Raised in the Bronx, N.Y., Brother Stephen Schlitte never thought he would be returning there as an educator. But in February, leadership within the Marist Brothers asked him if he would like to take up a new position as principal of an all boys’ high school there.
So Schlitte, who is currently the principal of Marist High School in Bayonne, will soon set forth upon his new role as principal at Mount St. Michael Academy, a Marist-owned school in the Bronx.
“You have to have a better reason to say ‘No’ than saying, ‘I love being here in Marist High School in Bayonne,’” he said during a recent interview.
“This is a good school for anyone who wants to come here.” – Br. Stephen Schlitte
Brother Stephen attended Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 1970, when the college became co-ed for the first time. While there, he became acquainted with the brotherhood and started thinking he might like to spend his life as a Marist Brother.
“Even though it felt right, I wrestled with becoming a brother,” he once wrote in a column in a school publication. “It was a thorn in my side the entire time. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I couldn’t not do it. I had to try it out.”
He said the spiritual director helped him, teaching Brother Stephen how to pray, how to sit, be quiet, and listen to what was going on inside himself.
“I taught eighth grade in the South Bronx for a number of years,” he wrote, and things came together for him.
But during a recent interview with the Bayonne Community News, he said he didn’t foresee himself returning to the Bronx once he left teaching there to go on to other schools.
Before coming to Marist in Bayonne, he said, he had not been a principal on a high school level. The position was a learning experience for him as well as the students. He said that one of the biggest lessons he’s learned during his 11 years here was the value of teamwork. He said the school’s biggest successes were the result of many people working together toward a common goal.
A bigger challenge
The future will be a challenge since he will become the principal of a larger school of 800 boys, as opposed to Marist High School in Bayonne, which has about 480 boys and girls.
But he said Bayonne has prepared him well for the challenge, teaching him that when kids are presented with high quality and vigorous academic challenges, they rise to those expectations and succeed.
Known as a firm but understanding administrator, Brother Stephen said kids need to know where their boundaries are, and need to know what is expected of them.
Part of his job was to make them secure and to work with them, but to also make sure they understand that there are consequences to their actions.
Brother Stephen said that Marist High School taught him the necessity of forming relationships with students, meaning that he needs to know who their parents are and some of the issues they might be dealing with at home, in order to make adjustments at school.
“This is a good school for anyone who wants to come here,” he said. “We are a family here with a top-notch faculty. We are demanding, but also understanding.”
While everybody knew from the start what the school needed to do, Brother Stephen and the faculty were able to define and clarify the school’s mission. “It was always the same mission – to provide a Christian-oriented education and prepare our students for college,” he said. “But we were able to tweak it.”
He added, “We grappled with the important questions, such as what kind of education we wanted to provide. But this was always a team effort of the faculty, family, and students, allowing us to shape the education so it poised to take our students into the next generation.”
The administration instituted innovative steps that allowed the school to expand beyond the walls of its physical makeup, offering programs through technology and other means that had not been offered before. The school also expanded its curriculum to accommodate students of all learning abilities.
Brother Stephen is credited with establishing Marist's Focus Education Program for students who have learning disabilities and exhibit average to above-average intelligence.
The school also needed to meet all the state’s core curriculum standards, and the goal was to make sure the educational programs did not overlap, and did not have any gaps.
The establishment of a media center had a huge impact on which courses the school was able to provide through a program called “Virtual High School,” allowing students to study subjects such as oceanography, astronomy, and other subjects the school could not otherwise afford to provide. The media center also serves as a hub for research.
Brother Stephen also oversaw the development of the Champagnat Scholars Program for gifted and talented students, as well as Marist's MedQuest Program, which prepares students for further study in the healthcare industry.
“We have a lot of students interested in medical careers,” he said. “So we provide accelerated science, CPR training, volunteer work in hospitals, doctors' office, and dental offices. This becomes a jump start to a career.”
Through the campus ministry, Brother Stephen said the school has helped meet its other major goal, providing retreats and other venues for sustaining a student’s faith.
Under Brother Stephen’s watch, the school also increased trips outside the school in order to give students real world experience and promote their leadership skills.