in Windsor Terrace, registration is up 47% compared to Fall 2019, before the pandemic began, according to the Brooklyn Diocese, and at least 20 Catholic schools in Brooklyn and Queens reported an increase in new students this year.
The average tuition in Diocesan Catholic elementary schools of $4,250 covers only 75% of costs. The rest comes primarily from fundraising and donations. Futures in Education, a financial aid program operated by the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens offers over $7 million in financial aid and scholarship opportunities to more than 5,000 students to help families with elementary school tuition. Almost $9 million in scholarships are offered to the elementary 8th-grade grade graduates as part of their acceptance to Catholic high schools.
“Over the last 37 years at Xaverian, working with tremendous students and their families, dedicated staff, faculty, administrators, and devoted alumni — and especially with my friend President Alesi, I learned what makes a Catholic School great,” McCormack said in a press release when he was named superintendent. “I am grateful that Bishop Brennan has placed his trust in me to build upon the formative work of Dr. Chadzutko and continue the blessed tradition of excellence in Catholic education.”