NCEA Honors Associate Superintendent for Leadership Formation

Originally posted on CNY.org

COURTESY NCEA

COURTESY NCEA

NCEA Board Chair Bishop Gerald Kicanas, far left; honoree Steven Virgadamo, associate superintendent for leadership formation for the archdiocese; Msgr. John F. Meyers, the namesake of Virgadamo’s award; and NCEA President/CEO Dr. Thomas Burnford smile broadly after Virgadamo was recognized at an awards banquet April 2 at the National Catholic Educational Convention & Expo in Cincinnati.

Steven Virgadamo, associate superintendent for leadership formation of the archdiocese, received the Msgr. John F. Meyers Award from the National Catholic Educational Association at the organization’s convention last week in Cincinnati.

He was one of five recipients from across the country recognized April 2 with The President’s Awards that are given in the names of past NCEA presidents to honorees who model the characteristics that advance the mission of Catholic education.

The Msgr. John F. Meyers Award is presented to an individual “who has provided substantial support for Catholic education through contributions in the areas of development, public relations, scholarship programs, financial management or government relations.”

Steven Virgadamo, who also serves as executive director of the Curran Catholic School Leadership Academy of the archdiocese, said he remains “humbled and honored” by the award.

“All I ever set out to do was to serve Him well, and to make sure that young people had opportunities to encounter the Risen Christ in our schools, and use the gifts that they have been given, by their actions and words in life, to spread the Good News of the Gospel message.”

Throughout his career in Catholic education, the NCEA calculated that, in a consulting capacity across the country, Virgadamo has worked in 120 dioceses in 6,000 Catholic schools and, as a result, was responsible for the formation of 10 board members in each school, or 60,000 lay leaders in boards of schools. He helped those 6,000 schools raise more than $500 million in new funding through philanthropic giving, ensuring those schools’ futures are secure through strategic planning, improved governance organization and effective marketing.

“The one thing I noticed in the 6,000 Catholic schools,” Virgadamo said, “is that the single biggest difference between a school that was able to not just survive, but flourish, was the leader in that school.

“I say that, knowing that a third of the Catholic schools in the country right now have a wait list. The one ingredient that those Catholic schools that have a wait list have, clearly, is a very strong leader in that school.”

Steven Virgadamo said part of the reason he came to the archdiocese four years ago at the invitation of Dr. Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools, “was to work in forming a generation of new leaders for Catholic schools because if this legacy is going to continue, it’s going to be dependent on who we have leading those schools.”

He said he was fortunate to be in a generation that was formed by men and women religious, and wants to pay that forward and continue to form the leaders who are going to be able to “rewrite this script for Catholic schools.”

In accepting his award, Virgadamo acknowledged his mother and late father who nurtured him in the Catholic faith and made the decision to send him to a Catholic school.

“That decision,” he quipped, “really was a precursor to my future because in elementary school, I spent so much time in the principal’s office that by the time I graduated from elementary school and they handed me that diploma, I had the equivalent of a master’s in school administration.” In that vein, he credits the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who taught him “how to run a successful school.”

The award, he said, also goes to all those who formed him personally in the field, particularly through their mentoring, guidance and formation from an educational or pedagogical perspective as well as spiritual formation.

Born in Brooklyn, he attended Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal School, Ridgewood, and Christ the King High School, Middle Village, both in Queens.

Before coming to the Archdiocese of New York, he worked for four years as director of the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, in leadership formation both on campus and throughout the country. He cited the good example of the Congregation of Holy Cross Fathers and Brothers there and when he was dean of student life at Holy Cross High School in Flushing, Queens, where he began his career in Catholic education.

Steven Virgadamo said his favorite Gospel message is the Tranfiguration, and it is there that he made a parallel to his work in his remarks at the awards dinner.

“This is a lifetime achievement award. There’s still a lot more work to be done. So let’s all of us get back down that hill. And my call to the people at the dinner was, let’s begin to identify, recruit and form this next generation of lay leaders.”

