The Partnership’s Work in New York Concludes

Last week, the Archdiocese of New York let us know that they will resume direct management of the seven schools the Partnership has been managing in New York at the expiration of our 11-year services agreement with the Archdiocese. Thus Partnership Schools’ work in New York will conclude June 30, 2024, even as our work in Cleveland continues full steam ahead.

Next Steps for the Seven New York Schools

In a message to families of the schools this week, Partnership Superintendent Kathleen Porter-Magee shared:

In terms of what this means for you and your children in the next year, we anticipate few day-to-day changes. For example, the tuition you are approved to pay for 2024-2025 will remain the same, and the school day will remain extended (ending at 4:00pm for most grades). In addition, the teachers and principals of your schools have always been Archdiocesan employees, so their 2024-2025 contracts will not be affected.

On behalf of the team at Partnership Schools, we have been honored to serve your children and your communities. We named our organization Partnership Schools, because we knew that our work was always meant to be a true partnership with the Archdiocese. Those of us at the network will take heart knowing that the strength of our work—and the engine that has fueled our results—lies in each of our communities. While the management structure of the schools may change, the strength of our school communities will not. And we look forward to continuing to watch your schools and children soar in the years ahead.

The schools that will experience this transition include:

Our Lady Queen of Angels, East Harlem                      Sacred Heart School, the Bronx

Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary, East Harlem                          Immaculate Conception, the Bronx

St. Mark the Evangelist, Harlem                                        St. Athanasius, the Bronx

St. Charles Borromeo, Harlem                                                                         

Archdiocesan Superintendent Sr. Mary Grace Walsh, ASCJ, added, “On behalf of the Archdiocese, we look forward to closer collaboration with all seven schools in coming years.”

What’s Next for Partnership Schools

We will continue to run Cleveland’s four Partnership Schools—in fact, we are thrilled to double down on the work and explore expanding it to serve more Cleveland students and schools. 

Dr. Frank O’Linn, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Cleveland and Partnership Trustee, shared with Executive Director Kristen Gengaro in an email this week that “Partnership Schools has been a valuable asset to the Diocese of Cleveland since the launch of our management agreement in 2020. The network’s impact has grown in this diocese, and we look forward to continuing our partnership to benefit the increasing number of students and families served by our Catholic schools in the heart of the city.” 

The Diocese of Cleveland’s current agreement with Partnership Schools to operate Metro Catholic, St. Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Archbishop Lyke runs through 2028 and is renewable at that time. 

Additionally, we are eager to find the next city where we can leverage the power of Catholic schools in underserved communities, ambitious philanthropy, and educational expertise to transform outcomes for children and communities. The Partnership will begin that discernment process at the conclusion of the transition of our New York schools’ management back to the Archdiocese.  

Board Chair Russ Carson shared in a message with trustees this week, “Ending our management contract with the Archdiocese of New York is not the end of Partnership Schools, but rather the beginning of a journey to see if we can implement our programs on a more national basis.”

A Look Back at a Groundbreaking Eleven Years

Partnership Schools began in 2013 when an ambitious group of donors to New York’s Catholic schools, committed educators, and the Archdiocese worked out an agreement to launch a bold experiment: to stand up an organization that would take on management of schools while they remained owned by the diocese, with an eye toward turning around struggling Catholic elementary schools in underserved communities. 

That experiment’s success is reflected in many ways: thousands of children who have achieved deep, enduring learning gains and millions of dollars in scholarship support to attend top-tier high schools; a 28% enrollment increase since the start of the pandemic; and a model that is poised to make similar gains in Cleveland. 

Words of Wisdom from our Class of 2024

The Partnership Class of 2024 is excited for a bright future ahead.

The words of our recent graduates echo a sentiment we aim to instill: a truly fulfilling life is one lived in accordance with a strong set of values. Every student has had their own challenges to conquer. However, it is the collective tenacity of our eighth graders that has prepared them both for high school and everything else that lies ahead. 

“This year has been about leadership, responsibility, and preparing for the future,” said Nathaniel Lamour, in his address to St. Charles Borromeo. “We’ve faced challenges, both academic and personal, and we’ve emerged stronger and more confident. We’ve learned the value of hard work, the importance of kindness, and the power of community.”

