Slope Catholic school principal turns critics into converts

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The Park Slope principal who got caught in the crossfire of a Catholic school controversy has silenced the critics and won the hearts of parents — even while advocating forward-thinking philosophies with which they disagree.

Maura Lorenzen, who replaced a beloved administrator at St. Saviour Elementary School on Eighth Avenue and Seventh Street, has brought openness to the traditional learning environment — while championing the benefits of technology and yoga, which the Pope himself has publicly poo-pooed.

Lorenzen initially came under fire amid allegations that she got hired simply because she was pals with Rev. Daniel Murphy. But now parents, many of whom initially complained that Lorenzen was not suited for the position, now support her collaborative classroom settings, appreciation for secular diversity and out-of-the-box approach to art instruction.

“The transition was hard at first,” she said. “But complacency is the enemy: We are taking a good school and making it great.”

Indeed, over two years, enrollment has grown from 366 to 400 students — even as most Catholic schools in the city have shrunk.

Much of that can be attributed to Lorenzen, who has implemented a shift away from stodgy classroom traditions — like moving desks out of rows and into group seating — in order to encourage teamwork and “cooperative learning.”

The philosophical revamp comes after Murphy’s controversial 2009 decision not renew the contract of Principal James Flanagan, a popular administrator who had been in charge for 25 years. Parents repeatedly protested, saying things worked the way they were. After Lorenzen was hired, they directed their venom at her, claiming she got the job through connections.

But now parents — even those who initially bashed her — say she deserves some credit, even if they don’t always agree with her vision.

“You can talk to her; parents e-mail her all the time — and that’s unburdening for them,” said parent Cindy Brolsma, who initially said she complained of cronyism. “She’s also very good at bringing money to the school, which is important.”

Lorenzen — a former director at Congregation Beth Elohim Early Childhood Center — tread lightly during her first year, sometimes “holding [her] tongue” and doing a lot of listening.

She initially took issue with a couple of the administra­tion’s ideas about “product versus process”–based art — the difference between handing a kid a paintbrush and saying, “Paint winter!” which encourages creative thinking, as opposed to teaching him, step by step, how to make a snowflake, which encourages structured thinking.

She initially believed that art was meant just to encourage creativity, but has since discovered both styles of teaching are of value.

She’s also done some housekeeping to brighten the colors of walls and has taken advantage of previously unused outdoor space, along with offering extended school programs like cooking, yoga and music.

It’s all meant to show that her now-more-modern school is a place where everyone should feel comfortable asking questions and speaking openly.

“There has absolutely been a shift,” she said. “One big thing is my approach to communication: I want children to feel like they have a voice and that they’re considered.”

Plenty of parents are hailing that idea.

“She’s done many things to make the school shine,” said another mother who criticized Lorenzen initially — and who asked not to be named now. “She’s taken good steps forward.”

Updated 5:26 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Parent from Park Slope says:
Your article is completely out of context. Maura Lorenzen was not the issue. Fr. Murphy on the other hand, was the issue and was critisized (severely I might add). He deserved (And still does) every bit of it. Maura can stay, Fr. Murphy should still go!
Sept. 9, 2011, 2:09 pm
Holy Cow! from Winsor Terrace says:
We're still complaining about the cronyism! None of the protesters were even allowed to apply to be on the Church's Planning Council. The enrollment numbers have increased because of the addition of two nursery school classes. Great sources of revenue, but not necessarily rocket science. And what is good about secular diversity in a Catholic School? What is secular diversity? Diverse ways to ignore God?
Sept. 9, 2011, 2:21 pm
Speaking the truth from Park Slope says:
Maura Lorenzen was not the issue. The issue was the mistreatment of Mr. James Flanagan. It was a disgrace that he was let go in such a terrible manner after 25 years of faithful service. Fr. Murphy should still be ashamed of himself for those actions. The school academically has not changed.
Sept. 11, 2011, 2:58 pm
DLCB from Windsor Terrace says:
I was one of those peaceful protesters who was protesting the removal of a dedicated educator and administrator for 25 years. It was so unchristian of Fr. Murphy to end someone's career - so close to retiring - just because "he" (Mr. Flanagan) didn't fit the image that Fr. Murphy wanted in the school. Murphy never stepped foot in the school to even know what was going on - so how can he come off knowing the "image" he wanted.
Fr. Murphy's actions has led many parishioners to leave St. Saviours parish to seek a more transparent & Catholic community elsewhere.
Sept. 11, 2011, 3:24 pm
not losing my religion! from Windsor Terrace says:
Wow! have you got everything mixed up. Ask the question: Why would anyone fire a man so well proven, well loved and then replace him with someone with little, if any, credentials in Catholic Elementary school education??? Simple: he wanted a person willing to do whatever he, Murphy, wished!
Nobody was against Maura, many were against Murphy's many horrible decisions. But, still, lets not give her too much credit.
The increase in enrollment is only due to creating a 3 year old program. This is not brain surgery, a 60 year old man could have done it! (Sorry I couldn't resist)! On the Yoga: That is, in my opinion, sadly, Maura publicly pooh poohing the Pope. "Secular Diversity" is another way of saying less God, less Catholic. Less Catholic and Less God in certain environments equals more enrollment, more money. If money is more important than your religion then you win (at least financially). I doubt you would see these actions take place in a Jewish or Muslim educational center. But you will see such weakness when there is individual in a leadership position who doesn't have the faith and backbone to work with anyone but his chosen puppets. He then, of course, needs to do whatever it takes to assure that his puppets are seen in good light! So!
Question:Who approached you to write this nonsense? Just follow the money!!
PS Maybe you can do a report on how all the past many, manyCatholic school graduates in this country survived the snowflakes and sitting in rows. Not to be totally negative: Kudos on the cooking and new colors-nice!
Sept. 14, 2011, 2:40 pm
someone who has seen it all from Park Slope says:
It appears that Fr. Murphy has given Maura a blank check while he never gave Mr. Flannagan anything but grief.
Sept. 17, 2011, 10:45 am
Anonymous from Park Slope says:
Everyone hates her still! She has taken away our children's art and music rooms and turned them into nurseries! Very expensive nurseries! She is completely disregarded all of the upper grades, and has the students begging to leave. This article is full of lies!!!
Jan. 23, 2012, 3:37 pm

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