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.


Anonymous said...

As a former OLMM student, I was saddened and very upset at the name change. However, the decision to get rid of Ms Baxter is a wise one. When I visited the school a few years ago during open house to determine if I should enroll my child in kindergarten there, I spoke to the principal, stating how I went there as a child, had some of the teachers that still worked there, as well mentioning several other people I knew that were involved in the church and school. Ms. Baxter was extremely rude to me, abruptly ended the conversation and basically told me I should enroll my child elsewhere, and walked away from me. All I can guess is perhpas someone I mentioned as an acquaintance was not someone she cared for. As I have told this story to others, I have heard this is how she treats people she does not like...or in this case, someone who knows someone she does not like. Needless to say, my child does not go to OLMM, because of the principal.

pat k said...

It's truly interesting that you had to leave it as anonymous, I can not believe that you are willing to write bad things and not leave your name. You probably never had the experience or Miss Baxter is a good judge of character and seen what you are.

Anonymous said...

well, Pat K, my name is Marie Basso...funny you did not leave your last name but yet you criticized me for not leaving my name....what is your problem? Miss Baxter had no knwoledge of me, I was speaking nicely and civilly to her, as I did not know her either so I had absolutely no prejudice or preconcieved notion of her, and yet as I was speaking to her, she abruplty told me to send my child elsewhere and walked away from me. This only happened after I mentioned a few names of people I occasionally see and speak to that are involcved with the school and church. But yet, she is such a great woman and principal? Only after I mentioned the rude experience I had with her did I learn of the way she treats people she does not like or has no use for. Get a life and see this woman for who she is...take the blinders off, or get your head out of her posterior and maybe you will be able to see.

Anonymous said...

Right on Marie Basso - Miss Baxter had to go!!!!! And so do the people that kissed her you know what only becuase they were either afraid of her or to get preferential treatment. There are plenty of parents of current and past school children that feel the same way and are GLAD she is gone. And Pat K, before you ask why they are not commenting on this - becuase they do not have to...Baxter is gone, its over, no need to comment on it :) - sincerely and happily, John H.

Anonymous said...

Having been in the school numerous times, it is clear that OLMM cared about one thing -- making money. It was time for Ms. Baxter to go. Yelling at children and calling them "retarded" (which is what I witnessed) is not an acceptable form of teaching. I was always amazed to enter and hear that the children more feared Ms. Baxter than respected her. The parents who didn't agree with the Committee's decision have been extremely disrespectful and ignorant. What horrible Catholic examples to their children.

Danielle said...

okay first of all Miss Baxter is great! and Maria Basso when she was rude to you I dunno maybe she was in a bad mood? Maybe she just then found out about losing her job? Well I don't know when this happened to you but Miss Baxter is only rude when she gets really peeved for a reason. And yes some children do fear Miss Baxter. This is because she is strict and they don't like getting in trouble. I however remember her COMFORTING me when I lost my best friend. She was telling me old stories of she losing friends because of an irrelevant reason. Miss Baxter is the greatest principal I could ever ask for.

A former student of OLMM (but I go to NDCA now)

Anonymous said...

Goodness, these comments are 'retarded'. Miss Baxter was the sweetest person that I ever knew. As a current student of OLMM, I am incredibly upset with this transition. One experience does not sum up whom a person is! I bet ya'll have done the same, when someone had met you, and you were just a tad rude to them because you had a lot on your plate or you didn't have time. I'm sure it's happened to me, and I admit it. We all respected her because she was a great person. When my friend's home was robbed, she comforted her. When my other friend had first come to the school and was having a rough time, Miss Baxter gave advice. When I had given her a gift from a recent trip, she had tears in her eyes. She is a great person, and like Pat K. said, is a good judge of character. She can read anyone like an open book. She just doesn't speak with people whom she sees are not worth her time.

Anonymous said...

u noe wat i still go to this school and all my years here i loved miss baxter and i an=m very sad she is gone.