 

Our graduates believe in using the lessons learned in school to better the society they live in.

“I look forward to seeing the change you’ll bring to this world full of greatness and corruption. As Ignatius of Loyola once said, ‘Go, and set the world on fire.’” – Tchuisse Kamwa, Our Lady Queen of Angels

 

Our graduates are determined to achieve everything they set their minds to.

“There is nothing like the joy and sense of accomplishment you get from doing something difficult and succeeding. I want you all to have that same feeling. We are not limited in the number of goals we can set.” – Mason Jennings, Sacred Heart School

 

Our graduates teach us to be resilient when facing setbacks. 

“I’m going to start with a valuable piece of advice I’ve learned during my time here. The wise words from my principal Ms. Akano, “Stop looking at the problem like you’ve done it right, and start over again.’Kylie Duran, Sacred Heart School

 

Our graduates help us remember to be grateful. 

“We will all look back on these years and cherish the memories we’ve made together. Not only will these memories be cherished, we will always find a way to learn from them.”Hailey Brown, Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary

 

Our graduates cultivated bonds that will last a lifetime. 

“At St. Athanasius, if you just take one look around, you’ll see so many friendships that look unbreakable and so genuine. I know that I appreciate my friends because they’ve also helped shape me into the person I am today.” – Amelia Cruz, St. Athanasius 

 

To all of our incredible graduates: we are so proud of you, and look forward to seeing where life takes you in the next chapter and beyond. 

Where they’re going:

Hailey Brown, MCHR – Cathedral 

Nathaniel Lamour, SCB – All Hallows 

Tchuisse Kamwa, OLQA – Regis 

Kylie Duran, SHS – Preston 

Amelia Cruz, STA – Preston 

Mason Jennings, SHS – Regis

NYC Partnership Class of 2024 High School Destinations

The Partnership Class of 2024 earned $7.7 million in scholarships and aid to attend high school—up from $3.3 million just two years ago. The percentage of students attending top-tier Catholic, independent, boarding, selective public, and high-performing charter high schools remains on par with last year—85% of students in our New York Schools.

“We facilitate high school agency in a way that parents have the opportunity knowledge to support their child in securing a fit flourish High School Placement” explains Chris Matesic. 

Students have been accepted to:

Academy of Mt. St. Ursula

All Hallows High School

Archbishop Stepinac

Art and Design HS

Avon Old Farms School

Bard High School Early College

Birch Wathen Lenox School

Cardinal Hayes High School

Cardinal Spellman High School

Cathedral High School

Celia Cruz High School

Columbia Secondary School

Convent of the Sacred Heart

Cristo Rey High School

Dwight School

Episcopal High School

Fordham Preparatory School

La Salle Academy

Leadership and Public Service High School

Masters School

Miss Halls School

Monsignor McClancy High School

Monsignor Scanlan High School

Mount Saint Michael Academy

New Visions Charter HS for the Humanities I

New Visions Charter HS: Advanced Math and Science

Notre Dame High School

Preston High School

Regis High School

Salesian High School

St. Barnabas High School

St. Catharine Academy

St. Jean Baptiste High School

Talent Unlimited

University Prep Charter High School

Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology

Urban Assembly Maker Academy

Xavier High School

Young Women’s Leadership School of Manhattan

Finding the Best-Fit High School for Every Child

Mason Jennings graduated from the Partnership’s Sacred Heart school this month, following the path of his two older siblings. He’s headed to Regis High School next year; his brother, Myles, attends Cardinal Hayes; and his sister, Diem, attends Convent of the Sacred Heart. They each chose a different high school—and together, they embody the goal of the Partnership’s high school placement support program: finding, being accepted to, and securing funding to attend the “best fit” high school for every student.

“The Jennings family is a shining example of how parent partnership and student agency can access excellence in High School Placement,” says Chris Matesic, the Partnership’s High School Placement Director.

Diem, the eldest, was initially on track to attend a specialized public school. Her mother describes her as highly goal-oriented and focused, and thus likely to excel anywhere. Yet the rising junior has found something more at Convent of the Sacred Heart: co-curriculars like violin that sustain a passion begun in elementary school, exchange programs with sister Sacred Heart institutions across the globe, and personalized attention from teachers that “helps me grasp and understand topics and classes that I may need help with,” explains Diem.

