Secretary of Education strengthened schools' Catholic identity

Wed, Apr 13th 2016 09:00 am
Carol Kostyniak (right), along with Bishop Richard J. Malone and Sister Carol Cimino, SSJ, greet students at Catholic Academy of West Buffalo on their first day of school. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)
Carol Kostyniak (right), along with Bishop Richard J. Malone and Sister Carol Cimino, SSJ, greet students at Catholic Academy of West Buffalo on their first day of school. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)

"You have to be enough about the business to stay in business."

Beyond strengthening Catholic identity, Carol Kostyniak says she is most proud of applying sound business practice to the Department of Catholic Schools over the past 10 years. The secretary for Catholic Education will retire in May from her position with the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, but the road that led her to it was a winding one.

"I never expected to be in education or in teaching," said Kostyniak, who grew up in Rochester Catholic schools. "I was a techie. I wanted to be in computers."

She was a computer systems analyst for Kodak's chemistry department and even managed a medical practice at one point in her career. While some folks "work in the trenches" to get to the top, Kostyniak says she "crawled through the attics" to help get high speed Internet in all of the Catholic high schools, through a consortium known as BISSNET.

One of the things she is most proud of is implementation of the STREAM initiative. "That's my baby," said Kostyniak referring to the curriculum which focuses on science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math. "It's my kind of education. Our Catholic schools have always been noted for English/language arts, those kinds of things and I really thought we needed to strengthen our science, especially when you look at what's going in on our medical corridor. If our kids, in their younger years, don't have a positive experience in science or technology, they're not going to move on with it."

Kostyniak used to teach technology at St. Benedict School in Eggertsville and many of her students, including her own son,  went on to careers with computers because of their positive exposure to it.  She then taught at Sacred Heart Academy and earned her master's degree in education before becoming secretary for education for the diocese.

Her classroom experience helped her to strengthen the Catholic identity into the curriculum so teachers are not only teaching science, but including an emphasis of how science is God's creation.

"She has shared her many talents," said Msgr. David Slubecky, moderator of the Curia. "Her creative initiatives and great success in obtaining multiple grants strengthened the effectiveness of the Education Department and its service to our schools.  She will be sorely missed."

Kostyniak helped secure about $4 million in grants for Catholic schools. One of those grants, for the Catholic Alumni Partnership, helped to digitize hundreds of thousands of alumni records from all of the elementary schools into a data base.

The effort helped Kostyniak's staff to contact elementary school alumni.

"The first mailing that went out came back with buckets full of mail," Kostyniak said.

Many of those who responded recalled  the "good nuns" or the priests who helped to fill a gap in their home lives as children. "That allowed us to create an Advancement Roundtable to oversee enrollment management and fundraising."

Kostyniak also worked with diocesan attorneys to enforce a New York state regulation which allows Catholic school students the equal right to transportation on yellow public school buses.

"It's a safety thing," said Kostyniak. "We went through a lot of tough negotiations and ultimately we got it."

When it came time to meet new state standards, Kostyniak rose to the occasion. With the help of her staff, the curriculum was updated in a way that is easy for teachers to download and understand.

"I love the new Common Core," said Kostyniak. "It's about really making students in charge of their learning. It's more hands-on. If you think back to your school experiences, you remember that project, whether it was your longhouse, or doing some rocket ship. You don't remember the teacher standing up and saying 'this happened and that happened.' It's about problem solving and it's much more geared toward today's world and working in teams."

"Carol Kostyniak has a done a great deal for our schools," said Sister Carol Cimino, SSJ, superintendent of Catholic Schools, who applauds Kostyniak for bringing true professionalism to the department. "She inspired all of us to ensure that the poorest of our children were able to get a Catholic education."

The most difficult decision of Kostyniak's tenure was closing 10 Catholic schools in 2014. "Your heart hurts every time a school closes, but in the long run, in order to keep Catholic education available, affordable and accessible, we had to do that.  I really felt we did the best job we could. We had expertise in looking at the demographics. We had committees and visited the schools."

"Carol came to us at a critically important and very challenging time for our Catholic schools," said Bishop Richard J. Malone. "Her profound sense of mission, the respect in which she is held within the wider WNY community, and her courage in assisting me to make some very painful yet necessary decisions, have set our schools on a strong course for the years ahead."

Beginning in May, Kostyniak will have more time to "decompress" with her husband, Paul, their children, and grandchildren. "In the summer I love my garden, I love going in the garden and picking my vegetables for dinner, or going in the garden with my grandchildren and teaching them the names of the flowers, or having them pick a green pepper and eat it like an apple. I'm really looking forward to that."

She didn't hesitate when asked what she will miss most at the Catholic Schools, "The people. I loved being together with people and putting people together."

She's confident that those people will keep Catholic Schools on the strong path that she helped to create. "It was a privilege to be here. It's a ministry for sure, and I'm happy to have taken it the way I've taken it. The old Girl Scout in me says to 'always leave a place better than when you came', and I feel I did that."

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