By Mary Morrell | Contributing Editor
As the 2018-2019 school year comes to a close, it is a time of recalling the many lessons learned and the highlights of another year completed. For some schools in the Diocese, it is also a time of transition, as a need for change becomes a reality.
“Though we may be frightened, we must imagine the possibilities the change will bring us,” said Gloria Kelnhofer of St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson. “Pope Francis, in his message for the Jubilee of Mercy to young people, stated, ‘Yours is a time of life which is full of amazing changes. Everything seems possible and impossible all at once. I repeat what I said to some of your friends: ‘Remain steadfast in the journey of faith, with firm hope in the Lord. This is the secret of our journey! He gives us the courage to swim against the tide.’”
Kelnhofer is a member of the Mother Seton Academy transition team, formed after it was announced earlier this year that the school communities of St. Aloysius, Jackson, and St. Veronica, Howell, would be merged into a new school with a president-principal model of leadership.
Resurrection Sister Cherree Ann Power, current principal in St. Veronica School, will serve as president of Mother Seton Academy. Kathleen Blazewicz, current principal of All Saints Regional Catholic School, Manahawkin, will serve as principal for the new academy, which will utilize the St. Veronica School campus.
The school community is among those facing transitions in the new school year.
‘Change is Difficult’
For Holy Innocents Elementary School, Neptune, the change is more difficult, as the parish school will close its doors in June due to declining enrollment and financial shortfalls. In a joint letter issued in November 2018, pastor Father H. Todd Carter and principal Cynthia A. Reimer reported that school enrollment had dropped to 93 students, less than half the number needed for a sustainable school.
The Diocese’s Department of Catholic Schools will be working with the administration of Holy Innocents School to assist families in transitioning to another Catholic school in the area. Support will also be provided to the faculty and staff as they work to secure future employment.
In addition, as of July 1, All Saints Regional Catholic School, Manahawkin, will officially make the transition to St. Mary Academy, under the administration of St. Mary Parish. Msgr. Kenard Tuzeneu, pastor, announced in April that Lizanne Coyne, who currently serves as assistant principal in St. Joseph School, Oradell, will serve as principal for the new academy.
“Saying goodbye is difficult; change is difficult,” acknowledged Sister Cherree, suggesting that the stages of transition resemble those outlined in Father Francis Dorff’s book “The Art of Passingover” – Letting Go in faith, Letting Be in hope, and Letting Grow in love.
“Letting Go is the experience of painful endings; Letting Be is the experience of awkward in-betweens, and, finally, Letting Grow is the experience of awesome beginnings,” she said.
All three stages are best navigated with minds and hearts open to possibilities, she suggested.
Kelnhofer, along with fellow Mother Seton Academy transition team member Phil Capasso, agreed that change within a school community can be an incredible opportunity for growth, a journey that strengthens faith and commitment.
“Though we may be frightened, we must imagine the possibilities that change will bring us. Of course, when the change affects our children, the stakes are much higher. The key to successful transitions is constant communication between everyone involved,” said Kelnhofer, a longtime educator currently serving as a college professor of business.
Forming a transition team, which was also done for St. Mary Academy, “will facilitate this communication,” she noted.
Sister Cherree said opportunities for gathering together of students, parents, faculty and staff during the months leading up to the new school year have allowed all involved to get to know one another, voice questions and concerns, and learn about the goals and mission of the new academy.
Added Kelnhofer, “As a transition of this nature occurs, parents and other members of the community are going to have questions, and it’s not uncommon for misinformation to circulate, which causes even greater anxiety. Thus it’s incredibly important for the stakeholders to receive updates from both the transition team, pastors and administrators. This communication will go a long way into a smooth transition.”
Capasso, also of St. Aloysius Parish, shared his experience of 13 years as an educator. “Most change I have witnessed has been reactive. Changes in staffing, budget allowances and other unforeseen circumstances cause administration to provide damage control,” he said.
Change, as in the cases of both Mother Seton and St. Mary Academies, is proactive, Capasso explained. “It is to control the change in a more positive manner and to hopefully become a model for other Catholic schools and allow them the option to be proactive in their decision making and the future of their schools.”
Upon making his announcement in December to the school community regarding the transition of All Saints Regional to St. Mary Academy, Msgr. Tuzeneu highlighted the essential role of the parish community, saying, “I believe strongly in Catholic education, and I am very excited that our parish community will have a greater role with the school. We have a lot of students from our parish attending the school and are deeply invested in its success, so the transition makes sense.”
Working together as a community to make a school stronger through shared resources and ideas “could benefit the students of any school going through a similar transition,” stressed Kelnhofer, adding, “Students who will be entering the modern workforce will be facing changes in jobs, employers, skills and many other areas. Preparing children for change is one of the most important things we can do.”
In the case of a merger, or through some other initiative which enlarges the school community, “there are more learning opportunities based off of parent interests, occupations and talents,” said Capasso, who shared that at the first Mother Seton Meet and Greet, held in April, a parent of a future student offered to run a mock trial club. “When asked why he said, ‘Well, I am a judge.’ Utilizing the talents offered within our communities, students will have opportunities that may not be offered at other schools,” Capasso said.