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What is 3-Sector Reform - and Why Should You Care?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015 by John Schoenig

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We are all to some degree familiar with the phenomenon whereby a word or term is used so often that it ceases to have real meaning. If not, you need only listen to a sports talk show immediately following a championship (regardless of the sport) and pay attention to the number of times a particular team or athlete from the game is referred to as “the greatest of all time” to get a sense for this dynamic.

In the context of K-12 education, the term “reform” often feels as if it is approaching such a point. On some level, this makes sense. In the abstract, reform is something that is quite easy to be for and very difficult to be against. The challenge, of course, is to move past abstraction and get a sense for the particular contours of the reform we’re discussing.

Go Cubs Go: What Catholic Schools Can Learn from the Rise of the Chicago Cubs

Friday, October 16, 2015


There are some things that are just distinctly October. Flannel shirts, pumpkin spiced lattes, the changing leaves . . . and the Chicago Cubs.

What’s that, you say? The Cubs haven’t been to the NLCS in twelve years? The Cubs, infamous for having not won a World Series since 1908, have long been written off by baseball fans as being “cursed.” So while Cubs fans might still associate October more with Steve Bartman than with success, there’s no question that in addition to a crisp breeze, there’s a buzz in the air. The Cubs are rolling.

And that made us think — since baseball is the mother of all metaphors, we in the Catholic school world realized there might actually be a few similarities between the Cubbies and Catholic schools. Here are some thoughts:

Why Learning Engineering is Important, Even for First Graders

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Why Learning Engineering is Important, Even for First Graders

If asked to “draw an engineer,” you might, perhaps, draw a man with glasses, sitting alone at his desk. If you did, your picture would match up with those drawn by many students when asked to do the same, even in their early elementary school years.

To combat this, and to promote engineering as a profession and vocation for people from all walks of life, many new science standards incorporate engineering concepts as early as first grade. I spoke with Gina Svarovsky, Assistant Professor of Practice in Engineering Education for the Notre Dame Center for STEM Education, about the reasons for and benefits of incorporating engineering lessons into an elementary curriculum.

Many educators talk about the “engineering pipeline,” the hope that if students are introduced early to engineering, many will enter college knowing about and considering a calling to be an engineer. Svarovsky prefers to see it somewhat differently.

We Can Do Hard Things

Monday, October 12, 2015 by Fr. Nate Wills, C.S.C.

At the end of August my Professional Learning Community conducted our first video chat. Through the wonders of the interwebs, it was delightful to see the smiling faces of our small group of Remick Leaders, now scattered across the nation. Mike Zelenka, a great principal at Incarnation Catholic School in Tampa, FL, thoughtfully led our meeting and reflected on his own experience of coming to Notre Dame for a couple days this summer. Mike spent time in classes and said the conversations about “root beliefs” got him thinking about his own root beliefs. He listed and explained some of the ones he came up with.

Lemme just tell you, they are really good.

An Awesome Week to Work for Catholic Schools

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


What an awesome week to work for American Catholic schools.

For the last decade, every story I’ve seen about Catholic schools in the mainstream media has been a tale of decline and demise, a sad story about a once vibrant system of schools that has entered a phase of decline and is heading toward certain death. Just last month The Atlantic published “The Demise of Private Schools.” In 2013, the New York Times published, “A Lifelines for Minorities, Catholic Schools Retrench.” Time, 2009: “Looking for Solutions to the Catholic-School Crisis.” Education Week, 2012: “Catholic Schools Feeling Squeeze from Charters.” Education Next, 2007: “Can Catholic Schools Be Saved?.” Philadelphia Magazine, 2013: “Will Philadelphia’s Catholic school’s Be Resurrected?.” 

You get the idea.

What Did Pope Francis Really Say Last Week? A Lesson Plan

Saturday, October 03, 2015

What Did Pope Francis Really Say Last Week? A Lesson Plan

A solid week has gone by since Pope Francis’s historic visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, and the dust has finally settled. The pope is back in Rome, kids are back in school, and public transit in the cities is back to normal.

What did Pope Francis really leave us with? What was the essential question of his lesson to the students (and, by extension, kids everywhere)?

If only we had...a lesson plan!

Well, lucky for you, ACE has received exclusive access to Pope Francis’ actual, totally real, not-at-all-made-up lesson plan from his visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels. When you really think about it, is it any surprise that Pope Francis, a former high school teacher and professor wrote out a lesson plan?

Here it is, reprinted in its entirety for your enjoyment and edification:

The Key to School Leadership: Love Those Hardest to Love

Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by Kole Knueppel

The Key to School Leadership: Love Those Hardest to Love

As the school year moves out of launch phase and picks up steam, it’s all too easy for us as teachers and leaders to get caught up in planning, programming, and logistics – the nuts and bolts of school. As we build relationships within the context of the school community, we also naturally begin to form opinions about the people around us. School can be beautiful in terms of relationship formation, but by the same token, school can sometimes feel as if it is the great clash of humanity.

