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In the Spotlight . . .

Part II: In the Spotlight: Sr. Mary Paul and Signs of Hope

on Friday, 31 May 2013.

Read Part I: Sr. Mary Paul and the Grace of Growth

This past school year, enrollments grew for the third year in a row in Chicago Catholic Schools, ending a decades-long trend of decline. More importantly, much of the growth occurred in schools that serve the communities most in need, where steady enrollment can be the most challenging.

Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, Superintendent of Chicago Catholic Schools, credits the increase in enrollment to the leadership of principals and pastors, Archdiocesan donors, and organizations like the Big Shoulders Fund, which provides financial support for Catholic schools in under-resourced neighborhoods. In her view, a spirit of collaboration and a renewed sense of purpose have rallied these supporters in their efforts to make a Catholic education available and affordable for more students. By strategically coordinating support, the Archdiocese has kept schools available in the most challenged areas and accessible to the children who most need them.

Though growth is still modest, Sister Mary Paul calls these last few years “turning the ocean liner.” The increased enrollments act as indicators of a wider and more systemic transformation for Catholic schools – the entire ocean liner heading in a new direction.

In March of 2013, the School Board of the Archdiocese published a strategic plan to examine the success stories of the past three years and outline a plan to build on these examples. The plan suggests that leveraging strong leadership at the principal and pastor level, promoting best-practices for financial viability, and enhancing both Catholic identity and academic offerings have all been essential to renewing growth.

For example, the strategic plan shares the story of St. John Streamwood. Just a few years ago, the school struggled to serve its students, and in 2010 alone, enrollment fell by 28 students. This left the school depending on subsidy and loans at a time when the parish itself was challenged financially. However, with a new pastor and principal appointed to leadership positions, the school developed a strategic plan and revamped the budget with the help of a strong business manager. The principal worked with teachers to develop a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum, which centered on themes of ecology and stewardship of the earth. The school leaders decided to prioritize scholarship funding and sought help to improve their marketing efforts – both to enhance the schools reputation and to increase awareness of the school and its affordability.

As a result, enrollment increased from 188 in 2010 to 272 in 2013. In the same time period, the aid that St. John Streamwood receives from the Archdiocese decreased from $200,000 to $0.

For Sr. Mary Paul, schools like St. John Streamwood offers signs of hope – and clear blueprints for how to change the narrative in a struggling school. Furthermore, when the leaders of a school like St. John Streamwood share their story with colleagues across the Archdiocese, Sister Mary Paul says that she can see the hope sparked within educators, principals, and pastors. While they might have previously been lamenting their own challenges, she explains, they come to her and ask, “Do you think that I could do this too? Maybe God is calling me to do this.”

Sister Mary Paul explains that renewal becomes a real possibility for educators when they “see this modeled around them and know that there (will) be resources for them.” This transformation and renewal occur both in entire schools and in the spirits of the educators working within them. “I have seen these great sites that were ready to be shuttered – now flipped and turned around in the last three, four years, but I’ve also seen those who were just tired, who are deciding to be reenergized and to rediscover shared leadership.”

The strategic plan also illustrates a clear plan to attracting new and talented leaders, principals, and high-quality teachers to Catholic schools. Sister Mary Paul points to the number of young, lay educators finding vocations in Chicago’s Catholic Schools as a success to build on in future years and a testament to the power and grace present in the schools and the students themselves.

“I think that’s been a tremendous tribute to the schools where young couples are staying,” Sister Mary Paul explains, “and a tremendous tribute to ACE at Notre Dame with the Catholic School Advantage campaign.”

The Catholic School Advantage campaign, launched by the Alliance for Catholic Education in response to a 2009 Notre Dame Task Force, aims to improve educational opportunities for Latino students. In Chicago, Juana Sanchez Graber, Field Consultant for the campaign, works to help schools raise awareness in Hispanic communities, tailor their marketing and communications efforts, and utilize madrinas (and padrinos) programs to spread the word about school availability and build bridges into Hispanic neighborhoods and communities.

In the coming 2013-2014 academic year, the University of Notre Dame and the Alliance for Catholic Education will also send the first Service Through Teaching community to Chicago, to help provide talented young teachers and future leaders to Chicago Catholic Schools.

For Sister Mary Paul, it’s an exciting partnership. “I’ve always had a great love for Notre Dame, and a respect for the ACE program,” she explains, “I had followed it for twenty years since its founding, and always had kind of a nagging ‘Why not Chicago? Why not Chicago?’ So to have it come to Chicago and in really such a vibrant way (…) I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for us.”

Much like the success of these past few years, in Sister Mary Paul’s view, the future of Catholic Schools in Chicago will continue to rely on renewing the entire system through strategic collaboration and belief in the big changes.