How to Teach Your Children Faith at Home

While Catholic schools are prime mediums for explaining religion and the importance of faith to students, doing so at home should be seen as an equally importance practice. Many parents may find it difficult or overwhelming teaching faith at home seeing as the church explains to students that their parents are their “first and foremost educators,” but the following strategies are a few simple ways families can incorporate faith into their personal lives a little bit more.

Pray as Family

Prayer nurtures the life of the family. It opens hearts, melts away resentments, fosters gratitude, and becomes a fount of grace, peace, and joy for the entire family. If parents love God, children see and learn faith. Parents who pray together teach by the way they live that God is real; that He is present, listening, and eager to be a part of our lives. A life of prayer makes us fully human because it makes us real; it brings us out of ourselves, again and again, into conversation with the Author of life Himself — the God who made and loves us, and created everything we know. (Archbishop Charles Chaput)

Explain Holidays and Traditions

Very rarely do children not get excited for upcoming holidays, whether that be Christmas, Easter, or any other. Gifts and decorations adorn their homes, and family members often come together to celebrate these joyous times. While all of this is certainly beneficial to a child’s growth, explaining the reasons behind why we practice these holidays can build a greater appreciation for his or her faith.

It is frequently said that practicing faith keeps us faithful. Lent, for example, is a great way to practice discipline through fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Whether you as a family are giving up junk food, video games, or any unhealthy habits, it makes time for more beneficial acts, such as taking part in local charities.

Even so much as detailing the history of these practices can give a child a deeper appreciation for their faith. For example, explaining that Easter is a day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ could familiarize them with the New Testament a little more.

Hold Open Discussions

Do not be afraid to answer any difficult questions your children may ask. Being so young, this topic can be confusing to them and difficult to understand. The concepts of Heaven and an afterlife in general may drum up various concerns. Rather than avoiding answering these questions, ask your children how they feel about these topics. Answer every moral question as truthfully as you can. Being open and transparent about the faith is the best way for children to better understand it.

Similarly, the reasoning behind why you don’t want your children taking part in certain activities should be clearly outlined as well. Say your child was recently given a computer, on which they have the entire internet at their fingertips. Instead of simply telling them, “You are not allowed to visit these sites,” explain why. They may disrespect your beliefs or promote violent, aggressive behavior. Telling them no will only lead to them searching for other ways to access those sites. Be open and honest at all times.

Helping Students Develop a Unique Mindset and the Ability to Think Critically is the Calling of Every Teacher

Effectively motivating your students and providing them with engaging educational programs and activities is at the forefront of every teacher’s mind. However, it would not be beneficial to teach them so that they are unable to learn on their own. Teachers should obviously aid in a student’s learning, but also help in the development of a unique mindset and the ability to think for oneself, thus being able to learn outside of just a classroom setting.

Doing this can be somewhat challenging, as you’ll essentially have to “fool” them into taking part in activities that almost force education. This, however, sounds much harsher than what you can actually do. Inspire unique thought by asking open ended questions and encouraging all to take part in a discussion. Assign projects that require students to combine their current sets of skills with new ones learned over time. Develop a framework within your regular teaching schedule that does not take away from current methods, but adds a twist to them every now and then.

One great way to develop unique mindsets in the classroom is to ask your students to theorize something. This can be done over a short or long period of time in which their theories may prove true, or false. Have them test and modify these stances as things progress. This is a great activity to expand one’s knowledge and learn that a theory is just that; something that can be proven false no matter how passionate one feels about it.

Encourage reading, but do not demand it. Younger students are often forced to read, whether it be sections of a science book, or a certain number of chapters in a fictional work. This poses the risk of creating disdain towards the idea, making children and young adults unwilling to read during their own time. While certain activities and classwork will require reading to some extent, explain the benefits of doing so on your own. Allowing your students to read without any external pressure can do wonders for their classroom engagement in addition to improving brain power.

Create activities in which your students must work together to achieve an end goal. Collaboration is a great way to learn one’s own value in any given situation. Rather than creating some type of hierarchy, assign equal roles and allow your students to enjoy their unique value applied to the task at hand; another great strategy in building confidence as well.

