It is 8:30 a.m. at De La Salle Academy, a private school in Manhattan for academically talented poor children, and classical music is humming through a boom box that harks back to the 1980s.
Children are streaming up four flights of stairs and surrounding the school’s founder and principal, Brother Brian Carty, like moths fluttering around a light. They want to tell him something. They want one of his bearhugs. They want to be in his orbit for a few minutes.
If the students’ attraction to Brother Carty suggests that he is a teddy bear of an administrator, consider a few of his rules. Gossip is an expellable offense. Makeup — even lip gloss — is prohibited. Dating is outlawed.
Parents are instructed on rules regarding parties and cellphone and Internet use. Teaching fads are generally dismissed, memorization is encouraged and smart boards are nowhere to be seen. “I’m not going to spoon-feed them,” he said. “Taking notes is a skill.”
At a time when everything about education seems to be in flux — the role of testing, the expectations for teachers, the impact of technology — Brother Carty is something of a throwback. For more than a quarter-century, he has been the guiding force and gatekeeper of one of the city’s most selective, if not most heralded, private schools. More than half of its students come from families with incomes of less than $35,000, and most move on to the city’s top private high schools or elite boarding schools in New England.
De La Salle, a middle school on West 97th Street, is nonsectarian, but there is a faith component, including prayers at the beginning of the day and the start of each class. “I ask the parents to raise them in their faith and to practice it,” Brother Carty said. And though he holds an administrative role, he clearly views his position pastorally.
“I was not so sure you had the soul to make it here,” Brother Carty wrote in the autograph book of a student who graduated from De La Salle in May, Cassandra Raimundi. She said she was into boys and into gossip when she arrived at the school.
“Brother Brian had me sit in his office, and we had a long conversation and it was very emotional,” she said. “But that was the minute I decided to grow up.”
His tough-as-nails attitude toward behavior that falls short of expectations — at a funeral for a student who drowned over the summer, he told some of the student’s friends that they risked a spiritual death — does not easily fit the image of a man who has more than 1,300 friends on Facebook, and whom children flock to hug.
A towering figure, at 6-foot-4, with a deep belly laugh, he considers it his mission to be deeply involved in their lives. He chooses all of the students who are accepted, helps guide eighth graders through the high school admissions process and even consults with them four years later when they are applying to college. He seems to know everything about every one, about 150 each year, of his students, like whose father lost his job or whose mother is ill, and he still keeps up with students he had as early as the 1970s.
Read the rest. It’s an inspiration.