Immaculate Heart of Mary sets expansion of Pre-K programs
The Journal News; October 19, 2006; By DAVID NOVICH
SCARSDALE Immaculate Heart of Mary School will expand its pre-kindergarten programs in September, after a tumultuous year that saw the pastor and principal leave and its enrollment drop 25 percent.

The school will add a program for 3-year-olds and extend its program for 4-year-olds from a half-day to full-day.

The new principal, Patricia Gatti, is confident that the additions will attract more kids. The school's enrollment has dropped from 260 last year to 195 this year.

"I really think that we're going to recover quickly," said Gatti. "Once people know that we're back on course and that the people who are here are happy, and they are, and they're positive, you know happy parents are your best commercial."

Last year, though, parents were not happy, when they learned in November that their principal, Robert Billings, was placed on a sudden and unexplained leave after 20 years in the position.

The parents had heard that Billings had a rocky relationship with the pastor, the Rev. Robert Verrigni.

Some parents and parishioners said Verrigni had mismanaged the parish, leading to a decrease in donations and the loss of several employees during his tenure. They formed a group, the Crisis Committee, that called for him to leave. Others supported him.

In March, the New York Archdiocese reassigned him as master of ceremonies at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The cathedral's associate rector, Monsignor John Ferry, took over as pastor of the prominent Scarsdale parish.

The parents like Ferry, who they say has been open abot parish finances and already started working with the school's parent-teacher association to raise funds to fix school windows.

"I think it's more of a community feeling," said Kathleen Winterroll, who has a son in the fourth grade at IHM. "Instead of like last fall we were aliented and all we knew was he was removed and no none knew who was running the school. So now the community is made aware of, for instance, the windows that need to be repaired."

The students speak highly of Gatti and have also noticed the change in the school.

"Everyone's a lot nicer to each other," said eighth-grader Jamie Scarcella.

Gatti begins each day saying prayers on the loudspeaker. Sebastiana Tagliamonte, who has a daughter in the third grade, says the opening prayers in the morning reinforce what she practices at home, where she ends each day with a prayer with her family.

"I think it's a positive way to open the day," said Tagliamonte. "I think it just brings the school community much closer. It's something that all the children together share."