Teach them to embrace any mistakes made. Almost no task will be done perfectly throughout their education, and that is perfectly acceptable. It’s an age-old saying that holds true merit: “Everybody makes mistakes.” To discredit yourself because of any type of mistake is to demean your own worth. Teach your students to make these mistakes without pointing any fingers, and explain the benefits of allowing oneself to stride through missed opportunities. To dwell on a mistake provides no value, but they should learn from any made.

Though these are just a few strategies you can introduce to your students to help them develop unique mindsets, they can be extremely valuable both in, and outside of the classroom. As Alice Wellington Rollins once said, “The test of a good teacher is not how many questions he can ask his pupils that they will answer readily, but how many questions he inspires them to ask him which he finds it hard to answer.”

Education Research: What to Know for the New Year

Educators and those within the education industry are well aware of the constant changes and innovations that occur on a yearly basis. New studies may be released promoting certain teaching strategies as opposed to others, or detailing the types of environments children seem to thrive in that contradict a traditional setting. Regardless, professionals with years of experience under their belts understand the most important aspects, and those that are the most truthful. Below are a few findings Chalkbeat has compiled that all educators should take with them heading into 2018.

 

Teacher Certifications Come with Ramifications

 

Vetting teachers before hiring is obviously a crucial aspect of the employment process in education. However, overly strict rules often limit adequate, trustworthy teachers from joining, and thus benefiting the school they wish to work at. Similarly, certifications exclude teachers of color, which is often extremely detrimental in the sense that students of color have been shown to benefit more from educators of the same ethnicity.

 

Another downside of certifications is that they are often state-regulated, which means teachers are very limited in terms of where they want to teach. While it may be rare for an educator to move across states, the option should always exist. Certifications effectively render that impractical.

 

Unions may not be beneficial

 

Steven Virgadamo, with 35 plus years involved in implementing school improvement programs in nearly all 50 states, believes that having a group of educators more interested in protecting their jobs can sometimes be counterproductive to student performance, unless of course job security is tied directly to student test performance. The needs of the students and their families should never be placed secondary to the needs of the teachers.

 

State Tests Show Results

 

Mandatory statewide testing has always been seen as a somewhat controversial practice, but they have been shown to provide results. The University of Chicago found that students who took state tests later showed improved grades, a higher acceptance rate among colleges, and a consistent college tenure. But, with more testing came more displeased students, suggesting that teachers who may be great at improving test scores may lack in providing a happier educational environment.

 

Staying ahead of the curve in educational trends can be difficult, but knowing what works best, and what has worked in the past can equip teachers with the necessary tools to help their students succeed, as well as improve their personal teaching methods.

The Catholic Church in the US

Some say the Catholic Church is in decline and yet others say it is a Church in hospice. It is true the U.S. Church has experienced about a 3% decline in the last ten years confirmed by two massive PEW studies … and a decline in religious vocations, but don’t be too quick to rush to judgement without carefully considering the data. Most of the Church closures are old inner-city parishes where the demographics are changing. Many of these inner city parishes were established in close proximity in the late 1800’s as each was founded to minister to a particular immigrant population – Irish – Italian – Polish etc. Today, 49% of Catholic adults have a graduate college degree, make an above average income and very few experience protracted periods of unemployment. And, most do not live in the inner cities.

Catholics in the suburban parishes are doing just fine … and there has been no aggregate decline in the number of baptized Catholics who routinely attend Mass in the last 50 years. All these demographics correlate neatly with Catholic fertility rates … the aggregate baptized Catholic population fluctuates over decades between 23% to 27% of the U.S. population.

Catholic schools continue to maintain a presence in the inner cities to serve the urban poor and often the new immigrant population because they are Catholic and education is a path to breaking a cycle of poverty.

Spring and Getting Your Students Outside

If you are a teacher feeling the strain of third quarter and searching for the elusive fourth quarter of your school year to arrive, there is hope. Although you have been trapped inside with your students, the spring weather gives you opportunity to get your students outside, either during class projects or for homework. Here are ten outdoor assignments, categorized by subject matter, that both teachers and students can enjoy:

 

English Language Arts

 

  1. Write haiku poems which are usually about elements of nature. A haiku is a succinct style of poetry that should have only three lines and include exactly five, seven and then five syllables per line.
  2. Try poetry written in the imagist style to capture specific, simple pieces of nature. This assignment works especially well when studying American Literature because of the origins and history of imagism.
  3. Practice using descriptive language and literary devices to describe the outdoor setting. Teachers could require students to include their observations from all five senses and to use a set number of similes, metaphors, onomatopoeias, alliteration and symbolism.

