Office of the President
Dr. Catherine Guerriero
Dear Lasallian Friends and Family,
The young man approached me in the La Salle hallway, quietly, confidently, one cold morning this past March. I found out later that he was the senior starting catcher for our baseball team. Stocky, muscular, handsome, with a whole lot going on behind his big brown eyes, he walked over and asked to speak with me for a minute. He told me his name was Billy. It was a week after the La Salle Academy Varsity Basketball team had won the NYS Federation Championship for the first time in school history, and the school was abuzz with excitement.
Billy put down his school bag, squared his shoulders to me and said, “Just so you know, Ms. Guerriero, the baseball team is better than the basketball team. We are going to win it all. You should come watch.”
Then he nodded, picked up his bag and walked away. I watched him as he sauntered into his math class, but before he entered the room, he looked back at me and smiled, like a scene out of a movie. I told no one of the encounter – it was mine to hold on to.
Fast forward three months later, one perfect June afternoon, and I was sitting in the stands watching Billy throw off his mask like Yogi Berra and run towards the mound after he caught the final out of the Division A New York City Catholic school championships.
Winning is contagious.
La Salle is a school full of winners. We win.
We win these days – a lot – yes. But we are winners not because of merely a linear equation of “winning” but rather, because we expect to win. Every kid expects to win in the classroom, on the ballfield, in their character, and in life. And every educator that intersects with them at La Salle expects – no, demands – that exact model of excellence from them back. And we are getting it.
La Salle wins.
This is the third year-end letter I have had the pleasure of penning for La Salle as President. July 1st marks my third full year at La Salle’s helm, and what a three years it has been. In the following paragraphs, allow me to update you on this year’s progress, and outline in real time the movement and trajectory of our rapid narrative at this point in La Salle’s glorious history. There’s some exciting news to report and tough decisions to be made, but always, always with the intention of ensuring the future success of our students and beloved La Salle.
Recently, at our Gala in May, I posited that La Salle’s rise after these three years had hit a “tipping point,” you know, that time when an idea, organization, or existence “tips” from this to that. In the case of La Salle, we have “tipped” towards consistent success and forward motion. However, Brother Ralph Darmento, FSC, a member of our Board of Trustees and ever the mathematician, gently corrected me and said La Salle’s trajectory was less a “tip” than an “Inflection Point.” Mathematically, I was apprised, the inflection point of a curve (or in this case, of La Salle Academy) is “… the point on the curve when the downward (concave) becomes the upward (convex).” Or defined differently, according to Webster’s Dictionary: “The concept of the inflection point is often identified as a moment in time when an event has led to significant improvement, deterioration or disruption. “
(So, as many La Salle men have experienced as teenagers – I, too, have been duly corrected by a Brother, but it took until I was 47 years old to have it happen).
La Salle is at its inflection point.
In the next few paragraphs, I will outline a few details “on the curve” of our inflection points. Like dots on graph paper, we can trace the trajectory of this rising inflection, rise of our curve, into infinity and beyond. Each dot represents a moment, a movement, an improvement towards the march to excellence.
Inflection Point – Leadership:
My three Vice Presidents really stepped into their own and hit their personal inflection points of leadership for La Salle. We consider ourselves a horizontal team of peers, with each of us managing different portfolios for La Salle. But also, we run as interchangeable parts, as we make decisions together. They also manage, well, me. This is not an easy task, and they deserve combat pay for getting the tiger by the tail. Sigh.
Vice President for Academics / Principal, Kerry Conroy, had a banner inaugural year. She hired at least six new faculty members, and an entire new Assistant Principal team for Fall 2017. She ratcheted up the disciplinary code (including the uniforms and the grooming policy) so our boys are really spit-shined and ready to learn. She has established a new and aggressive format of observations (six for the year) for each faculty member. But mostly, she brought a special brand of no-nonsense leadership infused with a counselor’s heart and compassion to the hallways of La Salle. We are the better for it.
