Brother Thomas R. Leto, president, Iona Preparatory School

Local heads of school in Westchester, Fairfield and Dutchess counties talk about lessons learned from the pandemic, inspiration, superpowers, what makes them smile and – in one case – the benefits of dogs on campus.

Iona Preparatory School is an independent, Roman Catholic, college preparatory school located on two campuses in New Rochelle, serving boys in kindergarten through grade 12. It is the brother school of The Ursuline School.

Leto has served as president of the school since 2010. He has earned both an Ed.S. and an Ed.D. in educational leadership from Seton Hall University, where he has been an adjunct faculty member since 2015, an M.S.Ed. in educational leadership from the University of Dayton, an M.A. in history from New York University and a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and political science from Iona College.

Tell us something surprising about your school.  

“Three things immediately come to mind. The first is advocacy and service. Our boys serve the poor and marginalized locally and abroad so they are aware of and can advocate for solutions to the economic and social justice issues plaguing our world. The second is our growing science research program, where students spend three years researching a topic and working with a professional mentor in their chosen fields, often resulting in published works. The third is our house system that brings together students from different grades for a greater sense of brotherhood.”

How did your school cope during the pandemic? 

“We are fortunate to have 37 acres of suburban green here in New Rochelle between our two campuses, which meant we had space to accommodate more students in-seat than most. Our goal was to be safe, seamless and synchronous so that both students and their parents knew exactly what to expect each day. 

“The more than $150,000 we invested in cameras, testing software and other instructional technology will not go to waste. While not immediate — as students and teachers alike have probably had their fill of virtual meetings for a while — the option for virtual classes and greater blended learning will be incorporated more into our regular curriculum. Moreover, the enhanced collaboration afforded to us by some of these new instructional tools is now steering our academic focus toward project-based learning.” 

Which aspects of running a school are most appealing to you?  

“I’d like to say the governance and finance, the facilities and policy, the strategic planning and evaluations, but that is not the case. Daily interactions with students, participating in retreats and other spiritual life formation programs and helping lead service trips to the poorest sections of Peru — all of those things energize my day and allow me to tend to the things above.”

What superpower do you bring to the school?  

“I believe my ‘superpower’ is the charism of Blessed Edmund Rice, founder of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, who recognized that the poor boys of Ireland needed not only writing and arithmetic but also a business acumen, clothes and faith formation. What I try to bring to our educational community is that same realization that a true, holistic education is not just intellectual development but catering to the physical, social and spiritual needs of today’s youth, as well.”

What led you to choose education as a career?  

“As an undergraduate student at Iona College, I met a number of Christian Brothers who were teachers and administrators there. I (later) felt the call to enter the Congregation of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers. (The congregation’s) focus is education and I knew then that was my calling.” 

Did you have a favorite teacher who affected your life? 

“Actually, there were a few. I was fortunate enough to have Frank Cooper as a teacher in high school. He taught us the importance of prayer in our lives. Both Sister Peggy O’Neill and Brother Mike Bradley taught undergraduate courses at Iona College in the religious studies department. Their impact on my formation continues. Bottom line, always continue becoming the person God wants you to be.” 

What do you do to recharge in your free time?  

“I like to stay active. Long walks are always a way to relax. I’m not averse to a round of golf, and I do enjoy a good book.”

Iona Preparatory School at a glance

  • Head of school: Brother Thomas R. Leto 
  • Number of faculty and staff: 150
  • Student enrollment: 1,003
  • Annual tuition: $11,300 to $18,750

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