While a student at the now-defunct St. James Catholic elementary school, he and his classmates would come to Queen of Apostles to use the gym—because it was the only Catholic school in the area which had one.
Now as the executive director of Central City Ministry for the Toledo Catholic Diocese, he’ll oversee Queen of Apostles, 235 Courtland, and Rosary Cathedral, 2535 Collingwood Blvd., both K-8 elementary schools.
He’ll basically ensure that Latino and other kids growing up in the Old South End—kids just like him—have access to a faith-based education.
“It’s not all that surreal, though. My sister and I still own a home over here,” said Guzmán, while driving through his old neighborhood. “It’s still home to me. I never really left.”
You can take the boy out of the Old South End, but you can’t take the Old South End out of the boy. In fact, Guzmán and his wife got married just down the street at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.
“It’s part of the circle. I don’t know if you ever come full circle,” Guzmán said. “I’m excited to come back and give back to a community that gave so much to me—and not just me, to my friends and family members and continues to give so much even today.”
He pointed out there’s a Facebook page devoted to St. James alumni like him—to share old stories and ensure the old neighborhood Catholic school is never forgotten.
“I think I saw 267 members of a school that’s no longer there. It just shows you the difference that it made,” said Guzmán.
The new CCMT executive director attended Catholic schools his entire childhood: at St. James through eighth grade, then Central Catholic High School. He’s now trying to put the finishing touches on a PhD in education.
“I think being able to tell kids that I went here will help them to be able to celebrate the efforts that they’re putting in today,” Guzmán said. “They’re going to have every opportunity in the world given to them. The best is, they will have a foundation that is strong and allow them to go above and beyond what they thought they could have ever achieved. That’s all because of Catholic education.”
Guzmán has always pointed to his own achievements as a means to convey the message to students that “if I can do it, so can you.” He admitted that may take on a whole new meaning in his new role.
“I think it’s no longer just a statement. It shows them firsthand that I’m not just ‘talking the talk.’ I’m actually ‘walking the walk,’” he said.
July 7, 2014 was Guzmán’s first day on the job, so he’s still digging into the details of how the schools operate, the “changes that have been made and the advances that have occurred and relearning many of the families.”
“Some of those families I already knew growing up here. So it’s really just saying ‘hello’ again,” he said.
One of the first things he noticed when pulling up outside Queen of Apostles was a community garden on the school grounds.
“It’s a wonderful way for them to learn and a great way to give back,” Guzmán said, who emphasized that community service is a big part of a Catholic elementary education. “It teaches them growing skills, but skills about life—caring for themselves and others.”
Guzmán is taking the helm when, after years of Catholic school closures and mergers, central-city diocesan elementary schools are seeing a rebirth. He stated enrollment is up at both K-8 schools “because of the value proposition in that the schools offer an education based on faith, teaching (students) lifelong values and standards rooted in Christianity.”
For example, Queen of Apostles ended the 2013-14 academic year with 149 students. Enrollment for the fall stood at 178 as of June 30.
“They’re both excelling at a time when other schools are struggling to keep pace,” said Guzmán. “Research shows that students with a faith-based education do better in higher education and later in life.”
One of the reasons for that growth may be the increased availability of EdChoice school vouchers in Ohio. Students from a low-performing public or charter school can be enrolled at a private elementary using an EdChoice voucher. There are 16 Toledo Public Schools K-8 elementaries on that list, including: Chase, East Broadway, Glenwood, Keyser, Leverette, Marshall, McKinley, McTigue, Pickett, Reynolds, Riverside, Robinson, Rosa Parks, Jones, Sherman, and Spring. Students entering kindergarten or first grade whose family income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level also are eligible for EdChoice vouchers.
Guzmán indicated such families can enroll their children in either CCMT elementary by July 31 and school staff will help them apply for such a voucher.
Students entering K-8 who reside in Lucas, Wood, or Fulton County also may qualify for up to $1,500 in tuition assistance through the Northwest Ohio Scholarship Fund. Guzmán indicated such programs make a faith-based education more attainable than ever.
So why did he leave a long-term higher education career behind, particularly when, for the past four years, he was the region’s first and only Latino campus president at Herzing University-Toledo?
“My faith, it’s as simple as that,” Guzmán said.
“It’s never left me. I’ve always believed in a strong Catholic, Christian foundation. It makes all the difference—in higher education, in life, in grade schools. I’m just sharing that at a different level now.”
The new CCMT executive director wasn’t actively looking for a new opportunity. He was approached out of the blue by Catholic schools superintendent Christopher Knight.
Call this one divine serendipity.
“There are things that happen in life, I believe, for a reason,” Guzmán said. “This opportunity came about and I decided to accept it as a ministry—to not only help students today, but students in the future and help make this school even stronger than it’s been in the past.”