Myles embraces the standout welcome he has received from the Cardinal Hayes community—a welcome he in turn extends to others. “I’ve made friends in my honors classes and I consider my lacrosse teammates brothers,” he explains.

Mason gravitated to Regis for the academic challenge it offers: “Next fall, I look forward to overcoming obstacles and continuing to succeed,” he shares. But he also sought out a high school that could continue another foundation he has built in elementary school: an active spiritual life. “Sacred Heart has spiritually prepared me for the best school experience because they helped me actually establish and build on my relationship with God,” he notes.

The Partnership’s Sacred Heart School has been an integral partner in nurturing all three, says Mason, Myles, and Diem’s mother, Enjoli Francis. “It is really helpful when you can send kids off to school and know that the same things that you are saying to them at home are reflected at school–a sense of yourself, of your potential, of your leadership.” 

Myles, Mason, and Diem Jennings
Myles, Mason, and Diem Jennings

She and her husband considered other school options but sent all three children to Sacred Heart based on the strength of its co-curricular programs, like music, its academic program, and the faculty’s clear investment in and attention to her children. “They saw what we’re trying to do and became a part of that.” 

When it came to high school placement, Ms. Francis credits principal Abi Akano with suggesting that Diem take the admissions exam for Convent of the Sacred Heart. “That opened the door to us keeping our ears open to all the possibilities” for Mason and Myles as well.

Our schools are beyond fortunate to have parent partners like Enjoli Francis and Mark Jennings and high school partners like Regis, Cardinal Hayes, Convent of the Sacred Heart. To have others who see the same promise in our students that we do means the world to all of us at the Partnership. Thus, the Jennings’ family’s experiences highlight more than the value of our network’s high school placement program; they demonstrate that helping kids thrive truly is a partnership.

Cleveland teachers reflect on professional development

Giving teachers the support they need to help students excel is at the heart of the Partnership’s reason for being. That support includes carefully chosen curricula—along with the training teachers need to teach it well. We certainly hope teachers respond positively to this investment in their professional growth, but we’ve been blown away by the positive feedback from Cleveland Partnership teachers who spent two days in our New York schools recently.

“I can’t stop gushing about it,” St. Thomas Aquinas first-grade teacher Shannon Altenbach volunteers.

From L to R: Carmen Valenzuela, K teacher at Sacred Heart, the Bronx; Shannon Altenbach, 1st grade teacher from St. Thomas Aquinas, Cleveland; and Maritza Minnucci, K teacher at Sacred Heart.

“I’ve never in my life had professional development like this,” Metro Catholic math teacher Carolyn Cutler explains. 

Along with five other teachers, a principal, and superintendent Christian Dallavis from our Cleveland team, Shannon and Carolyn observed their New York colleagues teaching, debriefed together with them, and analyzed strong instructional practices with the network team.

Both teachers observed specific strategies they want to replicate in their own classrooms. But what they took with them is far more complex than a few techniques. They got a glimpse of the excellence they and their colleagues are working toward. As Shannon explains, “We saw three schools, two of which have been in the Partnership for over ten years and have been using the curriculum that long. We are still getting used to it…but we also saw veteran teachers who are really making it happen. And we will be there in a few years.”

“We were a great school before,” Carolyn explains about Metro Catholic, but the curriculum and instructional practices she began learning from her first Partnership workshop almost two years ago “are putting us on a path to where education needs to be—” particularly, she adds because Metro’s ambition is to foster “human beings who are going to change the world.” 

On the journey—which Carolyn calls an “immersion trip”—the practices she observed intentionally built not just knowledge but a way for students to act around each other that reflects the aspirations of a faith-filled community. For example, she notes, “The way kids support each other when they make mistakes–they embody a culture of error that we are trying to teach. They are all carrying each other.” That culture is particularly important given the level of the curriculum she is now using. “I was blown by the depth and breadth of the content,” she recalls from her first Partnership training, and “The kids love it. They want to be challenged, and they are stepping up.”

MCS Teachers From L to R: Rachael Lash, Math/SS/Science Teacher, Carolyn Cutler, Math Teacher; MaryLou Toler, ELA Teacher.