 

Science

 

  1. Search for unique rocks, and then categorize them as igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic. Teachers could encourage a chart or table be designed and presented.
  2. Teach students how to safely catch and preserve or to catch and release insects; then practice classifying each insect based on its taxonomy.
  3. Ask for observations in a journal or report that describe the habitat of squirrels, birds or other animals in the area. This assignment could also include students classifying the animals or studying the entire ecosystem.

 

Math

 

  1. For preschool classes, help students collect a designated number of rocks and leaves with which to practice counting.
  2. For elementary classes, ask students to gather a certain number of items, then practice adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing the assortments during whole-group instruction. You could also demonstrate using fractions with their outdoor collections.

 

Social Studies

 

  1. Assign students a diorama showing their grasp of a historical event, and have them make a list of supplies they need; then go outside to gather a portion of their supplies.
  2. Have older students observe others at a park and report back on social structure, group behavior, gender roles and social norms. Adapt this exercise as needed for various sociology and psychology topics.

 

Indeed, springtime provides a unique season for students to explore and learn hands-on. Perhaps you are a teacher trying to engage students who learn best in a kinesthetic or tactile way; here’s your chance to add to your typical lessons and interest students even more. Encourage your students’ development by trying these creative and fun academic exercises.

 

Great School Leaders Are Often Found in the Classroom

This post is from Catholic New York:

We’re in the middle of Catholic Schools Week, which extends through Saturday. Activities and special celebrations are taking place at many Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese, as we told you in myriad listings in our last issue.

There’s another school-related celebration that you should know about. Although it was held before Catholic Schools Week began, it would be hard to find another event honoring individuals more crucial to the success of Catholic schools, and to their future.

The Evening of Teacher Recognition and Call to Discernment, held Jan. 25 at Dillon Hall on the 20th floor of the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan, was an opportunity for the archdiocese’s Superintendent of Schools Office and the Curran Catholic School Leadership Academy to honor 17 teachers from schools all across the archdiocese and also to ask them to consider a special invitation.

The teachers, who were selected for the honor by their principals, were asked to discern whether they have a call to leadership in Catholic schools, specifically as principals.

The honorees were invited “to pray for God’s guidance,” as they “discuss options with their family and friends.” It added that “any honoree who finds that at this moment in their life the answer regarding a call to consider Catholic school leadership is ‘yes,’ then we look forward to discussing a career path and steps to becoming a Curran Catholic School Leadership Fellow with you.”

The Curran Academy, which is supported by donor funding, offers financial grants to fellows who are teaching and pursuing their master’s degree in education at Fordham University, St. John’s University and the University of Notre Dame. The teachers who were recognized have until April 1 to make their application to be part of the next cohort of fellows.

David Markham, a second- and third-grade teacher at St. Simon Stock parish in the Bronx, was one of the honorees who attended the dinner and recognition ceremony, where the teachers heard remarks from Dr. Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools, and Steven Virgadamo, associate superintendent for leadership and recruitment who is executive director of the Curran Academy.

In an after-school interview a few days later, Markham said that he was “blown away” by the ceremony. Every detail, from the corsage he received early in the evening to the event program to the ceremony’s setting was “brilliantly done,” Markham said.

“You have to take a step back—it’s nice to see where your hard work pays off,” he said.

It was easy to see from Markham’s enthusiasm and the pleasant way he communicated the good things happening in his classroom that he would be the type of teacher who would warrant such recognition.

He told me about four or five interesting projects and concepts that he was addressing with his students. One stuck out. It was a student of the month contest with a couple of twists. The theme for February’s contest was forgiveness. Students cast their votes on index cards, fostering participation in the voting process and also that “your voice makes a difference,” the teacher said. Markham said he encourages students not to vote for their best friends, and to “think about their vote.”

