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Catholic School Advantage

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.

New Life for Aquinas Catholic Academy

on Monday, 06 May 2013.

Two years ago, if you had asked Principal Sr. Nancy Gannon, SFCC, about the future prospects of Aquinas Catholic Academy, she wouldn't have been able to hide her worries. This school in rural Kankakee, Illinois had been watching enrollment decrease by ten to twenty students per year for nearly twenty years. When the 2011-12 year began, Sr. Nancy knew the situation had become dire. She looked at her books and quickly estimated the school would operate at a loss of over $50,000 that year alone.

Around the same time she heard about the Hispanic Initiative, a movement within the diocese of Joliet led by Fr. Jeremiah Lynch, SJ to better minister to the Latino population by educating more of their children in Catholic schools. She attended an annual meeting hosted by the Catholic Schools Office, at which Fr. Joe Corpora, CSC, of ACE's Catholic School Advantage (CSA) campaign, was the featured speaker. Little did she know as she listened that her school was about to walk down a path of remarkable transformation.

With the help of CSA strategies, Aquinas Academy began the challenging and rewarding work of becoming a school where Latino families felt at home and valued. "The first thing I did was reach out to a madrina, a respected and influential woman in the community. I knew Lorenia Lara was just the right person. Her daughters had been students at Aquinas, she served on the school board, and she knew the ins and outs of the school. We had often called on her to help struggling Hispanic families and she always did it with such a gracious spirit."

Lorenia embraced the call and was soon out in her community with her laptop and financial aid forms. Largely because of her efforts, 26 new Latino kids were enrolled that year. "Fr. Joe's idea of filling empty desks was very important," says Sr. Nancy. "Not all the kids had the money, but that's how we started. With the Hispanic Initiative, we have good scholarships offered by the Catholic Educational Foundation, our school discounts tuition, and families pay a portion of tuition. All have 'skin' in the game." She continues, "We made it that year and, when it was all said and done, we finished with $60 in the black."

Since those bleak days just two years ago, Aquinas Catholic Academy has more than doubled its number of Latino students and, for the first time in decades, enrollment has grown instead of declined. Going into the 2013-14 school year, 67 students from the Hispanic Initiative are registered. "We've experienced such renewal, Sr. Nancy says. "These families have enriched our community. They've given with such a spirit of generosity. From painting parts of the school on the weekends to donating a magnificent statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe that travels from one classroom to classroom, this community has brought new life to us and we are the better for it."

Meanwhile, Sr. Nancy realizes Aquinas Catholic Academy's process of transforming its school community has just begun, and she recognizes the need for increased teacher training for her faculty. She has been collaborating with ACE's English as a New Language (ENL) Program to help her teachers meet the unique academic needs of their increasingly diverse student population. Clare Roach, coordinator of the ENL program, adds, "It's a blessing to help support Sr. Nancy and her school. We're in awe of their grace-filled transformation and are so happy they're experiencing the many gifts of a culturally and linguistically rich community. We hope more Catholic schools are able to walk their path."

 

Summer Conferences Promote Excellence, Hope for Catholic Schools

Written by William Schmitt on Friday, 26 April 2013.

Educational Leaders Invited to Campus for Focused Conversations, Insights

Hundreds of educators and school leaders eager to enhance the future of Catholic schools will attend a unique collection of summertime conferences hosted annually by the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE).

The June and July conferences, some of which are currently accepting registrants, are part of ACE’s mission to sustain, strengthen, and transform Catholic schools. They are a growing component of the busy summers when ACE conducts the majority of its on-campus academic programming and graduate-level classes with the hope of inspiring the next generation of Catholic school teachers and leaders.

Preparation of outstanding college graduates to teach in Catholic schools is the organization’s best-known activity, now welcoming its 20th cohort of aspiring educators as ACE prepares a major celebration of the nation’s Catholic schools to mark its 20th anniversary.

The conferences are hosted by various ACE units that have grown in recent years to respond to particular issues and needs. Those interested in attending or learning more can visit these conferences’ respective web pages:

ACE Teaching Fellows Annual Conference (June 11-14). Participants in the Melody Family ACE Teaching Fellowship program convene to assess and catalyze their growth as master teachers, educational leaders, and generators of problem-solving research. Several benefactor-supported fellowships support highly promising educators who wish to continue their careers in Catholic classrooms while pursuing advanced knowledge and skills. Fellows cultivate these leadership assets along with their mentors during the conference.