In addition to a vision of excellence and strategies for building community and learning simultaneously, Shannon and Carolyn also found community—with their fellow Cleveland educators and with their New York counterparts. “They were asking us questions too. It is so nice to meet people who all want the best for each other, and we were able to collaborate with people we wouldn’t have met if the Partnership hadn’t brought us together.” Carolyn also notes the sense of community emanating from the Partnership network team. All trainings, including the trip to New York, are “based on what the deans and the network team are seeing in our classrooms,” she notes. “They are recognizing what we’re doing well and seeing where we can do better. It is a true growth mindset and a community; we are going to do better together.”

Fiona Palladino, the Partnership’s Director of Instruction, explains that the Partnership invested significant resources and staff time into bringing the group of Cleveland teachers to New York to acknowledge their zealous work for our shared mission by further developing their teacher toolboxes and expanding their picture of instructional excellence.  And according to Fiona, “the whole-hearted embrace of learning by our Cleveland colleagues inspires and energizes all of us.” 

“I’ve felt appreciated before,” Carolyn reflects. “But I’ve never felt so respected as a professional.” 

CLE teachers visiting Sacred Heart in the Bronx, along with SHS leadership.

 

Translating respect for our teachers into an investment in their growth has only been possible thanks to our philanthropic partners, and to them, Shannon and Carolyn have one simple message: “thank you!”

Superintendent Kathleen Porter-Magee to Take on New Role

Partnership Superintendent Kathleen Porter-Magee has shared that she is stepping down from her position this summer after ten years of service to our schools. 

Kathleen has accepted the position of Managing Partner of the Leadership Roundtable, an organization of lay, religious, and ordained leaders who work together to promote best practices and accountability in the management and operations of Catholic institutions throughout the U.S.

Partnership Executive Director Kristen Gengaro announced that Kathleen will transition from Superintendent to the role of Special Advisor to the Partnership, so she can continue to support our important work and offer continuity moving forward. Christian Dallavis, current superintendent of the Partnership’s Cleveland schools and former head of the Remick Leaders Program at Notre Dame, will take on the interim management of our principals in both New York and Cleveland so that our work will continue uninterrupted in the months ahead.

In a message to her colleagues, Kathleen shared:

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since I joined what was then the brand-new Partnership Schools network. At that time, our network was seen as a risky experiment. Today, it serves as a powerful example of an emergent Catholic schools renaissance.

We took a leap of faith together to preserve those things that made our schools and communities great while embracing new approaches to drive life-changing results for the students we serve. 

While the work we do is deeply personal, our core value of humility calls each of us to remember that our success demands that we build something that will outlast us. And so as I wrap my tenth year, I leave with confidence of knowing that our strength lies not with any individual, but in the collective wisdom and experience of the entire team of network leaders, faculty, staff, and school leaders who support our students and communities everyday. 

In the same announcement to our staff,  Kristen shared with the entire Partnership team that we are heartened by knowing that Kathleen’s impact will spread further through the Leadership Roundtable, with whom the Partnership has collaborated over the last several years. “We certainly look forward to more synergies with the Leadership Roundtable’s work and the Partnership’s in the years to come,” she noted. 

For more on the Leadership Roundtable’s work and their announcement of Kathleen’s position, click here

 

For more information, contact Beth Blaufuss at beth.blaufuss@thepartnershipschools.org

How Mr. Ellis Inspires Generations of Young Writers

Each week, the library at St. Mark the Evangelist School in Harlem is livened by the sound of a group of fourth graders rushing into the room. With their small notebooks in hand, the children will gather in a circle, excited to share their thoughts in an environment that is both energizing and safe for one of their favorite school activities: writing poetry. 

All Partnership Schools choose their own co-curricular activities—the sports and clubs that give students a chance to cultivate a range of helpful habits beyond the classroom, everything from teamwork to persistence to creative problem-solving. Students at St. Mark have a poetry club as one of those activities, thanks to David Ellis—a published poet who has taught at St. Mark and served as its librarian for over twenty years.

David Ellis, Poetry Club Creator

“My vision for the club is to inspire some writers,” explains Ellis. “I feel like we all have a book inside of us.”

The poets who gathered with him one Monday in April certainly seem inspired by a wide range of topics. One of the prevailing experiences students credited for their ideas was a recent field trip to the Schomberg Center.

