McClancy HS transitions leadership amid pandemic

Nicholas Melito, right, has succeeded Brother Joseph Rocco, left, as president of Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School

A new era of leadership has begun at Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School in East Elmhurst.

On July 1, Nicholas Melito started his term as the school’s new president. He previously served as a global studies teacher, varsity baseball coach and director of admissions. He was appointed to McClancy’s administrative team as assistant to the president in 2006.

Melito, a 1976 graduate of McClancy, succeeded Brother Joseph Rocco, who was president of the school for the last 16 years. Rocco also served as principal, assistant principal for academics and teacher of Spanish and religion.

“I wouldn’t be present today if it wasn’t for the mentorship of Brother Joseph,” Melito said.

Since the start of his term, Melito said the transition to president has been going well.

“You learn a little bit more everyday,” he said. “You get to appreciate more of what he actually has done for the school.”

As the first layperson president for the school, Melito said he feels a little more pressure not from the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, but from himself.

“It’s inner pressure,” he said, “to make sure that we continue what’s been established and maybe try to make it a little bit better.”

Even before the leadership transition commenced, Rocco and Melito faced a host of challenges when the coronavirus pandemic hit New York City. The school instituted remote learning and had to figure out how to celebrate the class of 2020.

Rather than hosting a massive ceremony on their athletic field with hundreds of people in attendance, the school assigned each student a time to arrive for an individualized celebration.

Administrators set up a podium, red carpet and backdrop in front of the school. The local police precinct closed off the street to traffic.

When each student arrived with their parents, their names were announced along with a list of their activities and accolades. They were handed a diploma and yearbook, bumped elbows with the president and principal, and had their pictures taken by a photographer.

The entire event took less than four hours on a Saturday morning, said Melito, who was pleased with how it turned out.

“It was great,” he said. “Every decision from March to graduation was based on the safety of our students and staff.”

With the fall semester quickly approaching, Melito said the school is already investing in the facility to make it safe for students to return. McClancy is updating its filtration system and rewiring the entire school. They also added UV lighting.

“One of the reasons to rewire the system is for the UV lights to work,” Melito explained. “There has to be 10 percent airflow constantly.”

The administration is also working on a way to allow students to have a choice of coming to school or continue remote learning at home. One possibility is live-streaming classes so students who prefer the latter option won’t miss a beat.

The goal is to emulate the class day as fully as possible, Melito said, including eight periods a day and 40 minutes for lunch.

“We’ve been working since April on how to open this building,” he said. “But rest assured we are doing everything we can to ensure an education whether they’re sitting here or at home.”

As for Rocco, he has started a new role as principal of Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy in Astoria. An alumnus from the class of 1962, he has already hit the ground running, interviewing for a few new positions.

Rocco said the academy has an enrollment of close to 200 students, including 54 registered for its Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) program. Right now, Immaculate Conception has three UPK classes of 15 students each, and will see if it can open up a fourth class.

The school is also picking up more students in the first and second grade as parents get the word that Catholic schools are making every effort to open, Rocco said.

He said the school building has large enough classrooms to allow students to socially distance. Immaculate Conception also has a large gym and auditorium.

“I think we’ll be able to open,” Rocco said.

Melito said the biggest thing his predecessor will do for Immaculate Conception is motivate the teachers.

“They’re getting a person as principal who can be president of a university,” he said.

Rocco said one of his goals will be to improve the junior high school to make it more competitive with other academies, middle schools and charter schools.

“We’ve got to be very competitive with that level,” Rocco said. “We have to strengthen our programs.”

Two years after retiring as the longtime head baseball coach at McClancy, a year in which two alumni were drafted into the Major League Baseball farm system, Melito also has high praise for his successor, Middle Village resident Tom Cloonen.

He noted that ten students from their team under the leadership of Cloonen are already playing college baseball.

“He’s done an amazing job,” Melito said.

Read more: Queens Ledger – McClancy HS transitions leadership amid pandemic.