Advocates for Parental Choice Symposium (June 14-19). This intensive formation experience gives participants a first-hand experience of people and places on the cutting edge in implementing school choice policies. Catholic school supporters will receive skills, insights, and working relationships to equip them as advocates in the parental choice movement. Major speakers on- and off-campus will increase these future leaders’ understanding of the social, legal, political, pedagogical, and moral dimensions of parental choice.

Play Like a Champion Today ® Sports Leadership Conference (June 21-23). This annual conference, titled “Character Education through Sports Leadership” for 2013, emphasizes developing the whole person through sports. Guest speakers offer professional development for coaches and athletic administrators at both the youth and high school levels. Hosted by ACE’s Play Like a Champion Today ® experts in sports as ministry, the conference gathers representatives of parochial leagues around the country to network and share best practices. Register for the Sports Leadership Conference.

Equitable Services Institute (June 23-28). Students in Catholic schools across the country are not getting federally funded services to which they’re entitled; this institute assists diocesan superintendents, principals, and other educational leaders to address this problem. Attendees will receive updated information about complex federal funding policies plus practical roadmaps for the process of consultations by which educators obtain equitable shares for their students from Title 1, Title 2, and Title 3 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Information and registration are available online.

Principals Academy (June 24-28). A four-day enrichment experience for Catholic school principals, entitled “Fueling the Fire of Leadership in Catholic Schools” for 2013, will engage expert faculty and practitioners as they develop an action plan to increase motivational practices for instruction, enrollment, and school identity. Principals will explore tangible, evidence-based strategies to increase teacher motivation and self-efficacy, improve supervision processes, and encourage teacher self-evaluation to improve the professional learning environment of schools. Register for this academy hosted by ACE Consulting.

Latino Enrollment Institute (June 25-28). The Catholic School Advantage campaign will invite principals from around the country to discuss strategic possibilities and pursue practical strategies to increase enrollment, particularly among Latino children, in Catholic schools.

Superintendents Strategic Leadership Conference (July 9-12). ACE Consulting will host its annual conference for diocesan schools superintendents, providing expert speakers and facilitating in-depth conversations to explore key issues faced by the invited school leaders.

School Pastors Institute (July 9-12). Pastors whose parishes include schools are invited to this annual institute to learn to manage and leverage better the distinctive relationship between a parish and its school. The Institute develops many skills and perspectives that a pastor will need in overseeing a parish school,its people, and its finances. Insights presented will support pastors’ reflections on the value of Catholic schools to parishioners and to the Church’s future.

Mary Ann Remick Leadership Conference (July 12). This conference, a capstone event for those earning their master’s degrees in educational administration through the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, is a unique and informal venue for South Bend-area educators to discuss current research with ACE leaders and experts from across the country. The graduate students preparing to serve as principals present the action research they have conducted, and local visitors attending free-of-charge exchange ideas on school challenges and solutions.

ACE Summer Forum (July 12-14). The ACE Summer Forum is a professional development opportunity for Catholic school supporters and ACE graduates, focusing on urgent needs in Catholic schools and how aadvocates can address them. This summer, Forum participants will discuss raising local awareness for Catholic schools and connecting local initiatives to the broader ACE movement.

ACE 19 Parent Retreat (July 24-26). Parents whose sons or daughters have just finished their first year in ACE Teaching Fellows often have many questions about these first-year teachers’ experiences. ACE Advocates hosts a special retreat for these parents at Notre Dame to get their questions answered and to see the broader context of the journey their ACE teachers are taking. The retreat also allows these parents of the ACE 19 cohort to hear presentations, worship together, and swap stories.

Catholic School Experts Exploring Voucher Laws, Enrollment Gains

Written by William Schmitt on Thursday, 04 April 2013.

Insights are tapped by Media Covering a Range of Hopeful News

Upticks in enrollment and a legal affirmation of Indiana’s school-vouchers law have been among the good news for Catholic schools reported recently in the media. Journalists turned to a variety of Notre Dame faculty and staff for expertise on aspects of these stories.

John Schoenig, director of ACE’s Program for K-12 Educational Access and an experienced analyst of parental choice policies around the country, offered insights on Indiana’s school vouchers law. The legislative debate about amending the vouchers policy had prompted a National Public Radio reporter to interview Schoenig in February. The decision by the Indiana Supreme Court in March declaring vouchers to be constitutional led the National Catholic Register to quote Schoenig’s assessment of the ruling.