Senior Vice President, Mary Kenny, handled our new budget and tuition-collection processes, and managed our money and spending within a penny. Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Communications, Ismini Scouras, managed our brand (and our re-branding) of the rise and rise again of our La Salle, as well as (somewhere in there) raised for the second-year running more than $2 million for the year. Nearly $1.1 million of this year’s fundraising revenue was generated in her barn-burner of a Spring Gala this past May. In addition to breaking all sorts of records with that amazing fundraising feat (all proceeds of which go to our scholarship fund), she also managed to pack the house with close to 700 attendees. She has doubled our sponsors program (individual donors who specifically sponsor a single student’s tuition) and our boys continue to thrive. The fact that most of our young men receive significant scholarship aid tells you how very important her work is for the lifeblood of the “new La Salle.”
But perhaps the most exciting change is in the new Board of Trustees leadership. If there is anybody who might mitigate our loss at the retirement of long-time Board Chair, Valentine Lehr ’58, who resigned this Spring after a ten-year success at the helm, then it would be Salvatore LaRocca ’82. Sal was voted in unanimously and passionately at our November 2016 board meeting to replace Val, beginning July 1st. He is President, Global Partnerships, at the NBA, and he is going to bring a deft, swift hand of leadership to the next great chapter of our school. Brother Thomas Scanlan, FSC, also sadly retiring from our Board, recently said to me, “Sal is a uniquely good listener. He is very special – you watch, Cathy.” High praise, indeed, Brother Tom. Hang on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen, because things are going to really start humming in the next few years under Sal’s leadership. I think I’ve met my match.
Inflection Point – Academics:
La Salle is a place of teaching and learning, and we take that mission very seriously. In the last two years, La Salle has welcomed back-to-back wait-list freshmen classes, which collectively earned an A-minus average from their grammar schools, so they most certainly believe us. We are adding an Advanced Placement (AP) Class in Spanish Language, and we will continue to offer my college-credit course in Advanced American Politics made possible through our partnership with Manhattan College. We are expanding our Arts and Music curriculum in several ways, including doubling the band from ten to 20 students and adding an advanced music course for seniors. We continue to beef up and improve our Guidance Department at a brisk pace. La Salle graduated nearly 100% of its 2017 senior class, which earned quadruple the amount of college scholarships at $15.2 million versus last year. And the colleges of choice continue to blossom. In our continued effort to beef up La Salle’s academic rigor and excellence, we are preparing to bring back Latin classes in Fall 2018.
Our curricular focus on project- and action-based learning continues to grow as well. Our flagship programs—La Salle WORKS (internships) and La Salle in the City (curricular- based trips)—are flourishing by leaps and bounds. We are excited to report that in September 2017 we are formally launching “La Salle Abroad,” a program that will take our boys to far-away lands as part of the curriculum. Our first trip is planned for Summer 2018 to Madrid and Barcelona, Spain, and we are set to expand in subsequent years to additional cities. This will include traveling to Vienna with our burgeoning music program and off to Rome, Bethlehem and beyond. These trips will have a focus on the Christian Brothers’ presence in various countries, and we are in talks already with La Salle University to provide college credit to our participating travelers.
We’ve put technology at the core of our academic programming with Microsoft as a key partner in this endeavor. In September 2017, after a two-year roll-out, EVERY boy at La Salle will have a tablet in their backpacks, which will be used in every classroom and infused into our curriculum. We’ve added Google as our partner, and we are exploring ways to connect our tech curriculum with these corporate players.
Our La Salle Reads incentive-based literacy program continues to advance as the mandatory summer and year-long reading lists grow at our school (much to every La Salle boys’ chagrin, I suspect!)
Our STEAM Partnership with Cooper Union continues to blossom and embed itself in our science culture at La Salle with increasing numbers of boys taking part in the engineering and robotics offerings by Cooper “across the street.”
