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In the Spotlight: Laura Knaus

on Thursday, 10 May 2012.

sacredheart smallThe Holy Spirit won't take "No" for an answer. Just ask Laura Knaus. Early in her career as a teacher in Chicago's inner-city, she felt the nudge toward administration. But she explored other opportunities in education first. Still, the call to administration beckoned, and eventually she became principal of Sacred Heart School in Lincoln, Nebraska—and landed in the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program (RLP) at ACE.

Hearing Laura speak about Catholic schools reveals why the Spirit must have led her to a position of leadership. "The Church speaks of Her schools in such a beautiful way—as places that foster the growth of minds and souls, that help students grow intellectually, socially and spiritually...[They are] 'at the heart of the Church.'"

And not only that, Laura says, but Catholic schools are at the heart of society has a whole. Thus, her commitment is "to fully participate in the movement to strengthen and restore our Catholic schools, especially those that serve under-served populations."

As principal, Laura brings that commitment to her Diocese, staff, parents, and students. (One example, as pictured above: She has instituted "Kingdom-Builder Awards." Each quarter, one student per grade is recognized for this honor.) She also brings what she's learned in RLP, such as professional development for her staff, and modified policies to move her school forward for the benefit of its children. And Laura is using her Action Research at Sacred Heart "to revamp our approach to parent involvement and to more effectively collaborate with parents, who are the primary educators of their children."

This leader in the Alliance for Catholic Education concludes, "I believe wholeheartedly in what ACE and ACE-modeled programs are accomplishing across our nation. Bringing awareness to [this work] is critical to the expansion and sustained success of the ACE mission." We are grateful for the central role Laura and others like her are playing to strengthen the heart of the Church--and the soul of our nation.

Education Journalist Scrutinizes "Myths" in CREO Seminar

Written by William Schmitt on Tuesday, 08 May 2012.

John Merrow Tells ACE/IEI Audience Clearer View of Goals is Needed

Many of the judgments Americans commonly accept about our educational system are myths, according to an award-winning education journalist who addressed an Institute for Educational Initiatives (IEI) audience on April 30.

Veteran reporter John Merrow, whose stories appear on the PBS NewsHour and a range of other media, critiqued a list of myths—and spotlighted numerous problems in schooling—during his lecture, which capped the 2011-2012 Center for Research on Educational Opportunity (CREO) Seminar series.

"I wish, after 37 years of reporting, I could be optimistic [about the future of education]," he said, but little real progress will be made unless strong leaders and the whole nation engage in a sweeping "conversation about what we want for our kids" and the best ways to achieve those goals.

On the subject of today's educational myths, Merrow rejected the notion that the biggest challenge in schooling is an "achievement gap" between rich and poor students as defined by test results.

Focusing a school's efforts on raising those test scores ignores the fact that the problem grows out of less-recognized phenomena in society, he said—an "opportunity gap" reflected in schools of differing quality, an "expectations gap" derived from asking little of students, a "leadership gap" fed by a lack of the courage to solve more systemic problems, and an "outcomes gap" that is measured and addressed statistically and simplistically.

Among other points he made:
• Charter schools are not a big part of the solution for America's education problems, although they could offer some answers—"I'm not so sure about profit-making charter schools."
• Over the past 40 years, the average teacher salary, adjusted for inflation, has risen less than 1% annually.
• "America's children are the most tested in the world.... Oftentimes, we're testing our kids because we're trying to keep track of the teachers." Americans spend too little of the education dollar to see if their expenditure of $12,000 a year per student has worked well, he said.
• Schools must realize their purpose is to prepare students for their careers and for life, not just college, Merrow said. He noted that Notre Dame ACE Academies speak of preparing students for college and heaven. "That's cool," he said. "It's not how I would phrase it, but it's a wonderful construct" because it reflects a deep, long-term purpose.

Merrow added that his audience shouldn't go away from the talk feeling too distressed. After his visit to Notre Dame, including meetings with University President-Emeritus Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C, and leaders of IEI units such as CREO and the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) who are working to change things, "I'm going to go back feeling a lot better."

CREO director Mark Berends, a distinguished sociologist of education at Notre Dame and a Fellow of the Institute for Educational initiatives (IEI), called Merrow "the premier influential, thorough, thoughtful education reporter in the United States."

In the Spotlight: Roseanne Villanueva

on Thursday, 03 May 2012.

TucsonInTheSpotlightMay2012 SmallOne never knows what brings Catholic school principals to their positions.

When Roseanne Villanueva moved to Tucson seven years ago, she says, "I didn't know about Catholic education. I didn't go to Catholic school. I didn't think I could afford it, and it wasn't something I really believed in."

So when she enrolled her two youngest (of four) sons in the preschool at St. John the Evangelist, she was initially happy just to have a place for them to go.

Within the first month, though, "I noticed a difference between the two older boys, who were in public school, and the two younger ones. The two little ones were talking about God in a way that I never had heard little kids talk, and I hadn't realized that could happen at that age. I liked the way they treated each other and the topics they brought up to talk about."

Naturally, Roseanne brought her older children to St. John the Evangelist as well. A teacher in a public school at the time, she asked the principal to keep her in mind for any future openings. That very spring, a position became available, and despite the pay cut on top of the expense of sending all four boys to Catholic school, her family decided to make the switch.