For some of us, the combination of all of these factors can lead us down a path in which we begin to get caught up in the “daily grind,” completing tasks and fulfilling responsibilities as a definition of success within our day.

How to Spend Your Title II Funds: Professional Development Options to Consider

Monday, September 28, 2015

How to Spend Your Title II Funds: Professional Development Options to Consider

As September draws to a close, many school leaders are looking for ways to best allocate their Title II funds for the year. For educators who, like my first-year teacher self, didn’t know Catholic schools got this kind of funding, now is a great time to see if you can attend that conference you’ve been salivating over.

We asked some of our faculty members to tell us about their favorite conferences and professional development (PD) opportunities, making them promise to remain unswayed by where they took place or what free swag they received. Here is a list of what they recommended:

Podcast: Fr. Nuzzi Reflects on Pope Francis' Visit to Washington DC

Thursday, September 24, 2015

download 20150924 194014Fr. Nuzzi with Congressman Tim Ryan. Fr. Nuzzi is Mr. Ryan's Confirmation sponsor.Thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics tuned into Pope Francis' historic speech to Congress this afternoon, but precious few were actually there to see it in person. Lucky for us, Fr. Ron Nuzzi, ACE's Senior Director, Renewing Identity Strengthening Education, was there on the floor.

I spoke for a few minutes with Fr. Nuzzi as he waited to catch his flight back to South Bend. In the following podcast interview, he gives his impressions of the pope's speech and speaks a bit on what it was like to witness history:

 Listen to their conversation below:

The Best Way to Set the Tone for the School Day

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

mc4 6623One of the most important responsibilities for a school leader is building a strong community among the students, their parents, and the school’s faculty and staff. While there are many ways to help foster a great community, a principal’s morning interaction with his or her students can help set the right tone for the day that keeps the school community motivated and believing in themselves.

I spoke with Rodney Pierre-Antoine, ACE’s Director of the Notre Dame ACE Academies and a veteran school leader, to get his thoughts on the importance of a consistent, positive morning interaction with students.

Morning Assembly

One of the most effective ways for a school leader to connect with his or her community is through a morning assembly. Pierre-Antoine said that, when he was a principal, the most important aspect of his morning assemblies was to keep Christ at the heart of his message and to co-create an atmosphere “animated by the Gospel spirit”. A morning assembly provides the school community a daily opportunity to break open the Word and encounter Christ through communal prayer and fellowship. He leveraged this daily platform to spread the good news to all members of the community (students, parents, faculty, and staff), that God loves them and calls them to love one another.

Another crucial aspect to a successful morning assembly is to celebrate the students for their accomplishments, but also encourage the students to celebrate each other.

“At one of my schools, I would use the Friday assembly to reflect back on the week and recognize those students who modeled Christ-like behavior and embraced the student-learning expectations,” Pierre-Antoine said. “As students became more comfortable with this routine, I would encourage them to celebrate their peers, which helped further strengthen the community as a whole.”

Less Formal Interaction

While morning assemblies are important, not all interaction between a school leader and his or her students is quite as structured. Pierre-Antoine said he made it a point to always be outside at the carpool fifteen minutes before the bell rang to greet students and their parents and grandparents. He would smile, welcome them to school for the day, and make every effort to make the whole family feel as though they were a part of the school community.

This type of morning interaction bled over to other times of the day and the week—at the end of the day when parents were picking up their children, on weekends at sporting events and other extracurriculars.

“I wanted to constantly model that I was trying to build a community in Christ that supports one another and that rallies around the school,” he said.

Why It Matters

Building a strong and positive school community isn’t just about making parents and students feel welcome when they arrive at school for the day, and it isn’t just about setting a positive tone for the day at a morning assembly. By making a concerted effort to do those things, though, a school leader can be responsive to the needs of the community when more significant issues arise.

Pierre-Antoine said it all comes down to a ministry of presence. School leaders should take advantage of the very visible platform they have each day to help model for, direct, and guide their students, parents, faculty and staff. It is this presence, this relationship that separates an administrator from a school leader who truly walks with his or her school community day by day.

“Walking alongside those we serve provides us ample opportunities to bear witness to Christ by our words and actions,” Pierre-Antoine said. “Whether it's a handshake or a hug at carpool; a reflection on Sunday’s gospel; an inspirational video from YouTube; a read-aloud from an old favorite like the Giving Tree; affirming a member of the community for a good deed; a blessing on a group of students like a CYO team before a big game or the eighth graders prior to taking their high school placement test; a prayer intention for someone who is ill or who has recently returned home to heaven; so many different activities can take place during morning assemblies, but there is only one goal, make God known, loved and served.”


