Nov. 13-19 , 2003
Reading, writing ,religion
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Experienced NYS educator assumes superintendency of diocesan Catholic Schools
While John Cataldo has only been in office a very short time, one can quickly recognize his energy, enthusiasm and vision for the future.
Cataldo succeeds Sister Mary Anne Heenan, CSJ, who held the superintendent’s position for 14 years. Not since the early 1980s has there been a lay person in the position. Cataldo commended Sister Mary Anne for her many years of dedication and experience. “Her life-long vocation and dedication to this position only enhanced her experience,” said Cataldo. Cataldo, like Sister Mary Anne, brings many years of experience in education to the office of superintendent. Cataldo also brings experience in the business side of the job –– finance, law, litigation and construction.
Cataldo has 35 years of experience in education, most recently as the Superintendent of Liverpool School District, where he served for 10 years. Prior to that position, he was the Assistant Superintendent for Management Services for the Niskayuna Central School District outside Albany and the Business Administrator for the Penn Yan Central School District. He also served as Office Manager for the Albany City School District for nine years.
His years of training will serve him well as he takes on the challenge of revitalizing and strengthening the Catholic schools in the Syracuse Diocese. After many years of watching school budget votes pass or fail, Cataldo knows that the lifeblood of the Catholic school environment is school enrollment and tuition. “In public schools, whether or not the budget passes, the parents still send their children to school there. In the Catholic schools, the budget approval process is different, they walk with their feet. Each family decides whether or not they will stay or go,” he explained. “It’s a much more compelling decision to be made when faced with increased tuition –– the level of financial sacrifice versus the value of a Catholic education. The family is empowered with the ultimate decision.”
Cataldo’s goals are those of the diocese –– to continue the strong Catholic and academic foundation and to work to bring solvency to the organization. “We need to provide parents with a clear choice and give them what they want for their children,” he said. “We must maintain our schools and educational programs including updated technology and books. By maintaining quality, we will keep our families enrolled.” Cataldo was asked about the results of NYS assessment testing in Catholic schools versus public schools. Recent publications have shown that Catholic schools have earned high scores in NYS exams. He said that while disabled students are factored into the results of NYS assessments in public school, which affects the outcome, there are other factors to consider as well. “Test results in the Catholic schools also have a lot to do with parent commitment and sacrifice,” said Cataldo. “Parents are much more directed in their student’s success. There is a triangle of support –– the principal, the teacher and the parents. In Catholic schools, all three of these elements are in place and present. The teachers who work in a Catholic School see it as a vocation. They have a unique and strong relationship and partnership with the parents which fosters academic success for the students.”
Cataldo knows the challenges he is facing and is energized by them. “My biggest challenge is the organizational structure and changing the decision-making process to a more centralized one,” he said. “I will look at the level of readiness among the people of the diocese to make the changes necessary to improve the school system. When changes are made and people see the savings those changes have created, they have to trust us to do it right for the next item or issue.” “I don’t accept the notion of decline. I’m an optimistic person. I have a vision,” said Cataldo. “We need to stop the notion of decline, defeat and the ‘woe is me’ attitude. Instead, we need to rebuild, rebound and expand.”
While at Liverpool Central School District, Cataldo won the 2003 President’s Technology Award given to 20 school system leaders in the country who demonstrated vision and leadership in educational technology. The award targets those school superintendents who successfully communicate the value of technology in increasing academic achievement to members of the local community as well as to the school board and staff. “Don’t ask me how many schools will close,” said Cataldo. “Ask me how many I want to build.”