Friday, 13 January 2012 12:10
By Robin Jovanovich
When Harold Nielsen was hired as principal of Resurrection School a lucky 13 years ago, the student body totaled 270. This school year, the number is 550.
He credits his staff and parents for the rise in number. “They’ve been my greatest aides and allowed us to grow,” he said. “We’re a partnership of school and home.”
In a recent interview, Mr. Nielsen, who has been a teacher for seven years and a principal for 32, said, “As a principal, I’m a father first who deals with a multiplicity of family and individual issues. At Resurrection, kids come first and we all strive to work in their best interests. We have to check our egos.” He added, “If I keep that as a focus, I’m doing my job.”
One of the attractions of the school, the principal explained, is that they’ve been able to sustain all grades — three classes of elementary students, and two classes of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. And they’ve been able to keep classes small — 18 to 24 students. “We made a commitment to respect that class size. From this side of the desk, that affords students to have more of their teachers’ individual attention.”
When Mr. Nielsen arrived at Resurrection, “a lay person replacing a Sister”, he was quick to see that the community was passionate about their parish but worried about their declining school numbers.
He’s happy to report that the passion continues to burn brightly as the school has blossomed.
“We used to be referred to as the ‘little school on Milton Road’; we’re now a fine school on Milton and the Post Road,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “I speak to high school people who tell me how intellectually and religiously prepared our students are. Academically, we can compete. We’ve got boys at Regis High School.”
Mr. Nielsen is equally proud of the school’s social dimension. Students are involved with POTS, the soup kitchen in the Bronx, Midnight Runs, and Make a Difference Day.
At one of the school’s Christmas concerts, a grandparent went up to the principal to tell him how happy he was his grandchildren were getting a solid Catholic education.
“The Catholicity piece helps us tremendously,” said Mr. Nielsen. “Our students have a sense of propriety, a childlike innocence. They started today with confession and they know I’ll play football with them during recess. I don’t want them to be afraid of me, I want them to respect me.”
Among the biggest challenges an educator faces in the second decade of the 21st century, Mr. Nielsen lists: the curriculum content has changed dramatically, students are overscheduled, and our expectations of students are higher. “We have to prepare students for those expectations.”
He’s pleased to report that Resurrection’s math scores have risen nicely. “We’re a homework-based school and we put our faith in what we do every day. We don’t just prepare students for state tests.”
Principal Nielsen is confident that Resurrection will continue to be an affordable parish-based school, offering financial aid to as many families as possible and a first-rate Catholic education.
Resurrection is hosting an Open House for grades 4-8 January 31, and for grades K-3 February 1.