By Robin Jovanovich
Blessed from the start, Iona Prep has been lighting intellectual fires in boys and young men since 1915. When it opened its first campus, 37 boys were accepted; today the enrollment at Westchester’s only all-boys preK-12 school is 979, with the vast majority in the Upper School.
Under the inspirational leadership of Br. Thomas Leto, the school has thrived and been a shining educational star during the pandemic.
“Last March, we asked ourselves where we were going to be when the 2020-21 school year started,” said Br. Leto in a recent interview. “Not only did we put money into infrastructure and technology, but all the teachers came in for a week of training over the summer, so they’d be well versed in Google classroom and every platform for remote learning.
“Our mission was to ensure safe, seamless, and synchronous learning when we were able to offer in-person instruction.”
And aside from a few “hiccups” before Christmas, — if one boy tested positive, the whole class had to be quarantined — students are back and on track.
“All of our students are up to speed, on task, and at grade level,” said Br. Leto. “Our teachers are champions of education.”
According to Br. Leto, 90 percent of the Lower School boys are learning on campus. Iona began the year with a five day at school/five day at home schedule for the upper grades but recently invited every senior to come in, and 75 percent of them have. After Easter, the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors will join them.
Br. Leto has been president of the school for 11 years. “For some that may be way too long, for others not long enough,” he said jovially.
While he has skillfully handled every pandemic permutation, his strength comes from above. “Spiritual life cuts across everything at Iona. We have a tremendous advocacy program. Our mission is to call all boys to sainthood — not just yet. To graduate they must provide a portfolio of their service.”
He points proudly to the senior science research programs on plastics and what they are doing to our environment, and cancer treatment. At the school’s recent food drive, the goal was to collect 1,800 items, but the boys didn’t think that was enough and ended up bringing in 3,500 items.
Unlike many heads of school, Br. Leto continues to teach, in his case, Algebra 1 Honors for eighth graders.
“I love the walk from one of our two campuses to the other and seeing the boys striving for excellence,” he said.
Br. Leto’s enthusiasm for every part of school life is unwavering. He was excited that the football season, albeit truncated, was about to begin. He is proud to report that Iona has long been racially and economically diverse and is committed to remaining so. They have a new bus that brings students to the 27-acre campus from Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and they are deeply involved in helping the citizens of New Rochelle, the city that has been their home for over a century.