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. ••