The University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) once again welcomed hundreds of visitors to campus this summer for a unique series of conferences and workshops, all dedicated to advancing ACE’s mission to sustain, strengthen, and transform Catholic schools. The Catholic School Advantage Campaign (CSA), ACE’s initiative to catalyze increased Latino enrollment in Catholic schools, engaged diverse stakeholders in cutting-edge discussions advancing the goal.
Since the CSA’s inception, it has become increasingly evident that there is no factor more critical to the vibrancy of a K-12 Catholic school than the talent and disposition of its leadership. The willingness of well-qualified school administrators to assist in both recruiting Latino families and forming welcoming, culturally sensitive schools has been a major driver to extend the Catholic school advantage to more Latino families. Likewise, pastors who identify Latino enrollment as a parish priority and embrace the challenges associated with operating a Catholic school today play an integral role in the campaign. These two keys to success prompted ACE to develop the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) and the School Pastors’ Institute (SPI). This summer marked the fourth and fifth annual LEI and SPI gatherings, respectively. Both institutes have seen attendance grow every year.
The Latino Enrollment Institute gives school principals, administrators, and teachers marketing strategies and school culture interventions to help Catholic schools attract and serve Latino families in the local community. The four-day program, which took place on Notre Dame’s campus June 21-24, included lectures and presentations from school leaders who have developed innovative Latino outreach programs. This year, the LEI welcomed over 100 participants, representing 34 schools and 26 (arch)dioceses. The principal from each school attended, along with one or two key staff or faculty members. Each school will continue to work with a mentor principal from the LEI Design Team, or corps of experts, throughout the upcoming academic year. The principals will also reconvene for a mid-year gathering, which serves as a great opportunity to evaluate progress, share successes and best practices, and discuss challenges and opportunities that arise during the first half of the school year.
The School Pastors’ Institute is a leadership formation symposium designed to help school pastors develop skills in strengthening the Catholic identity, financial management, academic quality, and recruitment and marketing strategies for attracting and better serving Latino families. Developed in 2011 at the explicit request of (arch)bishops and pastors from across the country, the SPI has grown to serve pastors from 99 different (arch)dioceses in the United States. As in past years, attendees returned to their parishes with fresh ideas and renewed vigor to embrace their parish Catholic schools as a blessing, not a burden. Pastors have a unique authority to articulate the urgency of extending the Catholic school advantage to Latino families, so it is all the more important that they understand the integral role they play. Many pastors who attended say they have progressed in inviting Latino families and boosting their visibility in the school.
This summer's event, held July 7-10, welcomed over 120 pastors representing 55 (arch)dioceses. A team of ten presenters, including keynote speaker Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, spoke on a wide array of topics pertinent to school pastors today. This year, the conference also included breakout sessions for more focused discussion on some of the unique situations in which a pastor today might find himself.
In addition to the LEI and the SPI, the Catholic School Advantage Campaign hosted a new conference this summer called Vámonos. This conference grew out of the recognition that some of the biggest enrollment gains occur when a school leader delegates the task of identifying, recruiting, and welcoming new Latino families to an individual or a team. Whether this be at the parish-school level, through a diocesan-wide initiative, or in a separate organization collaborating with other entities, a strategic plan for Latino outreach, along with people dedicated to making connections, is the crucial combination.
With this in mind, the four-day Vámonos program, convened recruiters, marketing and enrollment coordinators, field consultants, and even principals and school administrators on campus, June 14-17. More than 80 people from 38 (arch)dioceses addressed inter-cultural competency, understanding differences among the various Latino cultures and generations, the madrinas marketing model and school finances. The goal was to provide a forum for sharing best practices, so that the individuals who are out in the field, promoting Catholic schools within the Latino community every day, could learn from one another.
There is no better sign of the momentum that the Catholic School Advantage Campaign is gaining than the growing interest we have seen in the summer conferences. As the Latino population continues to grow throughout the country, an increasing number of schools and (arch)dioceses are seeking strategies to reach out and serve Latino children and families better. Amid all of the research, analysis, and strategic planning that will continue to guide this evolving campaign, it is ultimately the work of leaders like those who attended the campus gatherings that will carry the mission forward.
This summer also reminded everyone how much work we have yet to do. May God continue to bless this work and the efforts of participants in all aspects of this campaign.