Chris Signor, the new principal of Saratoga Central Catholic School, is a third-generation graduate and is shown with his father's yearbook from 1961. (Mike Matvey photo)
Chris Signor, the new principal of Saratoga Central Catholic School, is a third-generation graduate and is shown with his father's yearbook from 1961. (Mike Matvey photo)

When Christopher Signor sat down last month for an interview with The Evangelist, he had an old high school yearbook on his desk. 

It was not just any yearbook. It was from the St. Peter’s Academy, Class of 1961 of which his father, Ralph, graduated. The ties go even further back for Signor, whose grandfather, Carmine, graduated from the school in 1936. Signor is a third-generation graduate of Saratoga Central Catholic School (1984) — St. Peter’s Academy was renamed Saratoga Central Catholic High School in 1976 — and returns as the school’s new principal to a place that is a second home to him.

“I raised my kids here, walking through the halls and playing on the basketball court. It was always a big part of our family,” said Signor, who got his first job at SCC in 1988 teaching social studies and theology and was also principal at his alma mater from 2004-09. “From the earliest age, I remember looking at my father’s yearbooks. I went to kindergarten at St. Peter’s (Academy) and we graduated eighth grade and came here. The kids that went there always aspired to come here.”

To add to the family feeling, his grandmother, Louise, ran the cafeteria at St. Peter’s for 32 years. It doesn’t just stop there as Alphonse Lambert, SCC’s director of athletics, and Maria Izzo, the dean of student life and coordinator of alumni affairs, both went to school with Signor from kindergarten to 12th grade. And Signor coached Joseph McGee (1994), the dean of students, in baseball and Molly Green, (2006) an English teacher, was a student during Signor’s first stint as principal.

Signor also has been principal at Catholic Central High School and Bishop Maginn High School as well as a public school principal. While at Catholic High, he was part of the process of ideas that came up with Catholic Central School, the regional pre-K through Grade 12 school, that is the merger of Catholic High and St. Ambrose School in Latham. Although it was tough for Signor to walk away from the new school, which opened its doors in Latham this month, the allure of home was too much.

“We had some big ideas for what eventually turned into the merger and those ideas are still being worked through and the merger is still being worked on. For the first time, I have been selfish. I wanted to come home. I live in Saratoga, this is my home,” said Signor, who lives two miles from the school. “It’s a better work-life balance.

“I am disappointed that I couldn’t follow through and let it become a major part of my legacy. Dr. (Chris) Bott (diocesan associate superintendent of schools) asked me about that when I said I was interested in applying for this job and he said, ‘Are you afraid of losing that part of your legacy?’ And I said no. I said more importantly I am afraid of losing the possible legacy of building something exciting in Saratoga.”

In the Grade 6-12 school of roughly 250 students, Signor has quickly gotten to work, adjusting the school’s behavioral code to account for bullying and harassment on social media. And he is making the students accountable, adding “we have a very firm cut on attendance. Unexcused absences result in failing classes; tardiness results in not getting credit for a course.”

Academically there is Academic Intervention Services, which gives struggling students additional help. The school has created a math tutoring center that is run by Dorothy Schutter, a longtime instructor. Next to the math class is a math lab and the school has also added a writer’s workshop. One of the most important ideas is making sure the Catholic identity or mission is part of everything, and in every class, at the school

“I think we get in trouble when we forget what our true mission is. And our true mission is to be Catholic schools, not to be a private version of a bigger public school. … Then surround yourself with the highest quality teachers that are also Catholic educators. 

“It is not the person (who says) — ‘You know what, I can’t get a public school job, let me jump to a private school’ — because that goes badly very quickly. I have been very lucky at all three high schools that I have run, I have had amazing staff members. The people that are here are very dedicated. And the least dedicated people that leave, you always replace them in kind with the most dedicated. There is a direct correlation here with being an alumni and being someone who is here for a very long time.”

This Catholic identity involves making sure that students see beyond a narrow worldview.

“The Catholic anthropology that we have every single day is putting ourselves second to the world. Our greatest lesson that we can teach children is that we were created by a loving God to love others and to serve,” Signor said. “Not what our current culture is teaching children, which is ‘I’m the most important thing. I am more important than you and the world is here and you are here to serve me.’ … The Catholic Church invented the university. We’ve had this Catholic, liberal education, this model, for 1,500 years. I think the further away we go from that model of Catholic liberal education, the less we are teaching critical thinking. We’re not giving this anthropology that kids need to view the world through that prism. If we are not helping them view the world through a certain prism, the world will help them.  

“When we look at a homeless person, a Catholic sees a child of God. When a secular person sees that person, they see something else. When we talk about LGBTQ rights as a Catholic, we are looking at the whole person. We are not looking at the person’s sexuality.”

Signor added if Catholic educators can help students, who increasingly are dealing with depression, anxiety and angst, see the world “through that prism of Catholic education, what it truly means to be Christian, we are filling the void.”

“St. John of the Cross called it the ‘Dark Night of the Soul,’ which we all go through. (The youth) are struggling and all they are hearing are the echoes reverberating from our current culture, a culture of death as St. John Paul II said. There is no hope. And when there is no hope, that is when you have increased numbers of suicides, in-patient psychiatric treatment, medication for depression and anxiety and all that is masking is that angst.

“A child who is suffering or an adult who is suffering, and they are working through that suffering through faith, finds purpose and the Catholic Church helps you find that purpose.”

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