New York, NY – When Brother Thomas Casey first arrived last June as the new president at the college preparatory boy’s Catholic high school La Salle Academy on East 6th Street, he looked at the diversity of its student body in astonishment. “This looks like New York!” he said.
Brother Thomas has worked with many varied populations but even still the difference was striking.
Furthering his interest in exactly who were his students, he soon received a 60% return to a survey he sent the parents asking where they were from.
The wall on the fourth floor now illustrates — through a depiction of country flags— that there are (at least) 43 country homelands represented in La Salle’s student body. “From Albania to Vietnam,” Brother Thomas proudly reports.
Most New Yorkers have probably walked by La Salle’s buildings (previously on E. 2nd St., now on E. 6th St.) without realizing its long, proud past and the population it serves.
“It’s a small school where the 307 students don’t get lost, and 90 percent get some financial aid,” says Brother Thomas. The goal is to get every student prepared for college and 100 percent are accepted at one or more school,” he adds, further emphasizing that, “We teach values like respect and working toward the common good.”
Started in 1848 — a 171-year history — La Salle Academy continues its original mission to educate immigrant students or the children of immigrants. It is the oldest continuously operating Lasallian school (De La Salle Christian Brothers) and is one of the over 80 Lasallian education institutions within the United States, including six colleges and universities.
Located in the Lower East Side for decades, La Salle, grades 9-12, now shares a building—two floors—with St. George Ukrainian Catholic School on East 6 St., maintaining its own identity.
The new president’s background includes degrees in liberal studies, education and educational leadership as well as New York permanent certification in school district administration. He has taught math to junior high to high school students and most recently he was part of the leadership team for Lasallian ministries and communities in Eastern North America, headquartered in Monmouth County, New Jersey.
“I have a wonderful career in a variety of settings,” says Brother Thomas, “with students from affluent to economically challenged backgrounds,” and he has worked in many parts of the country.
Brother Thomas particularly touts having started a non-tuition middle school in Freeport, LI, with a Black and Latino population that saw all its students completing high school within five years of leaving middle school. (The previous statistic for that population was 43 percent high school completion rate).
Earlier this month, Brother Thomas’ friend Joan MacNaughton organized a meet and greet for potential donors that included alumni, board members, 76th District Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, and others from the greater New York community.
This paper’s (The Villager) publisher Vicki Schneps and friends, and former NYPD police commissioner Ray Kelly and Veronica Kelly, his wife, joined others in the school’s cozy fourth floor Joseph F. D’Angelo ’48 Literacy Center to learn more about the school, its history and mission.
Affable Brother Thomas greeted the small assembly and introduced two students who shared their experiences at the school.
Steven Dumeng, a Hell’s Kitchen resident, transferred from another school which, he said, didn’t have any clubs. He’s now availing himself to the multitude of clubs the school offers. This senior spoke of how open and available teachers are to help and also how he hopes to continue his education in Boston. Senior Carlos Flores wants to study audio recording at NYU and recalled La Salle’s impact and how it has made him the man he is today.
A cadre of the most polite students assisted with the event, making sure guests found their way, with junior Anthony Rosario on keyboard musically greeting the arriving guests with a medley of classical music.
As president of La Salle Academy, Brother Thomas embraces his new role: to make sure the school has a future, overseeing the stewardship of finances as well as reaching out to the greater population. He’s here to encourage benefactors, to support the work of the principal and curriculum development and to not lose sight of its Catholic consciousness.
“My passion is in the belief that education is the most transformative way to affect positive change,” says Brother Thomas, the ardent educator that he is. And, “that the key to fulfillment and success is to acknowledge one’s gifts and how they can be used for other’s benefit.”
Brother Thomas’ biggest challenge is in sharing the La Salle story with other potential students, and past and potential benefactors so, “We can have more of each.”