See a new "ND Expert" story outlining his thoughts on possible school-voucher implications in other states.

The latest issue of Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper Catholic New World reports that “efforts to persuade Latino parents to send their children to Catholic schools appear to be paying off.” A key source helping to tell that story is Juana Sanchez Graber, a field consultant leading ACE’s “Catholic School Advantage” campaign in the archdiocese.

In covering a new initiative for Catholic educator engagement in the Diocese of Santa Rosa, the latest issue of National Catholic Register quotes Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, senior director of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program. Father Nuzzi affirmed the kudos going to Bishop Robert Vasa’s planned educator-renewal program, which will spotlight key teachings of the Church: “This work of faith formation, the evangelization and re-evangelization of adults, is never done.”

Separately, Father Nuzzi's reflection on Pope Emeritus Benedict's strong support for Catholic education was presented in the popular blog Catholicmom.com.

A story in an online newsletter covering education reform, RedefinED. has reported that Catholic school enrollment in Florida increased last year. The newsletter, which has interviewed Notre Dame ACE Academies director Christian Dallavis in the past, noted a partnership with ACE Academies as one of the constructive steps taken by the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

NCEA Convention Hosted a Range of ACE Speakers and Insights

Written by William Schmitt on Wednesday, 27 March 2013.

Leadership, Catholic Identity Among Topics for Educators at Houston Event

Members of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) family and friends were among the Catholic school experts making presentations at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) Annual Convention and Expo April 2-4 in Houston, Texas.

The convention, a premier event convening Catholic school educators from around the country, offers presentations on a wide variety of topics, and the speakers from ACE addressed subjects relevant to schools’ roles in the New Evangelization. The subjects ranged from the spirituality of Catholic school leadership to virtue in high school sports, from improving school finances to increasing Latino enrollments.

A full schedule of presentations is available online from the NCEA. Those with particular ties to ACE included:

Erika Banwarth Cedrone, a partner in ACE’s Catholic School Advantage campaign, who spoke on “Increasing Latino Enrollment in our Catholic Schools.”

Frank DiLallo, M. Ed., LPC, an author published by ACE Press, spoke on “A Catholic Educator Response to Bullying.”

Jim Frabutt, Ph.D., faculty member in ACE’s Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, was a co-presenter, with Rachel Waldron, MA (a graduate of ACE’s Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program), on the topic, “Educating the Youngest Hearts and Minds: The Landscape of Catholic Preschool Education.”

Erik Goldschmidt, Ph.D., a graduate of ACE’s third cohort of teachers, addressed the issue of “Enhancing Faculty Faith Formation with Online Resources.”

Juana Sanchez Graber, a field consultant with ACE's Catholic School Advantage campaign, spoke on "Developing a Parent Ambassador Program" with Jean Simpson.

Mary C. McDonald, Ed. D., an author published by ACE Press, made two presentations, one titled “A Light Reflected,” and the other titled “Fishing on the Other Side of the Boat.”

Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, Ph.D., ACE’s senior director of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, made a presentation titled “Towards a Spirituality of Leadership: A Catholic and International Perspective.” He was also a co-presenter in two other sessions—“Towards a Bright Future: Current Research on Catholic Schools” and “Catholic Section of the Praeger Handbook of Faith-Based Schools in the United States, K-12.”

Clark Power, Ph.D., director of ACE’s Play Like a Champion Today ® training and research program for character education through sports, spoke on “Developing Virtue Through Sport: A Catholic Mission for High Schools.”

Jim Rigg, Ph.D., superintendent for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and a graduate of ACE’s sixth cohort of teachers, spoke on “Blessings and Bucks: Making Sense of School Financial Vitality.”

Anne Stricherz, M.A.T., a graduate of ACE’s third cohort of teachers, spoke on “Sports and Spirituality: Fertile Ground for the New Evangelization.”

David Tompkins, M.A., faculty member in ACE’s English as a New Language certificate program and a seasoned ENL teacher, presented “Teaching the Immigrant Church: Ten Strategies to Support Linguistically Diverse Children and Promote a More Culturally Inclusive School.”

Steven Virgadamo, associate director of ACE Consulting with over 25 years of experience in managing and leading Catholic institutions, spoke on “Applied Behavioral Sciences in the Art of Face-to-Face Cultivation and Solicitation of Donors.”

A complete description of the Annual Convention and its activities can be found at the NCEA website.

 

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