“I am deeply grateful to Fr. Scully for his vision - and to that whole ACE team, really -for continuing to wrap their services, not just around the individuals who they might be coming to influence, but to profoundly influence a system. So it’s a very powerful thing for me to see the engagement of our university, particularly through the ACE programs.”

Read Part I: Sr. Mary Paul and the Grace of Growth

In the Spotlight: Sr. Mary Paul and the Grace of Growth

on Friday, 17 May 2013.

Part 1

In February of 2008, Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., appointed Sister Mary Paul McCaughey O.P. as superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Since then, Sister Mary Paul has been working to write a story of hope, renewal, and grace for Chicago's Catholic schools.

At the time of her appointment, however, the narrative of Catholic schools in Chicago was dominated by decline, instability, and uncertainty. Despite the brilliance of a few beacons of hope, the big picture presented some serious challenges. For the most part, Catholic schools were struggling.

In 2008, Catholic school leaders in Chicago faced trends of declining enrollment and closing schools. Between 1984-2004 alone, there were 148 Catholic school closures in the city of Chicago. With a financial recession taking hold and rising costs hindering many students and families from paying tuition, the outlook for many of Chicago's Catholic schools was uncertain at best, especially for those schools serving students in poverty or in under-resourced communities.

In 2013, however – five years into Sister Mary Paul McCaughey's tenure as superintendent – that narrative has gradually started to change.

After plummeting for decades, enrollment has increased in Chicago Catholic schools for the past three years. To put that in perspective, the last time the Archdiocese had just two consecutive years of growth was in 1965.

"I think growth is a grace," says Sister Mary Paul, "We cooperate with God's grace in continuing to grow as students and as persons of service. Whether that's for the young people or the slightly older people who serve them, that's what energizes me. It's in the air."

A career educator and lifelong Chicago-area native, Sister Mary Paul graduated from Marian Catholic High School in the Chicago Heights area, an economically and ethnically diverse community just 30 miles south of downtown Chicago. She later returned to Marian Catholic High School to serve as both principal and president.

After an earlier stint as a principal, she thought that she might become a clinical counselor. However, she explains, "I found out kind of quickly that I had people who were complaining with twenty, twenty-four clients a week." She realized, "Why shouldn't we then try to change the system so we can have healthy people everywhere? Why not change the system?"

Sister Mary Paul describes discerning her vocation to be an educator and leader as a "gradual conversion." After successfully merging Sacred Heart Academy and Griffin High School in Springfield, Illinois, she had permission to pursue a PhD at the University of Chicago Theological Seminary. After only a year in the program, her community called her back to Marian, and she became principal and president there for the next 18 years.

"I thought I'd already done my duty to education while still young enough to do something else," she laughs, "but it turns out...God had another idea."

Trusting in the ability of the Catholic school system to adapt, Sister Mary Paul has worked to rally renewed efforts to bring a Catholic education to as many students as possible in Chicago. As Superintendent, Sister Mary Paul draws from both her 40 years of experience in education and her openness to new approaches in order to lead pastors, educators, Universities, and other community stakeholders in collaborating on plans for the future. "There's no greater thing than walking into a Catholic school and getting smacked with that feeling that everyone is on board with really wanting the best for one another," she says.

For Sister Mary Paul, reclaiming the narrative of Catholic education in Chicago will mean finding ways for educators and leaders "to challenge one another, to support one another, and to teach one another."

With a vision of trust and continuous improvement, Sister Mary Paul intends to build on the momentum of three consecutive years of enrollment growth. In that spirit, the School Board of the Archdiocese published a three-year strategic plan in March of 2013. The document highlights signs of hope from the past few years and outlines a plan to learn from and build on these successes in the future. The plan suggests a clear path forward for Chicago's Catholic schools, and though it is only the beginning, a new story of growth and grace is steadily taking shape in Chicago.

Read Part II of this story.

In the Spotlight: Cristina Espino Leads with Purpose

on Friday, 10 May 2013.

She calls her leadership role in Notre Dame ACE Academies "the beginning of a lifelong mission to provide a Catholic education of the highest quality to as many children as possible." Meet Cristina Espino.

From a very early age, my parents and family reinforced the value of Catholic schooling and were committed to providing this opportunity, acknowledging and accepting the financial sacrifices it would entail. They understood that sharing similar cultural and religious values with my peers would allow me to thrive both personally and academically. At the parochial elementary school I attended and where my mother taught, I learned that Catholic learning institutions pride themselves on not only teaching practical knowledge but also instructing their students to align strategic priorities and become responsible leaders.