Just a couple of blocks from St. Mark, the Schomberg hosts exhibits on writers who have walked the same sidewalks the students travel each day. Mr. Ellis takes the Poetry Club to the center every year for inspiration, which is the goal of every club meeting. Quite a few of the poems kids recited were written there.

Over the course of the meeting, students spoke about the themes that resonated with them the most.

Parker wrote about how she loves nature, and nature loves her.

Sael read aloud her poem about how plastic harms the animals in the ocean.

“If I could change the world, I would help the homeless and the poor,” Skylar shared in her poem entitled “If I Could Change the World.”

The openness of the students is a testament to the space Mr. Ellis has created for self-expression. Fourth grader Kais explained, “I get to express my feelings just by writing a poem.” Others in the club mentioned how much they enjoy the community they have as student writers. 

“Mr. Ellis is kind of like a free verse poem,” Juliete chimes in, explaining that the club meetings he leads are always exciting and filled with surprises. 

As a network, Partnership Schools deliberately seeks to preserve the characteristics that make each school unique, and uniquely capable of serving the community around it. David Ellis is part of the rich literary community that still animates Harlem, and by fostering a community of budding writers at St. Mark, he helps students find their own voices and hear those of others, past and present. We often say that Partnership Schools are more than classrooms—they are communities—and at St. Mark, that community includes a rich literary tradition that students are embracing as their own.

Partnership Teacher Support In Practice

“I learn every day.” 

At Partnership Schools, we certainly hope to hear our students rejoice in learning every day. It is uniquely gratifying, though—and not surprising—to hear it from Maritza Minnucci, who has taught Kindergarten at Sacred Heart School in the South Bronx for over 25 years. This year, she explained recently, she is sharpening her use of clear aims to guide each lesson. That focus on leveraging aims to level up instruction is a network-wide effort, but Maritza is making it all her own.

The satisfaction she takes in continually improving how she teaches her young students is just one of the qualities that make Maritza a truly special teacher. The skills she is refining might sound a tad wonky to someone who has never taught—she is particularly excited this year by her work with anchor questions, for example—but the joy she exudes when she talks about continuing to improve her craft is unmistakable. 

Maritza Minnucci, Elvis Eduarte, and Dominique Brown

It is a joy she shared recently along with two of her colleagues—Elvis Eduarte, who has been teaching math in Partnership Schools for a handful of years and who is refining his lesson planning with a keen eye to what his middle school students already know; and Dominique Brown, who is in her second year of teaching second grade at Sacred Heart. 

As a newer teacher, Dominique explains that she is gaining confidence. “Being really focused on the lesson aim gives me a goal to meet when I am planning lessons,” she explains; she particularly embraces the practice of writing out a perfect exemplar of work students will be asked to do and anticipating what roadblocks the diverse learners in her class might encounter along the way. She is working with Sacred Heart’s principal in residence, Kelly Quinn, in routine coaching cycles like those most Partnership teachers engage in, which provide an opportunity to integrate planning practices that emerge in network-wide workshops and school-site weekly trainings. 

Like Dominique, Elvis is planning with the wide range of prior knowledge his students have in mind. Along with other Partnership schools in New York, Sacred Heart has had an influx of new students in the last few years, many with varying degrees of lingering learning loss from the pandemic, and meeting all of their needs has made even trickier the already significant challenge of helping middle schoolers grasp the fundamentals of Algebra. Yet Elvis gets animated as he explains one simple shift he’s making: no longer calling on students to add their ideas as he does the demonstration portion of lessons. The single-voice approach is helping his most struggling students have a clear model to refer to as they practice a new algorithm, and he is seeing them make new progress as a result.

Listening to Maritza, Elvis, and Dominique’s enthusiasm for improving their professional practice is even more heartening in light of recent polling of over two thousand teachers by the Pew Research Center. Words like “stressful” and “overwhelming” punctuate the report, in which over half (52%) of the public school teachers polled indicated that they would not encourage a young person starting out today to become a teacher. 

At the Partnership, we know that if we want thriving students, we need teachers who feel–and are–effective. We are blessed to work with teachers who are motivated because they care deeply about the communities we serve. They came to make a difference—and comprehensive support of their development is crucial for our teachers to make the impact our students deserve, impact that also helps inspire teachers to stick with challenging work, year after year.

