Ryan principal ends 48-year scholastic career

End of an era: Arch­bish­op Ry­an Prin­cip­al Helen Chaykowsky, 70, will re­tire June 30. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

When Helen Chaykowsky gradu­ated from Chest­nut Hill Col­lege in 1965 with an Eng­lish de­gree, she mulled ca­reer choices.

“I al­ways liked school,” she said. “I thought, ‘Let me try teach­ing. I don’t have to do it forever.’ ”

Chaykowsky star­ted as an Eng­lish teach­er at Car­din­al Dougherty and has been with the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia for the last 48 years, in­clud­ing 26 as a prin­cip­al.

“I’ve loved every minute of it,” she said.

That love af­fair is com­ing to an end.

On June 30, the 70-year-old Chaykowsky — prin­cip­al at Arch­bish­op Ry­an High School — will of­fi­cially re­tire.

“Forty-eight years, it’s time,” she said. “I’ve been in school forever.”

Chaykowsky, born in Ukraine, came to the United States in 1949 at age 6, set­tling in Lo­gan. She gradu­ated from St. Basil Academy in 1961 be­fore mov­ing on to Chest­nut Hill Col­lege.

Later, she re­ceived a mas­ter’s de­gree in coun­sel­ing from Vil­lan­ova and a sec­ond­ary edu­ca­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion cer­ti­fic­ate from Temple.

Pro­fes­sion­ally, she was a teach­er at Dougherty (1965-75), vice prin­cip­al at St. Hubert (1975-86) and prin­cip­al at Bish­op Con­well (1986-93), Con­well-Egan (1993-99), Kennedy-Ken­rick (1999 to 2002) and Ry­an (2002-13).

“I loved every one of them,” she said.

Chaykowsky is go­ing out in style. She en­joyed the 407-strong seni­or class, which gradu­ated from Temple at the school’s Liac­our­as Cen­ter on June 3. Eighty-eight per­cent of them are go­ing on to post­sec­ond­ary edu­ca­tion, with many of them earn­ing schol­ar­ships. Oth­ers are en­list­ing in the mil­it­ary or join­ing the work­ing world. There were only three dro­pouts.

“I loved the seni­or class. They were great. There was a chem­istry. Gradu­ation was won­der­ful,” she said.

Times have cer­tainly changed in Cath­ol­ic edu­ca­tion.

Back in 1965, there was a surge in hir­ing lay teach­ers. Dougherty had about 6,000 stu­dents.

Today, Dougherty is no more. Con­well and Kennedy-Ken­rick are gone. St. Hubert and Con­well-Egan needed mir­acles — and a lot of money — to avoid the chop­ping block last year.

The arch­diocese’s open en­roll­ment policy al­lows high schools to draw from all over south­east­ern Pennsylvania. Ry­an, which ex­pects to have at least 350 fresh­men next year, at­tracts young people largely from Phil­adelphia and Bucks County, rep­res­ent­ing about 60 par­ishes.

“It’s a nice di­versity,” Chaykowsky said.

Tech­no­logy has changed the edu­ca­tion field, she said. Stu­dents can read books on Kindle, and Google any­thing they learn in a classroom.

“Kids’ brains are wired dif­fer­ently,” she said. “Everything is in the palm of their hands.”

As for teach­ers, Chaykowsky re­calls a day when they were gen­er­ally on their own. Things have changed for the bet­ter.

“Teach­ing is a much more col­lab­or­at­ive ef­fort today,” she said.

Chaykowsky, who lives on Rhawn Street in Lex­ing­ton Park, taught at St. Hubert and Con­well des­pite her ad­min­is­trat­ive roles.

More re­cently, she has fo­cused on tra­di­tion­al du­ties as a prin­cip­al.

“I saw my role help­ing teach­ers do­ing work in the classroom. It’s very re­ward­ing,” she said. “But I al­ways missed the classroom.”

For the last two dec­ades, the arch­diocese has used a pres­id­ent/prin­cip­al mod­el to run its high schools.

At Ry­an, there are three as­sist­ant prin­cipals.

Chaykowsky’s suc­cessor has not been named. The dead­line to ap­ply is Fri­day, and she knows the next prin­cip­al will have the cre­ativ­ity, vis­ion and en­ergy to keep Ry­an strong.

In her ten­ure, she has en­joyed work­ing with pres­id­ent Mike McArdle and as­sist­ant prin­cipals Glen Ga­le­one, Jim Meredith and Frank Mor­ris. The teach­ers bring pas­sion to the classroom.

“I’ve been very blessed,” she said.

There have been many high­lights in her ca­reer. In 1986, she be­came the first lay wo­man to serve as prin­cip­al at a high school in the arch­diocese. She helped over­see the suc­cess­ful mer­ger of all-girls Bish­op Con­well and all-boys Bish­op Egan. At Ry­an, the 40th an­niversary cel­eb­ra­tion in 2006 was spe­cial, as were the mul­tiple vis­its by as­tro­naut Chris Fer­guson.

But it was oth­er things — watch­ing fresh­men ma­ture through gradu­ation, get­ting pos­it­ive feed­back from stu­dents and par­ents — that gave her the biggest boost.

On June 10, Chaykowsky was honored at the school with a pray­er ser­vice and party at­ten­ded by fac­ulty, staff and friends.

Soon, there will be no more 5 a.m. wakeup calls, though Chaykowsky will re­main act­ive. She plans to travel, vo­lun­teer at hos­pit­als, read to ele­ment­ary school stu­dents and con­tin­ue her work at An­nun­ci­ation BVM Ukrain­i­an Church in Mel­rose Park.

Chaykowsky will miss the people at Ry­an and friends she made along the way at oth­er schools, but her time has come to say good­bye.

“I’ve had a great ride,” she said. ••

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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