Thursday, May 21, 2009
Parents Unhappy Over Catholic School Restructuring
Ridgewood School to Become Academy Under Diocese's Plan
By Conor Greene
Parents and students who are unhappy with changes coming to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal School rallied in Ridgewood on Tuesday to demand answers, which they say have not been forthcoming.
Under a restructuring plan announced by the Brooklyn Diocese, several schools including OLMM will be converted into Catholic academies. As a result, OLMM will be renamed the Notre Dame Catholic Academy of Ridgewood when it reopens in September. Under the new arrangement, the academy will be run by a lay board of directors.
Many parents who rallied Tuesday at the corner of Bleecker and 61st streets say they were upset by the name change, but understand it is necessary. The last straw for many came when it was announced that the OLMM’s longtime principal, Margaret Baxter, was not being retained for next year. Instead, Virginia Daly, the former principal at St. Aloysius School - which is set to close - has been hired to fill that position. In addition, all staff members had to reapply for their positions, and parents are worried the new principal will bring most of her staff with her to OLMM.
Among those who rallied was Maria Birkic, who previously switched her daughter from St. Aloysius to OLMM and said she was “horrified” to learn that Mrs. Baxter wouldn’t be retained. “Mrs. Baxter opened doors for my daughter. She took her under her wing and was nurturing,” said Birkic. “They were not honest with us. We feel very betrayed, like our voices mean nothing to them.”
At the center of the parents’ anger is OLMM pastor Msgr. Edward Ryan, whom they say has been refusing to answer questions or discuss the situation with them. Msgr. Ryan was not present during the protests, but discussed the situation in an interview that afternoon. He noted that as part the restructuring, it is necessary to hire a whole new staff, which is why current employees were forced to reapply for their positions.
Msgr. Ryan expressed displeasure that parents had children participate in the rally, which attracted dozens of participants waiving signs. “I understand that a number of children were involved, and would be disappointed if they were being used to put across points adults wish to make,” he said. “I don’t think it is helpful to involve the children at this point.”
A meeting between the new board of directors – which was appointed by a board of corporation members, including Msgr. Ryan – and parents of OLMM and St. Aloysius parents is scheduled for Tuesday, at which time “hopefully the issues will be calmly and rationally discussed and answered,” said Msgr. Ryan.
While there are several concerns with the restructuring plan among students and parents, Msgr. Ryan termed the issues surrounding the principal’s position “the large issue.” He said a board of director’s sub committee interviewed four candidates for the principal’s job. “They rated each of those candidates on several different areas… [and] selected the person they believe to have the best accord with the vision of the new structure of Catholic education where the principal will dynamically lead the educational community and work with the board of directors.”
Responding to criticism that Daly oversaw the decline of St. Aloysius, Msgr. Ryan noted that under the new structure, the principal “will not be responsible for the financial well-being of the school. The principal’s responsibility will be the educational mission of the school.” He added that St. Aloysius’ difficulties “go back many years” and have finally reached a point where that parish couldn’t keep up with its debt. “The attempt is to build up new academies to be as strong as they can be in terms of enrollment.”
Msgr. Ryan also refuted claims that parents have been left in the dark as the process has unfolded. “No information was withheld and we interviewed everyone who applied. The person who emerged with the highest rating was recommended,” he said.
While Msgr. Ryan criticized the parents for allowing the students to participate in the protest, many of the children who attended expressed heartbreak at what is happening at OLMM. “She’s been like a mother to us and listens to all our problems,” said Elizabeth Sweeney, an eighth grade student who is the third generation of her family to attend OLMM. “It’s ironic how they’re giving us the principal of a school that is being shut down.”
“They made us who we are today, and they’re taking it all away,” said fellow eighth-grader Josephine O’Malley.