How a Five Minute Visit Reveals Everything Parents Need to Know About Your School

Monday, September 21, 2015

How a Five Minute Visit Reveals Everything Parents Need to Know About Your School

The first five minutes a visitor spends in a school can reveal a lot about its students, their teachers, and the broader school community. What impression of you do you want them to walk away with?

As leaders, we sometimes only have a few minutes to convey our passion about our work, ability, and confidence as an instructional leader, and what our root beliefs are. Below are three stories of effective leaders I witnessed on a recent trip to Chicago that hopefully will challenge you to reflect upon the lasting impression you leave others with when they visit your school (note all school and principal names are fictional).

ACE Link Roundup: Your Catholic Education “Must-Reads” from the Past Two Weeks

Friday, September 18, 2015

ACE Link Roundup: Your Catholic Education “Must-Reads” from the Past Two Weeks

Obviously, we here at ACE are pretty bullish when it comes to Catholic schools. And boy, after the reading the news lately, it shouldn’t be hard to see why. It seems like every outlet has chimed in over the past few weeks on Catholic schools, parishes, and the “state” they’re in.

Pope Francis’ upcoming visit certainly has something to do with that, but the past two weeks have also seen sweeping profiles on Catholic higher education; spotlights on the Cristo Rey network and its students; and the growth, challenge, and promise of Catholic schools writ large.

It’s a lot.

And that’s a good thing! But because time is finite — and I expect many of our readers are busy planning classes and teaching kids themselves — here are the stories that are particularly worth your time this week:

How to Build a Strong Academic Foundation in Your School

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 by Sr. Gail Mayotte SASV, Ph.D.

How to Build a Strong Academic Foundation in Your School

What is it that we want our students to know and be able to do? Answering this question before we align to standards, set curricula goals, and form lesson objectives is imperative to establishing a Catholic school’s strong academic formation of its students.

According to Archbishop Miller, part of the answer is to be “strong and responsible individuals, who are capable of making free and correct choices” and it demands “an education that responds to all the needs of the human person.”

The USCCB notes that it is, “to live morally and uprightly in our complex modern world,” and therefore students must be provided “an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program of education” (2005).

Notre Dame ACE Academies simply defines it with two words, “college” and “heaven.”

With clarity of purpose, the specifics regarding a holistic, academically rigorous, and doctrinally sound education can take shape.  However, even with this, the implementation of strong curricula and research-based techniques remains no small task. Catholic school leaders must articulate a clear vision for academic excellence (the WHY), guide curricula decisions that flow from the vision (the WHAT) and build capacity among their faculty (the HOW) in order to provide strong academic formation for their students.

How to Incorporate the Pope's Encyclical 'Laudato Si' into Your Classroom

Sunday, September 13, 2015


“Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience”




A great deal of anticipation always surrounds a new papal encyclical. People wonder: Is Church teaching going to change? Will I, as a Catholic, be called to greater conversion and prayer?  Will the pope use awesome words like “sourpuss?” (The answers are pretty consistently “Never,” “Always,” and “Probably,” respectively).

Back in May, you might remember the excitement surrounding Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home. But for many Catholic school teachers, that was right around the time they were grading finals, packing up the classroom, and getting ready for summer — not exactly the ideal time to read a 42,000-word encyclical.

Laudato Si, in short, is Pope Francis’ appeal to the faithful to take a closer look at how we are shaping the future of our planet, the effect of humanity on global issues such as climate change and poverty, and the protection and care for what Francis calls “our common home.” I can hardly think of something that functions as more of a “common home” than a school or classroom, so with class back in session and the Holy Father himself visiting our neck of the woods in a few weeks, here are some ideas on how the Catholic educator can incorporate some of the main messages of Laudato Si in their classroom.

What You Should Expect from Pope Francis' Visit to the US

Friday, September 11, 2015


Oh yes, the excitement is building for Pope Francis’ first visit to the U.S.! I can hardly contain my own excitement, especially when I see how so many Catholic schools and parishes are preparing for this historic visit. Of course, time is being set aside to watch many of the papal events live, especially the White House Welcome Ceremony, the address to the Joint Session of Congress, and the speech to the United Nations General Assembly. These particular events will happen during the course of the school day, providing thousands of Catholic school students the opportunity to witness history and to experience firsthand the impact that a well-lived faith can have in shaping culture.

Together with school leaders, teachers, and staff, the entire Catholic educational community in the U.S. will be richly blessed by Francis’ message of hope and mercy and by his incredible witness of service to the poor. Masses in Washington, DC, New York City, and Philadelphia are scheduled for after school hours or on weekends, but the Francis Effect should be well under way by then; many people of good will and most Catholics will be linked into their favorite media outlet to catch every word, every gesture, every glance.

What can we do to best prepare for Pope Francis? What might we expect? Three things come to mind.

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