In his 39 years at Saratoga Central Catholic School, Philip Zenowich has developed a special affinity for the sixth-graders, helping them adjust
to a larger school. (Emily Benson photo
In his 39 years at Saratoga Central Catholic School, Philip Zenowich has developed a special affinity for the sixth-graders, helping them adjust to a larger school. (Emily Benson photo

Philip Zenowich understands how daunting sixth grade can be.

“(Sixth-graders) are going from a self-contained classroom with one teacher, to six different teachers and a locker,” he said. “You’re moving from room to room to room, and (trying) not to get lost and being organized.”

Zenowich, a middle-school science teacher at Saratoga Central Catholic School in Saratoga Springs, has always tried to be a guiding hand for his students, especially the sixth-graders.

“It’s whatever they need to do,” he said. “Someone to talk to, to run ideas by; how do I take care of my locker, that kind of stuff.”

His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed: After 39 years of teaching at the school, Zenowich is being honored with the 2019-2020 Catholic School Week’s St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Distinguished Secondary School Teacher Award. The award honors a Catholic school teacher who carries out the mission of his/her Catholic school, demon­strates excellent teaching skills and has a positive impact on their students. All award recipients will be honored at the Catholic Schools Week liturgy Mass on Sunday, Jan. 26, at 2 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. 

It’s a perfect send-off for the beloved teacher, who is retiring at the end of the school year: “I’ve been teaching for 40 years total and that’s a long time to teach,” he laughed.

Zenowich said he had “no idea” he had even been nominated for the award. Right before the award recipients were announced, SCC’s principal Michael Kondratowicz came into Zenowich’s office to give him a heads-up. It was a total surprise. 

“I’m honored and pleased somebody nominated me,” he said. “I guess I must have gotten supporting votes, so it’s nice to know that you’re appreciated.”

Zenowich grew up downstate in Rockland County and knew from a young age he wanted to be a coach or trainer. He decided on teaching and went to Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey and received a degree in elementary school education and a certificate in high school education. 

After working at a New Hampshire public school for a year, Zenowich and his wife made the move to upstate New York where he took a job as a fourth-grade teacher at St. Peter’s elementary school, the primary school affiliated with Saratoga Central Catholic. (The school has since merged with St. Clement’s School, also in Saratoga.)

Zenowich noted that it was Sister Rita Duggan, CSJ, who was principal of St. Peter’s elementary at the time, who helped him find his footing in the classroom: “She taught me how to be a teacher,” he said. 

After moving over to SCC, Zenowich has taught all middle-school grades in varying subjects, including physics, biology and earth science. He also leads a cooking club for sixth-graders.

After retiring, Zenowich and his wife plan to move closer to Westchester County to be closer to their daughter and granddaughter: “It’s scary and exciting,” he said of retirement. But after almost 40 years at SCC, Zenowich noted there’s a reason he never wanted to leave: the great school and its students. 

“They’re really good kids; they’re nice kids. They just want to help,” he said.