Sitting in Michael Michel’s office in Christ the King High School waiting for an interview to begin, you tend to let your eyes wander. There are dozens of little knick-knacks and mementos arranged around his desktop. On the shelving next to it there are reminders of political and social occasions, negotiations and accomplishments, faculty members and family. When you continue to gaze you see a sepia print directly facing his desk.
It is a picture dated 1959. It is a baseball field with local people gathered around sharing the day, enjoying the sport, being together as a community. It is the property on which the Christ the King High School now rests. Even then, a full fifty years before the doors opened, the land did what it was destined to always do, “serve the community.” Through the decades that followed, through good and bad times, the land has been used and adapted to serve the needs of the community that surrounds it.
In the late 1950’s Bishop Bryan J. McEntergart wanted to expand Catholic Education and he commissioned five high schools to be built. Christ the King’s building, at 280,000 square feet, is the largest Catholic high school on the east coast. Though the school was co-ed, it was in name only. The school originally acted as two separate schools, one for boys and the other for girls. Each ‘side’ had separate schedules, different Principals and different Administrators. Since the school population was divided, Christ the King had two chapels and doubles of many of the labs and art classrooms. One of the chapels would eventually be used as the “little theater” where Ms. Cullen produced and directed dozens of shows over the years. As the two sides eventually intermingled, becoming one school in September 1973, the main role of the institution remained the same – Catholic Education.
A New Vision for CK Growth
Michael Michel arrived at Christ the King in 1992, hired by the school’s Board of Trustees. His original job title was Financial Advisor, but over the next few years he would acquire several others including Director of Operations. Mike’s first priority when arriving at CK was to make the space that had been the girls’ Home Economic classes, useful. At the time, the Middle Village area only had one major pre-school and daycare center which did not accept “diapered children.” In the incredible turnaround time of one year, CK Daycare was created. This Center has been extremely successful. It operates under the guidance of a separate Board of Trustees and has become a vital service to the community. Several of its earliest participants have since graduated from the high school. The overwhelming success of the Daycare/Pre-school was a huge step for CK. It now knew it could successfully grow beyond its original purpose, while still being committed to that purpose.
In 2002 the next major growth in Christ the King was as a community center. CK always had study courses or teachers offering extra help after class, but now they would devote the school after hours to a Christ the King Continuing Ed (CTKCE) program. Everything from Yoga, to Stained Glass, to Dance, to Dog Training and many other adult courses have been offered and enjoyed.
However, it is the student courses, test preparation and tutoring, that have been at the heart of the Continuing Ed program’s great success. Thousands of students from around the community come to the program each year to get ready for the Test for Admission into Catholic High Schools (TACHS) exam that will determine their high school. Hundreds of others come to the school throughout the year to take advantage of study and enrichment programs. In addition, in 2007 Christ the King took Daycare/Pre-school one step further when it added a Universal Pre-Kindergarten [UPK] to its program.
Having been a faculty member since 1985 and witness to all these changes, I mentioned to Mr. Michel how many people had been upset or unsure about the changes and how many thought the school would suffer as attention and resources were focused on these newer additions. He was quick to point out that the exact opposite was true.
During these years the school added a dance studio, refurbished the auditorium, renovated the cafeteria, installed ‘smart’ boards in every classroom and computers on every teacher’s desk. There are new courses in Sign Language, Dance, Theatre, Statistics and Forensic Science. The Math Team and Speech and Debate Teams have competed successfully on the state and national level. While maintaining a nationally ranked sports program, Christ the King added and developed a highly acclaimed musical theatre program. Michael arranged through Coca-Cola to completely update the sounds system in the auditorium; The auditorium, now named the Hugh P. Kirwan Performing Arts Center, has been home to nine major musicals, dozens of graduations, community events, dance recitals and concerts.
The growth of all the different parts of Christ the King led to Mr. Michel’s latest title, President. The Board of Trustees thought that someone was needed to oversee all the aspects of CK. The school, Day Care Center, and Continuing Education are all separate organizations but all work within the confines of the Christ the King campus. Each organization has its own staff, board and management team, but Mr. Michel is the liaison between the various groups and the Board of Trustees and helps to keep their operations running smoothly.
Mr. Michel believes one of the most successful programs for the community was becoming a Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS) provider for the New York City Board of Education, which provides support services free of charge. This is built into the system at public schools, but Catholic schools rarely have the resources to provide the help needed. CTKCE sends NYS certified teachers to assorted schools to tutor under this program. It started with six students, and has grown to over one hundred. The program currently involves eight Catholic grammar schools and two other private schools in the community.
A Charter School for Middle Village
The next dramatic growth in the Christ the King community has been in the planning stages for almost five years. By shifting some classes to the A-side of the building, classrooms were freed up on the B-side. Mr. Michel has gathered a large group of community residents and consultants from different walks of life. They propose to open a charter school in the building starting in September 2013.
The charter school, Middle Village Preparatory Charter School (MVP), will be designed to educate students from grades six through eight. The first year will see only a sixth grade class and that will be limited to one hundred-twenty students. As a charter school, the schedule can be longer; classes may be varied. For example, there will be double Math and English classes and Latin will be a mandatory subject. The school will be monitored by the SUNY Board of Trustees and must renew its license every five years.
More importantly, the school will provide a place where children at the middle school level can come and be instructed with an eye towards making the grade for entrance into any high school. There will be regents exams and standardized testing.
MVP will be totally separate from Christ the King High School. The students will not intermingle or share classes; it will have its own Board of Trustees, Principal and Administration. A schedule is being worked on that would eliminate any interaction between the schools. The exception to this would be the addition of possible extra-curricular organizations in the charter school.
A Center for the Community
Michael Michel has been at Christ the King for over twenty years. In that time, he has been responsible for organizing the growth of CK from a high school to so much more. Without ever surrendering its original purpose, Christ the King has grown with the times and remained a center for the community. High School, Day Care, Pre-school, Continuing Education, Test Preparation, Summer Camps, Sports, Musical Theatre, the Performing Arts Center, and very soon, the Charter School. With all that, you would think Mr. Michel would be satisfied and rest on his successes. But some of us have known him for those twenty years and we know better.
As the interview draws to a close and Mr. Michel gets ready for his next appointment, I jokingly asked him “Is that it for now?” He looks up, smiles and says, “I have one idea I am working on … ” The growth of Christ the King continues …
For more information about the high school, please visit www.ctkny.org
For more information about the charter school, please visit