‘We were blindsided,’ St. Anselm parent says of school merger

November 18, 2019 Paula Katinas
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BAY RIDGE — The merger of two Catholic schools has generated a great deal of excitement in Bay Ridge’s religious education community, but a parent whose daughter attends one of the schools charged that news of the partnership has angered parents because it was negotiated in secret behind their backs.

“We were blindsided,” Carlo Scissura told the Home Reporter.

Scissura spoke out after the recent blockbuster announcement that Saint Anselm Catholic Academy and Holy Angels Catholic Academy are merging to form a new school, Bay Ridge Catholic Academy.

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Bay Ridge Catholic Academy, set to open in September, 2020, will be housed in St. Anselm’s current building at 365 83rd St.

Scissura, president and CEO of the New York Building Congress, said his young daughter, who attends pre-kindergarten classes at St. Anselm, will not be going to kindergarten at the new school. “They are a private school and they have the right to do what they want. But as parents, we have the right to decide not to enroll our children there,” he said.

“I object to the disturbing lack of process and inclusion that took place with this merger. There was no input from the parents or from the parish community. Zero input,” Scissura said.

Scissura charged that parents had no idea the board of directors of St. Anselm Catholic Academy was even thinking of merging with another school and that the merger was presented to parents only after the decision had already been made.

“It was basically a done deal. We were told the merger is taking place and if you want to learn more about it, come to a meeting. A lot of parents are angry,” he said.

John Quaglione, chairperson of the Board of Directors at St. Anselm Catholic Academy, hosted an information night for parents on Nov. 5 to answer questions and discuss plans for Bay Ridge Catholic Academy.

Scissura was a member of Community School Board 20 several years ago and later served on the Community Education Council of School District 20. “I have run things. I know that process is critical,” he said.

Quaglione declined to respond to Scissura’s criticisms but referred a reporter to the office of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Quaglione is the deputy press secretary for DeSales Media Group, the public relations component of the diocese.

The diocese issued a statement to the Home Reporter.

“In recent years, St. Anselm Catholic Academy has seen an increase in enrollment and the stabilization of their financial situation due to the leadership of their board of directors. However, Catholic schools around the country have been facing declining enrollment, and difficult financial situations, and the Catholic academies and parish schools within the Diocese of Brooklyn are no exception. St. Anselm’s has had an overall decrease in enrollment over the past decade and a financial deficit in two of the past three years that they have been able to overcome due to a healthy reserve fund,” the statement read.

“Rather than wait for a crisis and simply closing more Catholic schools, the Office of the Superintendent, Catholic School Support Services, with the support of the Board of Members and the Academy chairpersons, have decided to embark on a new model of creating a modern school environment to serve the Bay Ridge community, Bay Ridge Catholic,” the statement concluded.

The drama of the merger of St. Anselm Catholic Academy and Holy Angels Academy (formerly known as Our Lady of Angels Catholic School) two of Bay Ridge’s venerable Catholic schools, played out across social media.

Residents offered a variety of views of the changing educational landscape in the neighborhood.

Frankie Marra, an entertainer and outspoken education advocate, wrote that he understood the frustrations of parents over the merger. “Nothing like blindsiding parents, teachers and students. That’s the Diocese way!” he wrote on Facebook.

“I’m waiting to see what the board will look like. One third of it should have parents on it,” Marra added.

Dave Edwards, responding to a Facebook post in which Quaglione vowed to welcome input from parents as Bay Ridge Catholic Academy is organized, wrote, “The time to consult w/parents was 3 months ago.”

But other residents defended Quaglione and the decision to form a new school.

“All the support in the world to you John,” Theresa O’Daly wrote to Quaglione. “Just remember the pain for some will get worse before it gets better. But it will quiet down, and the true benefit of a Catholic education will become realized and be the priority and the most important part of all this. It is just hard for some right now to understand the logic because they feel a loss.”

Lorraine McDonald-Kupper wrote that she is excited for the new school.

“We all want quality education for our children and I feel Bay Ridge Catholic Academy will provide this. John Quaglione thank you so much on behalf of all the children who will benefit from this,” she wrote.

Dan Texeira, a parishioner of St. Anselm Church, wrote on Facebook that it’s important to look at the big picture.

“What everyone is missing is these schools could not survive without merging. This is not blindsiding. It would be if they did this is (in) August like Bishop Kearney and others did. The parents have 10 months’ notice. They are preserving what’s left in the neighborhood’s Catholic population,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, officials at St. Patrick Catholic Academy at 401 97th St. are promoting their school as an academic success story, hoping to entice parents unhappy with the St. Anselm-Holy Angels merger.

“St Patrick Catholic Academy and our families are praying for the families of the two schools who have closed and will merge,” John Heffernan, a member of the board of directors, wrote on Facebook. “It is traumatic for the children and families and closing any school is a tragedy!”

Heffernan wrote that St. Patrick Catholic Academy has a lot to offer parents and students.

“We outscored the diocese in ELA by 16 percent, math by 30 percent, science by 18 percent and algebra by 8 percent! We outscored District 20 public schools in ELA by 13 percent and math by 11 percent! These statistics are from the state and acknowledged by diocese,” he wrote.

“We will be open for many years to come!!! Parents it is you who decide where to send your children. Look at all your options,” Heffernan added.

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