Monday, 20 May 2013 02:30
As they move toward Catholic Schools Week, middle school students at St. Rose of Lima School in Haddon Heights continue to participate and succeed in the Catholic Math League. With half of the four test competitions completed, the sixth grade team is in first place in their division for the State of NJ and is tied for third place in the nation. In addition, one of the team members is in first place in Division 6 and the nation.
For the third year in a row, an eighth grader from St. Margaret School in Woodbury Heights (Conor Murphy) earned the four year full scholarship Bishop Eustace Preparatory School awards to the top scoring student on its annual scholarship exam.
These are just two of the many examples of the great things happening in our diocesan elementary schools.
The evidence is clear — our Catholic schools are doing a remarkable job educating the students sitting in classrooms diocesan wide. Each day, each year, we provide a mission driven education that is both academic and spiritual. Our students are
prepared to live, work and pray in the dynamic world that exists beyond the classroom.
Studies consistently show that Catholic schools outperform their public school counterparts in student academic achievement. And, the longer a child attends a Catholic school, the greater the impact.
In fact, the National Catholic Educational Association reports that 97 percent of Catholic high school graduates go on to college.
Despite this, Catholic schools are facing unprecedented challenges. Since 1990, more than 1,300 have shut down, according to a study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
Locally, we have seen our elementary schools go from 52 to 38 over the last three years.
The news, however, is not all bad.
From these changes eight new school communities have emerged, all with plans in place to grow and flourish. In fact, diocesan wide, “Faith in the Future,” our plan to preserve and strengthen our schools, is taking hold.
The first key component of our “Faith in the Future” initiative is the implementation of advancement programs in each of our elementary schools. Advancement is the management, coordination, and evaluation of the enrollment management, development, communications, constituent relations and publications programs of the school.
More importantly, advancement supports, encourages, and promotes the school’s mission and vision. The office’s efforts promote understanding, acceptance and support among the various publics (alumni, parents, alumni parents, students, prospective students and families, parishes, businesses, foundations and friends) for the mission of the school.
Each school will have an advancement director charged with carrying out the work of the office. Currently, 25 of our 38 schools have advancement programs.
Our first priority at each school will be increasing and stabilizing enrollment.
Partnering with us in this effort is the non-profit Catholic School Development Program (CSDP) who works with each of the schools to help develop their programs.
CSDP consultants provide pro bono consulting to our schools visiting with advancement directors monthly to teach schools what advancement is and how it works. In addition, CSDP provides each school with a two year grant totaling $37,500 to help get the programs running.
Change is already apparent. School marketing material is undergoing a facelift as schools revise both the look and content. Open Houses have
started in both the fall and spring as schools work at promoting their excellent programs.
In addition to advancement, reshaping our elementary school boards is a key component of “Faith in the Future.” Like advancement, the board’s role is to promote and advance the mission of the school. Our biggest change is moving boards from advisory to limited jurisdiction. They will be a policy-making body for all matters pertaining to the school, working in collaboration with the pastoral leadership to move the school forward.
The duties of the board include:
• Strategic Planning
• Policy Development
• Financial Oversight
• Constituent Relations
• Board Development/Evaluation
Within three years of being established, the board shall consist of no fewer than 15 and no more than 21 voting members (no more than one-third of whom can be current parents). Members will work in committees that include:
• Board Membership Committee
• Advancement Committee
• Enrollment Management Committee
• Educational Policy and Programs Committee
• Facilities Committee
• Finance Committee
Sixteen schools will move to the new board structure this year with the remainder of schools coming on board during the 2009-2010 school year. The first step in this transition is a board workshop for pastors, principals and advancement directors. Following the workshop, schools will work with the Office of Catholic Schools and the CSDP to select board members. Once selected the boards must attend a board workshop prior to meeting. A representative from the Schools Office or CSDP will attend each board meeting to help boards get used to the new structure.
Just as advancement and boards are critical to the success of “Faith in the Future,” so too is tuition assistance for families. This need is more acute as we attempt to navigate through these uncertain economic times.
To address this need, our school financing model will change starting with the 2010-2011 school year. Under the new financing model, parishes will support a central fund to be used for tuition assistance and school support.
In addition, our elementary schools of the diocese will move to a “Need-Based Tuition Assistance/Cost-Based Tuition” model. The model will be phased in over a four-year period. The change to need-based tuition assistance and cost-based tuition will provide a more equitable means of financing as well as provide more funding for those who cannot afford to pay the full cost.
As Bishop Galante has indicated, no child will be deprived of a Catholic education because of finances and all families will be encouraged to apply for tuition assistance regardless of their circumstances.
The fourth component of our “Faith in the Future” initiative is the continued development of our elementary school curricular, co-curricular and faith formation programs.
Work is underway this year to implement updated social studies and math curricula in each school. In the coming years, we’ll look to update curriculum in our remaining academic programs. In addition, schools are working toward full implementation of fine arts into their programs.
Catholic identity remains strong in each of our schools and will only get stronger as the diocesan lifelong faith formation initiative takes hold. Our teachers will have the opportunity to attend St. Elizabeth College or Georgian Court University to obtain catechetical certification. Their expanded background can only benefit our students.
Facilities projects are also necessary to accommodate these expanding programs. Last summer, Holy Family in Ventnor underwent a complete renovation and both John Paul II in Stratford and St. Michael the Archangel in Clayton added classroom space. Most recently, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Barrington renovated the gym at Annunciation in Bellmawr, creating a home court for their 3rd and 4th grade basketball teams.
Plans are now in the works to add classroom space and a gym to Our Lady of Hope in Blackwood.
Recently, the USCCB clearly stated their view of Catholic school education:
Catholic Schools continue to be “the most effective means available to the church for the education of children and young people” who are the future of the Church.
Using this as our guidepost, we feel strongly that active advancement programs, engaged, committed lay leadership, increased tuition assistance for families and dynamic programs will lead to a solid future for our schools.
We invite you to join us on our “Faith in the Future” journey.
Nick Regina is executive director, Catholic Schools Office, Diocese of Camden.