After the first ballot, two female students were tied. In the second vote, they each voted for the other. One student prevailed, although their teacher gave a prize to both. Interestingly, it was brought to Markham’s attention that girls have won each monthly vote thus far, so the students decided that next month the honor should go to a boy.

This is Markham’s first year teaching at the lower grade levels, after three years as a sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at St. Simon Stock. The 40-year-old earlier taught for two years at St. Lucy’s School, also in the Bronx.

Along with his effectiveness in the classroom, Markham serves the broader school community by assisting with the yearbook, including serving as a photographer at events, and also is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at school liturgies, said Kinsley Jabouin, the principal of St. Simon Stock.

Virgadamo said “the building principal is a key ingredient in the success of Catholic schools.” He explained that such leadership, or the lack of it, often spells the difference between a thriving school and one that is merely adequate.

Virgadamo added that most of the needed candidates for principal positions are already employed in the archdiocese’s Catholic schools. The key is to identify them early in their career, he said.

In Markham’s case, he said that he plans to give the Curran Fellowship serious consideration in the next couple of months.

Teachers, he said, “have the drive to find success in others.” The chosen teachers have found that their students are not the only ones with new gifts to develop.

Avoiding Teacher Burnout

It is estimated that 15.7 percent of teachers leave their jobs every year. Burnout is one of the top reasons that people quit their jobs. Fortunately, teacher burnout is something that can be prevented.

 

Take Care Of Your Health

Being a teacher can be physically and emotionally demanding. Fortunately, you can prepare your body for these demands by taking care of your health. Make sure that you eat a nutritious breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Try to sleep for seven to eight hours every night. Additionally, you should schedule at least 30 minutes of exercise in your day.

 

Maintain Your Social Life

Many people completely devote themselves to teaching. They spend all day in the classroom. When they go home, they spend all of their time planning for the next day. While teaching will take up a lot of your time, it is important for you to maintain your social life. Devoting all of your time to teaching will eventually lead to burnout.

Hang out with your family members and friends. Plan a weekend trip every now and then. Spending time with the people you love will help you recharge and focus.

 

Have Fun With Your Class

Teachers do not have to be serious all of the time. Making learning fun will make things better for you and your students. Sharing stories, brain teasers and puzzles are great ways for students to have fun while they are learning. In fact, many students get more out of stories, puzzles and brain teasers than they do out of long lectures.

 

Find Support

Sometimes, all you need is the support of your co-workers, family members and friends. They can help guide you and tell you about what you need to do to alleviate your stress. Your support team can also help you complete some of your daily tasks.

 

Set Limits

As a teacher, you may feel as though you have to complete everything on your to-do list. However, it is okay to say no sometimes. Do not feel obligated to take on additional tasks that you know that you do not have the time to do. If you have too much on your plate, then tell someone. Setting limits is one of the best ways to avoid burnout.

 

Teachers have a time-consuming and demanding profession. That is why teacher burnout may seem inevitable. Fortunately, taking the time to properly plan and care for yourself will help you avoid burnout.

Raising Catholic Kids

In a world filled with chaos, it’s important to make certain that your children are raised with Catholic beliefs. The traditional church has been around for many years, and Catholicism continues to be a prominent religion in the country and the world. Although it isn’t easy to live a devoutly Catholic life, it is important to give your children the ability to make proper decisions based upon the teaching of Jesus Christ.

One of the hardest concepts for children to understand is that their religion somewhat defines who they are. There are churches popping up all over the place that are typically more technologically advanced and upbeat, so these churches definitely attract new people. Some of the teachings at these churches may be different than the Catholic faith, so you must raise your children with the proper respect and knowledge for other people and religions.

When parenting your child in the faith, you need to become involved in the church yourself. Take the time to volunteer to show your child how important it is to help the church to succeed. As a giver of your time and talents, your child will better understand that the church is more than a building, it is a community.

You should also take the time to teach your child about the sacraments, what they mean, and when he or she will receive each one. This gives your child something to work for and look forward to. This religion is rooted in tradition, and that can make it difficult for children to truly enjoy mass and religious education classes, but preparing for sacraments and acknowledgement definitely help children stay the course.

