2009: Outstanding Religious Middle School
The St. Francis Family
Respect and integrity are foundations of Park Slope Catholic school
This October, St. Francis Xavier Catholic School celebrated its 95th anniversary. Much has changed since the early 1900s—boys’ and girls’ classrooms have been combined, a computer lab has been installed and laptops are commonly found in classrooms. But the school’s core values of respect and integrity remain the unwavering foundations of a St. Francis education. Sister Kathleen, the principal, also says the school’s success hinges on one word: care.
“[Students] know that the people here care about them,” she said. “They’ll tell you, ‘My teachers care. My principal cares. The staff cares.’ Students here are very seldom sick because they love to come to school.”
That care for students is apparent as soon as you walk through St. Francis’ front doors. Photos from school events, like last year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, and news articles featuring students adorn the walls, and make the main entrance hall look more like the refrigerator door of proud parents.
Plaques engraved with the names of annual “Outstanding Student” award winners hang on the wall outside Sister Kathleen’s office. The names go back as far as 1975, with nine awards being handed out each year—one for each grade from kindergarten through 8th—to the students who best embody the spirit of St. Francis and display characteristics like excellence and integrity.
It is a feeling of family that brought Debbie Negron to St. Francis 14 years ago, when her oldest child, Benjamin, started kindergarten.
“I think the thing that makes St. Francis so unique is that everybody knows everyone,” Negron said. “All the teachers know all the children. They know them by name. They know what they like and dislike. They know their parents and what their needs are, and they’re met the best way possible.”
Negron’s son Benjamin is now in college, but her daughter Julia is in 8th grade and her son Bryan is in 5th. Negron herself works as an office assistant and substitute teacher for the middle school and is a member of the parent-teacher association. She also helps with the after- school program, which is where many teachers can be found at the end of the day. The program, which has been offered for more than 20 years, is designed to give children a safe place to play and learn until parents get home from work. Activities include cooking, dancing, drama and computers, as well as sports and tutoring.
Red letter “R’s” hang around the school as physical reminders of how important respect and responsibility are to achievement. Sister Kathleen says this underscores the school’s golden rule philosophy: “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.”
Throughout the school year, students participate in activities designed to teach them responsibility and the importance of community service. Eighth graders Shayla Machado and Brianni Watson, both 13, conduct tours of St. Francis for visitors, and proceeds from projects like the carnival, held each January, are donated to organizations like local soup kitchens, Ronald McDonald House, St. Jude Hospital and a new Catholic school in Ghana, West Africa. The school also donates to food drives for CHIPS (Christian Help in Park Slope).
In the classroom, teachers take a multi-disciplinary approach to lessons. A core foundation of math, science and social studies is supplemented with lessons on using the Internet. Students learn Spanish as a foreign language. Religion, which Sister Kathleen said is “mostly value-centered,” is taught as a separate class; the school even attracts Jewish and Muslim students whose families are interested in a value-driven curriculum.
“They know we’re not trying to convert their kids,” Sister Kathleen said. “We’re just trying to help them to be good people.”
Over the years, enrollment at St. Francis has topped 500. Today, there are about 300 students, even as many Catholic schools struggle to attract families. Classes are around 18 to 20 students in grades K to 6, topping out at 20 to 22 in the 7th and 8th grades. Students come from 26 different zip codes and represent diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Upon graduation, 75 percent head to Catholic high schools, with many boys attending Xaverian High School or Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School, and girls going to Bishop Kearney High School.
St. Francis is a “Middle States Accredited” school, meaning it has met the standards set forth by the Middle States Association of College and Schools, a peer-based non-profit organization used to identify community schools that maintain high levels and standards for curriculum, performance and education.
With the school’s 100th anniversary on the horizon, Sister Kathleen is working to maintain St. Francis’ culture of academic excellence and community connectedness.
“Right now, the Catholic schools are going through very hard times,” she said. “I would hope that we have enough of a spirit and an interest and a concern and care that we would be able to keep our school going for many years. I hope we’re around for another 95 years.”
St. Francis Xavier
763 President St.
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215
Sister Kathleen, Principal
ABOVE: (top left: Students raise their hands in a math class. right: Laptops are a recent addition to the school’s curriculum. bottom left: Sister Kathleen, Principal. Photos by Daniel S. Burnstein)