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The Cathedral School Merges Modern Learning with Classic Education
by Eleni Kostopoulos
The methods of teaching may invariably evolve to meet the ever-changing demands of society, but some concepts will forever remain relevant to education. This idea has supported both the evolution and progression of The Cathedral School, a New York City-based independent school founded in 1949 by The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity to serve Greek families who wanted to instill an appreciation of Greek language, culture and history in their children. Today, the school caters to an international, religiously diverse population while upholding its roots in Hellenism and Orthodoxy. Fittingly, The Cathedral School’s mission statement is inspired by Socratic wisdom: “To learn to know ourselves as individuals and to learn to know our community and the world, in a diverse, nurturing and challenging educational environment.”
For anything to grow efficiently, it must be nurtured, and The Cathedral School’s most recent advancements can be accredited to the strong support and ambitious vision of the school’s principal Theodore Kusulas, who was brought on board last year.
“I’ve really been embraced by the community at-large with some of my innovative ideas,” said Kusulas of his experience thus far. “I’ve begun to forge good relationships with parents, students and faculty, as well as with members of the Philoptohos, Rev. Fr. John Vlahos, dean of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, and all of the support personnel there. I also think that we’ve started to bridge a more positive relationship between 74th Street and 79th Street- the school and the Archdiocese- which is something that had not been there in the past.”
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”Theodore Kusulas, Principal” quotestyle=”style01″] The Cathedral School is in a really good place with a very strong curriculum that stresses a classic education for 21st century learners, and I think the seeds were already planted here. I just raised the bar a little bit, and I’ve given my staff some professional development so we can compete with these very elite private schools.” [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
Prior to his role as principal at The Cathedral School, Kusulas devoted more than 40 years of his professional life to the public school system. Though he originally aspired to attain a Ph.D. in social anthropology to work on early American folklore and history, he began his teaching career after getting his Master’s degree and came to love education. “I went to St. Demetrios and started teaching social studies there in 1974, and I left 13 years later as the principal of the elementary school,” he said. “Eventually, I got hooked to the gig and I didn’t want to leave.”
Kusulas then went to a Southern Westchester school district to work as an elementary school teacher for a decade. From there, he moved to central administration, becoming the director of curriculum and instruction in the ClarkstownCentralSchool District in RocklandCounty. He would spend another three years there as the associate superintendent of elementary education before becoming a superintendent for a needy school district in Sullivan county. Following his retirement from the public school system in 2013, he was called back by that school district to consult, and he eventually transitioned to the role of special assistant to the superintendent. During that time, he stumbled upon an opportunity he said he could not pass up. “I saw this ad for an opening at The Cathedral School, and I knew it was time to give back,” he said. “I’m a proud Greek American and a devout Orthodox Christian, and it was time to give back to the community that nurtured me when I first started.”
After being bogged down by mandates in the public school system for years, Kusulas became elated to shift his focus to teaching and learning. “I am able to do what is right for the population of the children I serve and the families I serve,” he said. “The CathedralSchool is in a really good place with a very strong curriculum that stresses a classic education for 21st century learners, and I think the seeds were already planted here. I just raised the bar a little bit, and I’ve given my staff some professional development so we can compete with these very elite private schools.”
The CathedralSchool currently serves 156 students from nursery through eighth grade. The smallest grades by size- sixth, seventh and eighth- have single-digit classes, a statistic Kusulas hopes to remedy over the next two years, and the student to teacher ratio is 10 to 1. “Restructuring will make our upper school a true middle school, in which we double-lock the fifth and sixth grade together, and the seventh and eighth grade together in three strands: humanities, which is English and social studies; a classics strand, which is modern Greek, mythology, religion and literacy enhancement; and STREAM, which consists of science, technology, reading/writing, engineering, art and math.”
Seventh and eighth graders currently take one period a week of Modern Greek, two periods a week of Ancient Greek and two periods a week of Latin. Like other private schools in New York City, the curriculum at The Cathedral School encompasses all standard disciplines. From nursery through the eighth grade, all students take part in what the school calls “excellence through the classics,” to complement and enhance students’ overall education and academic profile, according to The Cathedral School’s website.
A core group of the school’s teachers are members of the American Classical League (ACL), and The Cathedral School is a charter member of the ACL’s National Junior Classical League whose objective is to “gain an active appreciation and understanding of the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome, thereby better enabling us as individuals to interpret and appraise our world today.” The school has also established a close relationship with the Hellenic Studies Program at Columbia University.
Kusulas estimates that 50% of the school’s student population is Greek and/or Orthodox. Another 30% is non-Greek Orthodox and 20% is neither Greek nor orthodox; all students are required to take Modern Greek. This year, he introduced and implemented a Greek as a foreign language program to accommodate students who have little to no experience with the Greek language. “Our non-Greek students are some of our best students of Greek,” he pointed out. “For example, last year our valedictorian won the Classic Society’s gold medal in mythology, acing the Ancient Greek exam.”
Most recently, students participated in a celebratory event to honor Greek Independence Day. Laced with the theme of Hellenism, they spent March 25 rappelling through the pages of Greek history and beyond. “It was incredible,” said Kusulas. “The kids learned all of the contemporary heroes from 1821 and how [these events are] still relevant today.”
To keep up to par with the proliferation of technology, The Cathedral School is equipped with a fully operational high school science lab. Every learning space contains a Smart Board that is used to stream video and access the Internet. The school also boasts a complete robotics lab that is accessible to students in third through eighth grades. Next year, students will be able to get involved in beginning robotics.
“We have 21 flat-screen Apples, a printer and a computer program that can print out a great deal of mechanical drawings, and we have a 3-D printer that enables students to actually make their products,” said Kusulas. “In math class, if they’re studying angles, geometry and shapes, and in science class, if they’re learning about the living environment, they can learn how to program to develop a geodesic dome- but not just an object or a trinket- one that can be made into a terrarium. If they’re going to make a bonsai terrarium, they can create one that is miniature in scope. This involves a lot of problem solving, critical thinking and informed decision making; all these things go into everything that we do here.”
The Cathedral School also offers an extensive range of after-school programs that aren’t always offered during the normal course of a day. Some of these include advanced robotics, karate and gymnastics. Younger students are able to play sports like soccer and basketball. The school also offers courses like Indian dance and photography. The after-school Greek program is available to both students of the school and students from other schools who want to enhance their Greek reading and writing but also learn about Greek culture, games, cooking, music and signing. At $17,500, Kusulas admits tuition is steep, but financial aid is available to eligible students.
The CathedralSchool’s Parent Association in tandem with the school board will host its annual “Glendi” in May of this year in an effort to augment the operating budget of the school. The funds raised will go to three categories: curricular and instructional enhancements, infrastructure needs and endowment for scholarships. The gala will also honor a former head of school, Anastasia Michaels.
Moving forward, he said he hopes to maintain the school’s place as an enriching private school that can compete with the best in Manhattan. “We’re getting our children ready for high school and beyond.”
Kusulas and members of The Cathedral School aim to integrate the most modern educational methods in the school’s curriculum while adhering to the ancient Greek tradition of paideia, the process of educating humans into their “true form,” the real and genuine human being.