Principal in Residence Kelly Quinn notes that Maritza, Elvis, and Dominique are all committed professionals whose growth is, in part, self-driven. But all three explain that it is the combination of network-wide workshops integrated with school-site sessions and individual coaching that makes a real difference in their technique. Maritza is quick to point out that she relishes network-wide workshops because they give her an opportunity to learn from colleagues at other schools; indeed, the fact that all our schools share the same curricula and lesson pacing amplifies the peer learning at network events, because teachers are all applying new skills in real time to upcoming lessons and giving each other feedback. 

Teacher development is about our students’ learning—but it gives us so much more. We often say that our schools are more than classrooms; they are communities. Professional support for teachers is vital to sustaining those communities and advancing their pursuit of academic excellence.

Roots and Wings: A Second-Generation St. Athanasius Family Shines

When Catherine Soto was a student at Saint Athanasius in the Bronx, she could peer out of her classroom window across Southern Boulevard and watch her grandmother cook dinner. The school was a second home, a place that propelled her to Cornell University and to a position as an executive at a healthcare non-profit.

She and her husband set down roots further north in the Bronx—but when it came time to choose an elementary school for her older son, she wanted him to have the same mix of community and possibility she had growing up. Thus they chose St. Athanasius for their children too. Now her oldest, Aaron, is headed to the Dwight School in Manhattan after he graduates from St. Athanasius this spring. 

There was a time in the history of working-class Catholic schools when the academic excellence children received in them often propelled graduates out of the neighborhoods where they were raised, to what many saw as a “better life,” often in the suburbs. The Sotos’ trajectories out of—and back to—St. Athanasius suggest that story might be due for a 21st Century update. 

Seen and Known at St. Athanasius

Of Dominican-American heritage, Catherine explains, “I love St. Athanasius because my children are proud of their culture. They have grown up in it.” 

The school also has the academic standards she expects for Aaron and his younger brother, second grader Nolan. Those standards are upheld by people who know her two children well and reinforce the values that mean so much to her—values of integrity, humility, hard work, service, and kindness.  

Aaron, his mother says, “is the kind of kid who embodies the core values of Saint Athanasius.” He is creative, filling sketchbooks with animated characters, including a detailed depiction of imaginary chess pieces in conflict. The teachers and school leadership perceived his talents and character and offered him opportunities to shine from time to time, like reading at school Masses. He is “a leader in his little class,” she says with pride. 

Supported in the High School Search

With years of consistent support from the educators at St. Athanasius, Catherine knew where to turn when it was time to start looking at high schools. The process originally seemed intimidating. But principal Jessica Aybar and then-dean Fiona Palladino suggested Aaron apply to the Oliver Scholars, a program that helps students from underserved New York communities flourish in high-performing independent schools and beyond. 

Both Oliver Scholars and Chris Matesic, director of high school placement for Partnership Schools, knew that Aaron would be a good candidate for a wide range of institutions, and both encouraged Aaron to cast his net wide.

With their support, Aaron earned admission to a number of independent boarding and day schools, including Dwight, which has awarded him a significant scholarship. The institution has campuses in London, Seoul, Shanghai, Dubai and Hanoi, as well as Central Park West in Manhattan, which Aaron will attend. Tuition this year at its New York campus is just over $60,000. 

“The school has an international base,” Catherine says. “They really value kids from different backgrounds.” The flag of the Dominican Republic, flying with others at the school, as well as the staff and parents’ welcome has assured her; “It all said that there is acceptance here,” says Catherine.

“You don’t have to be afraid to ask for support. People don’t know what you don’t know.”

Being connected to a Partnership School made the process of finding Dwight and securing a scholarship easier, says Catherine. She advises parents in her situation to explore their options and not to be intimidated. “You don’t have to be afraid to ask for support. People don’t know what you don’t know,” she says, noting it is vital to find a school that can align “with the goals you have for your child.”

Comfortable Community, Profound Possibility 

While the geographic distance from Saint Athanasius to the Dwight School may be only seven miles and a few subway stops, there is a perceived cultural chasm between the Bronx and Central Park West. But Catherine says she is confident that her son can bridge that gap. He will have an example in his mother, who navigated the distance between the Bronx and Cornell, a process she recalls as a challenging one.