CristinaAwardIn high school, a time when teenagers generally struggle to find their path, my sense of belonging and purpose was clear at Holy Cross Academy. The small classrooms, rigorous classical curriculum, and mandatory prayer and meditation at chapel every morning allowed me to focus my energies in a positive manner, accomplish far more than imaginable, and mobilize the student body to do the same.

Social responsibility is an undeniable part of an education in the Catholic School system. During my time as a student at Our Lady's University I was an active participant and leader in the Building Bridges Mentoring Program. After completing the appropriate training and coursework, I enrolled in the Volunteer Tax Assistance Program, helping low income families prepare their federal tax returns on weekends....[M]y sense of community was strengthened by attending university sponsored Catholic retreats and agreeing to be an Encounter retreat leader.

[After completing a master's in business administration at Loyola University, my husband and I moved to Tampa.] I was eager to reinvent my career and lead with purpose. My new position [with Notre Dame ACE Academies] is a program level role responsible for the marketing and finance oversight of the ACE Academies – three schools in Tucson and two schools in Tampa. More specifically, I will work closely with Christian Dallavis, Ryan Clark, and our diocesan partners, to develop and implement advancement strategies in each of our partner communities - leading the ACE Academies' efforts to secure tax credit scholarships and recruit new students.

To learn more about Notre Dame ACE Academies, click here.

In the Spotlight: Greg O'Donnell and the Transforming Power of Education

on Thursday, 02 May 2013.

As an undergrad at the University of Notre Dame, Greg O'Donnell got his first taste of working with children through a community ed program that became "one of the most impactful experiences of my collegiate career." Among other things, the program exposed him to the power of education to transform children's lives. He signed up for ACE and set his mind toward becoming an educator.

After two years of teaching social studies, the newly minted master's recipient considered next steps and decided, he says, "that if this was to be my vocation, I would need to gain a more diverse experience teaching in different settings." Greg signed up for ChACE, moving to Santiago, Chile where he taught, improved his Spanish, and obtained a certificate in teaching English as New Language.

Greg speaks movingly about what he learned through ACE and ChACE. "First, trust that God will take care of you. Many times a new experience can be completely terrifying. For me, both teaching and living abroad were such experiences[...] It wasn't until I surrendered myself to God's will that I was actually able to find the strength to overcome my fears and learn how to cope with my new environments. Every time I reflect on this, I recall one of my favorite sayings, 'God doesn't call the qualified, but qualifies the called.'"

The second lesson Greg learned was, "Relax and don't rush everything. And above all, value personal relationships." He explains: "The culture in South America is such that most people approach situations from a completely different perspective [than North Americans]. While often my instinct was to finish a task as quickly as possible, they generally approached tasks slowly, taking the time to talk to individuals even if it meant that things didn't get done on time. This focus on individual relationships was one I came to appreciate, and I hope that I adopted aspects of it to blend in with my own cultural practices."

Today Greg O'Donnell is back in North America, where he recently became associate director of ACE's Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program. What landed him in the job was what landed in his heart as an undergraduate volunteer in community ed: the transforming power of education. "Something inside me," he says, "was yearning to find a way to make a greater impact on Catholic schools; [...]teaching around the world made me cognizant of the limited scope of my influence. Thus I set out to find a way to broaden my influence on the educational world, which naturally brought me back to looking at the work ACE is doing in the United States and abroad."

Click here to learn more about ACE Service through Teaching. To read about ChACE, click here. To read about ACE English as a New Language, go here. To learn about the Remick Leadership Program, click here.

In the Spotlight: Professional Coach and Athlete Joins Play Like a Champion Today

on Friday, 19 April 2013.

ACE is excited to welcome Lynn Kachmarik, an athlete, administrator, official and coach at almost every level in sports, to the Play Like a Champion Today team. Lynn was vice president and general manager of South Bend's Silver Hawks baseball team; executive director of the South Bend / Mishawaka Convention and Visitors Bureau; director of athletics and recreation at Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana; director of aquatics at Bucknell University (PA); and head coach for the men's and women's water polo, swimming and diving teams at that university.

Lynn was an early pioneer of women's water polo. She was a member of the U.S. Women's National Water Polo Team for 12 years, six of which she was team captain. She was named to the All-World team in 1978, competing in the 1980, 1984 and 1988 World Aquatic Championships and seven FINA World Cup competitions. She then served as the team's assistant coach.

Lynn was among the first group of women to be inducted into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame and the first woman inducted into the Collegiate Water Polo Hall of Fame. She was a six time All-American selection in water polo and swimming at Slippery Rock University (SRU) from 1976-80 where she received both her bachelor's and master's degrees. She brings this winning aspirit and dedication to her new role in PLC.