Transition in the Tier

Southern Region schools look to streamline Catholic education
By luke eggleston / SUN staff writer

BINGHAMTON — Before you can run, you must walk. And before you can walk you must crawl. In an effort to get their region’s education system sprinting in the near future, representatives from the Southern Region of Syracuse Diocese’s school district met Tuesday, Sept. 11.

The meeting, held at Seton Catholic Central High School, was intended to simply plant the seed for the region’s future.

Syracuse Diocese Superintendent of Schools Mike Colabufo was in attendance and he helped introduce the evening’s proceedings. St. James Middle School principal George Clancy, Seton Catholic Principal Kathleen Dwyer, St. John the Evangelist Principal Mary Ellen Kelley, St. Joseph School Principal Angela Tierno and Our Lady of Sorrows-Seton Campus Principal John Seward each offered brief presentations. After the presentations, comments from the floor were allowed. Teachers, parents and a few students attended the event. Father Robert Ours, who resides at St. Christopher Parish and teaches theology at Seton Catholic, offered the opening prayer.

Father Robert Ours has taught at Seton Catholic for 19 years. Before his ordination, he taught business in the Baldwinsville School District. It had always been his dream to return to the classroom even after he became a priest.

“We are just beginning to dialogue in this,” said Father Ours, who believes the Southern Region schools must exercise caution as they proceed. “Tonight we’re just beginning the process.”

During his initial presentation, Seward noted that the process is an effort to find ways of doing things better.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to look at where we’re going,” he said. “It’s very exciting and it’s challenging.”

Father Ours then offered an opening prayer in which he underscored hope for the future of the schools as well as retaining a sense of pride in Catholic education. He also noted that change can also be a source of trepidation.

“Whenever we think about change, some people become a little nervous. I’m one of them,” he said.

Upon becoming superintendent, Colabufo was thrown into the proverbial fire as the diocese immediately began the transition process for its schools in the Western Region. That process included its own share of controversy as several schools were closed and their students and staff were merged with other schools to form the Bishop’s Academies.

Colabufo related that he had many sleepless nights upon taking over as superintendent and one of his concerns was “the vastness of the diocese,” which stretches from Oswego County to the Mohawk Valley region to the Southern Tier.  He noted that the Eastern Region will hold a similar meeting in the near future.

A source for inspiration when he did sleep, however, was his faith. Colabufo noted that saints often populated his dreams. He encouraged those in attendance to use the same source of insight and encouragement.

“I hope that you too become a dreamer in our plan for excellence in the Southern Region,” Colabufo said.

Colabufo drew parallels to a similar process he had been a part of as a principal at Lakeland, in which the district leadership had been called upon to find innovative solutions for maximizing effectiveness. He said creativity enabled the school to generate well-received results.

“We gave our stake-holders an opportunity to think outside the box — to become dreamers,” he said.

Colabufo closed by saying, “Tonight is the beginning of a new challenge in Binghamton and the challenge is to design a blueprint for excellence in Catholic education.”

Dwyer followed Colabufo and she stressed the value of private, Catholic education when she related that Seton Catholic had an opportunity to begin the school day with a Mass that included reflections on the date Sept. 11.

“We want to continue this tradition of Catholic education, the core of which is faith,” she said. “How fortunate are we to be able to come together within these walls and pray?”

Dwyer explained that before becoming an administrator, she taught English literature.

Citing Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, she quoted the famous first line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

“I say [this period of transition for diocesan schools in the Southern Region] is neither,” she said. “It is our time.”

She finished by stressing the importance of prayer during the process.

“We constantly pray that God guides us,” she said.

Clancy’s portion of the meeting included a power-point presentation, which outlined the agenda for the schools of the Southern Region. He underscored the value of the process as a means for improving Catholic education. He also said that the process should be concluded by January, 2008 and that whatever changes are to be made could be in the implementation phase by March, 2008.

He also disclosed the fact that the Southern Region schools had anticipated the possibility of change and the principals had met over the summer to discuss the future of the schools.

Kelley and Tierno represented the kindergarten through sixth grade element of the southern schools. They noted that the elementary schools were eager to establish a committee of 20 people with an interest in improving Catholic primary education.

“We need 20 very committed people because there’s going to be a lot of hard work ahead of us,” Tierno said.

Seward wrapped up the administrators’ portion of the meeting. He noted that there would also be a 20-person committee for those committed to improving junior high and high school Catholic education in the Southern Region.

“We want to see if we can do better and if we can do better, we want to make it happen,” Seward said. “We have to work to make sure that Catholic schools in Broome County do not become a historical footnote.”

The first half of the meeting closed with a question and answer period in which the teachers and parents in the audience were invited to share their views.

Sister Mary Katherine Cooney, who has private vows through the bishop of the Syracuse Diocese, noted that some planning will include “thinking outside the box” and will need to generate new avenues for funding.

“We can’t keep drawing from the same pocket because they’re getting very slim,” she said.

She added that it would behoove the participants to give concentrated prayer a vital role in the process. She encouraged all those with a stake in Catholic education in the Southern Region to pray each day.

“What a powerhouse of prayer we would have,” she said. “I don’t know anyone feels about this, but prayer is power.”

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