Aaron’s mother went from watching her grandmother from her classroom window in the Bronx to Cornell, thanks to a tight and supportive community at Saint Athanasius, a place close to home yet able to propel students far beyond. To the supporters who have made it possible for St. Athanasius to continue providing her children and others the same mix of community and opportunity, Catherine has one message: “Thank you.

Behind the Numbers: What Parents Share about Choosing Partnership Schools

In both New York and Cleveland, our schools are seeing a wide array of parents seeking out enrollment for their children, including many who, by their own admission, had not previously considered parochial schools. We’ve previously shared that our schools in New York, for example, have seen a significant 28% increase in enrollment since the pandemic began, and the majority of those families are seeking out a Catholic school for the first time.

So why choose one now? The reasons are varied, and we find that most families have multiple aims driving them to seek out a Partnership school. We spoke with several parents to get insights into why they transferred their children to our schools. The experiences of two moms, one in East Harlem and the other in the South Bronx, help us appreciate some of the goals our families have—and the potential of our schools to provide even more than they are looking for.

Seeking Rigor, and Finding “A Family Feel”

Liliana Jimenez’s son Adonis transferred to Our Lady Queen of Angels in East Harlem this year, at the beginning of sixth grade. Liliana—whose love for Greek mythology in school inspired her son’s name—explained, “I felt Adonis needed more of a challenge.” 

She thought that in addition to the core writing and math skill development he was already getting, he could use deeper knowledge about science and social studies. They have found that at OLQA; in fact, Liliana is now pleased to see her son able to converse intelligently with his cousins about world issues.

Discipline was also an issue. “He would come home upset because his classmates’ behavior was not good,” she said. They like the environment for learning at OLQA—which is gratifying validation of the work that our network and school teams put in to building positive school cultures and equipping teachers with classroom strategies for reinforcing them. 

That warm, welcoming culture at OLQA extends to parents. “It has a family kind of feel,” she said, noting that principal James Sayer and his staff are always willing to answer her questions. 

Liliana is a baptized Catholic, even though at this point she doesn’t attend church regularly. But the family prays together and believes in God, she emphasized. Now, Adonis is beginning to feel a spiritual pull—an interest his mother attributes to the spirituality and prayer which is a routine part of the school day at Our Lady Queen of Angels. This Easter season, he plans to be baptized at St. Cecilia’s Church.

A public-school grad, Liliana admires the educational foundation that her friends who attended Catholic schools have, something they take to their careers and family lives. “I wanted to give my son that,” she said.

Music and Ministry

Sharon Reed’s daughter, Aria, transferred to Sacred Heart in the Bronx two years ago, in fifth grade. Sharon found out about the school the way most of our parents do: through an informal network of friends and family. While Sharon feared that nearby Yankee Stadium traffic might make it difficult for her to get to the school quickly if needed, that fear was outweighed by the access to the music program and faith formation offered at Sacred Heart.

 

Aria enjoys the opportunity to play the piano and discovered both the violin and cello at Sacred Heart.

As with Liliana, Sharon appreciates the Catholic dimension of Catholic schools. “I like the moral compass that religion brings,” she said. “It’s something she wouldn’t get at a public or a charter school. The moral compass teaches her to do the right thing.”

She too likes the school’s low tolerance for disruptive behavior, and she particularly values the culture of unity at Sacred Heart. “For the most part, the students are on the same playing field. It’s not about the class issues that you see in public school or in some charter schools,” she said, noting that in this context, she means class in terms of perceived social standing. 

Like Liliana, she finds the school staff—led by principal Abigail Akano—always quick to respond to her concerns as a parent. It’s made her occasional struggles with Yankee Stadium traffic worthwhile. “I just wish I had done it sooner,” she said about the decision to enroll Aria at Sacred Heart. 

Conclusion

We have sought to ensure that Partnership Schools are more than classrooms: they are communities. As Sharon and Liliana explain, programs including academics and the arts are essential for their children, but they are after something more—values and spirituality along with skills and knowledge—and the kind of community that parents like them help Partnership Schools build every day.