This teacher who once had never considered Catholic education was now teaching in a Catholic school--and loving it. She especially appreciated subbing in religion classes: "You learn about something when you teach religion in Catholic school," she says, "and I learned about my faith when I taught it. It's still one of my favorite things, to get to sub religion if a teacher is out."

Roseanne became principal of St John the Evangelist, a Notre Dame ACE Academy, in 2009. About it she says, "There's no school anywhere where the teachers are getting the kind of training our teachers are getting. The quality of education has gone up here. All the resources have made such a difference for the kids." Roseanne also points to the collaborative culture of the Academies, where the principals of the three schools can turn to each other and teachers who once worked in near isolation can share ideas, as a major factor in the success of St. John the Evangelist.

This is how the Holy Spirit works. Under Roseanne's leadership, the school where she first enrolled two of her children simply because it was a good place for them has gone from struggling to thriving. Under her leadership, the school about which she initially knew so little is now on a steep upward trajectory with enrollment increasing, school culture growing stronger and more defined, and student achievement scores up as much as two years in some classes. This is how the Holy Spirit works. Thanks be to God!

Research Award for Director of Notre Dame ACE Academies

Written by William Schmitt on Wednesday, 02 May 2012.

Dr. Christian Dallavis Honored by AERA Catholic education Scholars

Christian Dallavis, director of the Notre Dame ACE Academies initiative, has been honored for best dissertation by the Catholic Education special interest group (SIG) of theAmerican Educational Research Association (AERA).

The SIG, which brings together scholars from around the world who conduct research in the field of Catholic education, bestowed the award on Dallavis as the group gathered at the AERA annual conference, held April 13-17, 2012, in Vancouver, Canada.

Dallavis's dissertation, titled "Extending theories of culturally responsive pedagogy: An ethnographic examination of Catholic schooling in an immigrant community in Chicago," explored the capacity for Catholic schools to be culturally responsive to their students as ethnicity in a community changed over time.

He studied a particular Chicago-area Catholic school during two time periods—its early days after its founding in 1903 to serve the local Polish immigrant community and its recent days serving a community that has become virtually all Hispanic.

His ethnographic and historical research showed that the key tenets of what scholars now call "culturally responsive pedagogy" were present in the school during its early days. "Polish culture, literature, language, and history were at the heart of the school, right alongside American history and literature, English, and religion," Dallavis commented in a recent interview. But contemporary teachers don't emphasize the home culture of their students in the classroom in the same ways today.

This shift is symptomatic of a broader trend in American classrooms in recent years, as the minority composition of student bodies has increased dramatically but the teaching force has not. Dallavis said his study "identifies missed opportunities" for teachers and principals in Catholic schools to enrich cultural connections with students, because a growing body of research suggests that culturally responsive teaching is an effective approach to improving minority student achievement. Dallavis contends that faith-based schools have a unique opportunity to be culturally responsive, because faith is a critical part of the home culture for families who choose Catholic schools.

"Many Catholic schools were extraordinarily culturally responsive to the immigrant communities from Europe that founded the schools a century ago. Today, Catholic schools ought to look to that legacy to prepare teachers and principals to be culturally responsive to today's children in similar ways," Dallavis said, summarizing the take-away points from the dissertation. The research was part of his graduate work at the University of Michigan, where he earned a joint Ph.D. in English and Education.

The study received the SIG's inaugural dissertation award; the SIG was authorized by the AERA only in 2010, an act affirming the validity of Catholic education as a field of scholarly research. The SIG is chaired by Shane Martin, professor and dean of the Loyola Marymount University School of Education.

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Chilean Presidential Candidate Discusses Education at ACE

on Monday, 30 April 2012.

It's not every day one gets to meet the man who may be Chile's next president. But given their vested interest in that beautiful country (see ChACE), folks in the Alliance for Catholic Education got to do just that.

Claudio-Orrega-StoryWith his wife Francisca, Claudio Orrego, a mayor of Santiago and presidential candidate for 2014, sat down with members of ACE faculty and staff to discuss the state of education in his country. Over lunch hosted by ACE co-founder and Director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives (IEI) Fr. Tim Scully, Mayor Orrego outlined Chile's current economic and educational ups and the downs.

"[Chile] has grown and prospered," the Mayor said, "but not all have benefited equally."

In fact, though statistically the country ranks about average in terms of global economies, just 10% of the population holds the nation's wealth. 90 percent live on less—-in some cases, much less—-than $8,000/year. Mayor Orrego calls this the Tyranny of Averages.

Given the way education is structured, this tyranny has closed many school doors to Chile's poorest children, an injustice that has brought thousands of protesting students to the streets in the past year.

The message hasn't been lost on Mr. Orrego. Under his leadership as mayor of Peñalolén, Santiago, per pupil investment is on the rise, as are student test scores and the number of students enrolling in higher education, which has grown from just 8% in 2007 to a whopping 63% in 2011.

"Our goal," says the popular politician, "must be to ensure that more people can share in the benefits of living in Santiago." As he fights for social justice there, so he fights for it across the country. "Any positive change in any also a positive change for Chile."

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