The Graduate School of Education honored Catholic school leaders throughout New York City on May 15 at its 18th Annual Catholic School Executive Leadership Dinner.

Both city and state representatives gathered at the Lincoln Center campus for the event, which was sponsored by GSE’s Center for Catholic School Leadership and Faith-Based Education.

“Catholic schools are the models of successful schools,” said James J. Hennessy, Ph.D., dean of GSE. “Catholic schools set the standards for what good schools look like, how good schools run, and what good schools can accomplish… [This event] is to celebrate Catholic schools and the leaders who make them such great schools.”

Merryl H. Tisch, Ed.D., chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, offered words of encouragement to Catholic school leaders during her keynote address.

“What I’ve learned here today is that the things that bind us together as a community of parochial school advocates is a very strong bond,” Tisch said. “It is a bond that could make us formidable if we could be politically astute.”

Tisch, who in 2009 became the Board of Regents’ first female chancellor, recounted her own experience in a Jewish parochial school, to which she was granted a full scholarship from kindergarten through high school.

“For our family, the ability to access outstanding parochial school education—values-based education—would open the door to our family to live the American dream,” she said. “Everyone should be able to live the American dream, and I believe that parochial schools open doors for families.”

Parochial schools should not fear that they are “under attack,” Tisch told the group, even in the face of waning budgets and other challenges. On a practical side, the parochial school system is so substantial in New York City that incorporating these students into public schools would be virtually impossible.

More importantly, she said, parochial schools are valuable to the students and communities they serve.

“I am here to say on behalf of the Board of Regents that the 191,000 youngsters who find themselves in the Catholic school tradition are important to us. They are important to us every day. How their schools are funded, how their education is conducted, and the quality of professional development in their schools are key to us.”

This year, GSE recognized James Cultrara, executive secretary for the Catholic School Council of the New York State Catholic Conference, for his contributions to Catholic education. Cultrara, who has lobbied on behalf of Catholic education for more than 15 years, said he felt “blessed . . . to be a small part of Catholic education in this state and in this country.”

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cathleadership_award_515Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, reflected on the importance of Catholic school education.

“At times we can wonder whether or not it is worthwhile—the sacrifices that we ask of families, the sacrifices that we ask of everyone in the Church to support these schools, which, let’s be honest, are money-losing operations—but grace-generating operations.

“Are the sacrifices worthwhile? Absolutely. The work of grace is accomplished in and through the hearts of teachers—inspired teachers and inspiring teachers.”