Parenting your children in the ways of the faith helps them to understand morality. Many parishioners cannot recite every book of the bible, but they usually understand the meaning of being a Christian better than anyone. The children take the time to study the analogies that Jesus made for God throughout his life. Every parable tells a story. If you really want your child to appreciate the faith, you should dissect these stories down to the most basic principles.

Make certain that your child participates fully with Sunday school classes and takes the time to do something special for others. Helping at a food pantry, getting church prepared, or even altar serving are great ways for kids to learn more about the work they’re doing for God.

Parenting is a difficult job, but you can survive it all with the help of the church. It can be difficult for your children to abide by the rules of the church, but hold them accountable because they will be better adults than you ever imagined. Peer pressure can make things difficult, but you have your parish family there for you when you need them.

Read more about your religion, get involved with your children at church, and donate weekly to teach your kids the value of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.

Pope Francis Stands for Family and Education

The New York Times recently had an Op-Ed piece asking “Has Pope Francis Failed?”  There was enough response to the contrary of the Op-Ed that there was a follow-up piece asking “Has Pope Francis Helped Reform The Church?” Listing several reader’s responses  including this one:

“Re “Has Pope Francis Failed?” (Op-Ed, Sept. 28):

Matthew Schmitz feels that Pope Francis is a failure because he has failed to “speak of the way hard disciplines can lead to freedom.” He longs for another, different, better pope who would hew to the Catholic Church’s fundamental doctrines.

But Mr. Schmitz fails to see that mercy, the great theme of Francis’ papacy, is not only hard, but that it is also the most fundamental of Jesus’ teachings. Pope Francis’ greatest failure would be not to recognize that.

JAMES MARTIN

New York

The writer, a Jesuit priest, is editor at large for America magazine.”

While there are many ways to feel about Pope Francis and the stance that he has taken, there is nothing left to the imagination when it comes to the strength of His Holiness’ words on family and Catholic education, topics clearly close to my heart.

One of the greatest things about Pope Francis is that he addresses the issues of the world which the elite try to hide through their power. He turns to the world and tells how the few people, with the power of money, have been able to turn education into a business. It has become limited to a few “supermen” who gain access to it with the power of money.

The most beautiful thing which has been pointed out by him involves the lack of spirituality which is being promoted by the current curriculum. People are deviating from the path of empathy and compassion which forms the core of the religion. The dimension of transcendence is being eliminated with people driving their focus away from faith.

He said, “We must prepare hearts so the Lord can manifest himself.” This is the thing which the modern education misses: making people realize the power of faith, incorporating in them the love for humanity, and strengthening the bonds of love and friendship.

He points out the confusion which people have between teaching religion and teaching values which will help in restoring the lost affection between people. The basic purpose of education is to bring people more towards humanity and teach them how to live tolerantly in the society. Unfortunately, the modern educational standards are working in exactly the opposite direction.

Supposedly, education was supposed to eliminate hierarchy from the general public but in reality, it is dividing the society into classes. Pope has said that this education is creating distances between the rich and the poor and even between different cultures. This is alarming because it is leading the world towards extreme divisions.

Pope Francis talks about humanity more than he talks about religion which makes him stand out and likable by people belonging to a different race, cultures, and parts of the world. He attributes this inclination towards modern education a fault of parents as well who are reluctant to send their children to catholic schools. Actually, the catholic schools focus on not only imparting education but also on the character building of its students. The parents fail to miss this part and find that the contemporary education is better for their children because supposedly, a child from a catholic school will not be able to have a successful career.

All these notions are false. 99 percent of students of a catholic school graduate high school and 85 percent of them attend college and come out with degrees in their hands. The added quality in them is that they pray daily and hold love for the humanity and the people surrounding them.

With the world facing so much threat just because of the hatred of a few, it has become essential that the rest must work on loving each other a lot more than they did before. This will help in standing together against all the odds. The foremost thing to do in this regard is to promote the uniformity of education and incorporate spiritual, humane values in it as well.