Inflection Point – Admissions:
As earlier reported, the incoming freshmen class this year marks our second back to back wait-list. The academic prowess of the student body continues to progress. We continue to attract students from all five boroughs, with an increase in students who come from Manhattan and Staten Island. In addition, a larger percentage of our student body identifies as Catholic, reaching close to 70%. The children come to us still with dramatic financial aid needs, yet no boy is turned away because of their family’s inability to pay. If they make the grade, we find a spot. 110 freshmen will enter the halls in the Fall, putting us over capacity. We are moving towards a goal of 125-150 freshmen for Fall 2018, a close to 50% increase in admissions’ goals.
Inflection Point – Sports and Extracurricular Activities:
This was a banner, historical year for our sports program with no less than FOUR city championship teams and state championship to boot!
Our Varsity Basketball Team – for the first time in school history – won the New York State Class B Federation Championship. Our boys won the CHSAA City and State Championships as well. Our JV and Freshmen teams didn’t make it quite as far, but came incredibly close, making it to the City Championships.
Our Baseball program broke out in a huge way as well. Both the Varsity and Junior Varsity Squad took the Catholic school city championships for the first time in over a decade. Our bowling program also continued to shine, as our JV won the NYC championships and our Varsity took second place. What is old is new again, because La Salle’s “new normal” is we expect to win, always.
After the dust settled (for a day) on the fourth city championship for the year, and on Billy’s “Joe Namath promise-made-good,” I walked up to my superstar Dean/Athletic Director/Head Basketball Coach, Jerome Pannell, and simply asked him: “So, what is going on with the track team?” And in case you thought I was the only aggressive one over here, he responded without skipping a beat: “Oh, I've got a plan. Give me a minute.”
Nice. Good answer. ‘Cause we all win, all the time.
But our after-school life is certainly more than just sports … our band killed it in their inaugural year back on the scene. They marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and played the school song, “On, La Salle Men” at our Spring Gala. Next year, we are doubling our band in count and increasing the number of classes in our program. We have developed a collaborative partnership with the 3rd Street Music Settlement, a 150-year-old music school located just three blocks away where they will provide private lessons for our students. Our band is locked in to play in next year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the African American Parade and lead the San Gennaro Festival Parade in September!
‘Cause the band wins, too.
Our clubs continue to flourish with dozens and dozens of opportunities after the bell for our young men, not to mention three (and counting) after-school resource centers (Math, Writing and Science) for tutoring or homework help.
Inflection Point – La Salle in the Summer:
We’ve expanded our summer offerings to five programs throughout the summer: Freshmen Readiness for incoming students; Freshmen Honors’ Readiness (incoming honors’ track freshmen); our “CHIRP Program” (rising 6th and 7th graders, a recruitment tool for advanced middle-school summer curriculum); our College Explorers Program (SAT prep and college visits for rising juniors) and our exciting new Cardinal Basketball camp for elementary students (featuring our State Champ team as coaches!) La Salle is now a twelve-month a year academic institution, and things are HOPPING all summer long – come visit us and find out!
And, as mentioned earlier, our newly minted La Salle Abroad will play center-stage in our summer programming, as we tile in multiple trips each summer.
Inflection Point – Expansion Plans / Real Estate Plans:
As I have continued to report since the day I walked into La Salle, our expansion plans and move back to 2nd Street are afoot. We will be making an announcement in the coming months, but suffice it to say, our Trustees and our team have been hard at work to make this a reality. The many, many great kids who we have had to turn away in the last two years – and the kids who have yet to come – deserve a shot at getting to La Salle. A real expansion plan that engages that possibility is needed, and will be delivered in short order. Stay tuned.
To conclude, I only wanted to say to each of you…thank you. Thank you for being one of our “connecting dots” on the graph paper outline of the curve of our Inflection Point. Thank you for your time, treasure and talent. Your fingerprints are all over this success story, but there is so much to do, so much to still do. Please keep me and us all in prayer as we hoist the mighty mission of St. John Baptist de La Salle on our shoulders, like Atlas Shrugging, for the boys of our beloved La Salle.
Hang on. Here we go. Have a great summer…
St. John Baptist de La Salle….Pray for us.
Live Jesus in our hearts. Forever!
Catherine L. Guerriero, Ph.D., M.P.A.
President, La Salle Academy