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Greek clues to how Catholic school conversions might play out

The Hellenic Classical Charter School in Brooklyn distances itself from a Greek Orthodox parochial school around the corner. (Image from Google maps)The mayor’s plan to save endangered Catholic schools by helping them become charter schools reminds me of a school I visited a year and a half ago, the Hellenic Classical Charter School in Brooklyn. Like the Catholic charters will, Hellenic emerged, indirectly, from a struggling parochial school, Soterios Ellenas. Soterios Ellenas had been tied directly to a Greek Orthodox church next door.

But as longtime members moved away to New Jersey, Staten Island, and other suburbs, the school struggled financially. Father Damaskinos Ganas, the priest at the church, estimated to the school’s annual deficit at $350,000 a year.

Hellenic officials, led by the lawyer Charles Capatanakis, who had served on Soterios Ellenas’ board and is now the board chair of Hellenic, took pains to separate the charter school they created from the parochial school that is being phased out. They strenuously maintained that had not converted Soterios Ellenas into a charter school. They refused admission to many families who attended the parochial school and erected walls between their space and religious areas. A majority of their students are not Greek.

But, as I reported then for the New York Sun, when I last visited, some overlaps remained:

The school’s relationship with a Greek parochial school has been even more polarizing, nearly jeopardizing Hellenic’s charter application in 2004. The school, Soterios Ellenas, shares the building with Hellenic, and several students and teachers who had been at the parochial school have transferred to the charter school. Soterios Ellenas’s priest, Father Damaskinos Ganas, has no formal relationship with Hellenic, but educators there refer to him as Hellenic’s “spiritual leader”; on a recent visit students waved enthusiastically when he passed them in the hall.

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