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ACE Contributes Insights to Stories on Meeting Catholic Schools' Needs

Written by William Schmitt on Monday, 11 March 2013.

Experts Quoted in Interviews as Major Media Explore Faith and Hope for Students

                Media have turned their attention to the Alliance for Catholic Education recently in writing and referencing stories and commentaries that reflect hope for Catholic schools.

                The Catholic School Advantage campaign, in which ACE is partnering with dioceses to help increase Latino enrollments, was featured Feb. 28, 2013, not only in the Washington Post “On Faith” section, but at Religion News Service online, as well..

                John Schoenig, director of ACE’s Program for K-12 Educational Access, was quoted in a “State Impact” story aired on National Public Radio stations in Indiana, as he helped a reporter explore implications of Indiana school voucher policies.

                Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, senior director of ACE’s Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, wrote a reflection in late February on Pope Benedict’s support for U.S. Catholic schools. That reflection was linked by the Catholic School Chronicle blog, Sam Rocha’s Patheos Catholic blog, and National Catholic Reporter’s morning briefing.


Unprecedented Study Asks, What's Next for Catholic Schools That Have Closed?

Written by William Schmitt on Thursday, 07 March 2013.

ACE Authors Say Handling Assets Wisely Can Help Today's Education Mission

Since thousands of Catholic schools around the United States have closed in recent decades, scholars at the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) are asking a difficult but important follow-up question: What is being done with all those vacated buildings?

The goal is to manage those important assets in a way that bolsters existing schools, according to a new book published by those scholars. Led by Catholic schools expert Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, Ph.D., senior director of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program in the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), the authors provide informed, common-sense guidance to dioceses for whom the legacy of vacant schools causes management dilemmas.

Building Assets: The Strategic Use of Closed Catholic Schools is an unprecedented aid for diocesan leaders exercising careful stewardship for the schools of yesterday and tomorrow, strengthening Catholic education as an instrument of the new evangelization. Leaders need to determine whether to lease or sell vacated assets, for example, and whether the new tenants, such as charter schools, risk making other local Catholic schools less sustainable.

"This book reveals the first major step in answering questions that have grown in urgency as the number of Catholic schools in the U.S. has sadly and sharply declined,” says Father Nuzzi. “Today’s decisions about re-purposing former schools need to take into account the Church’s overall mission, the diocese’s educational goals, and the unique circumstances of each location.”

Nuzzi and co-authors Jim Frabutt, Ph.D., and Anthony Holter, Ph.D., uncover statistics that could be representative of nationwide trends—and missed opportunities—worthy of consideration by supporters of Catholic education. The number of U.S. Catholic schools peaked at 13,292 in 1965 and was nearly cut in half by 2010, when it totaled 7,094       

The book, just released by ACE Press, reports the results of an unprecedented study that focused on ten Catholic archdioceses and dioceses. In these areas that had suffered significant closures between 1965 and 2010, only 25% of the former school facilities had been sold. Even more notably, 24% of the facilities were designated as “unknown,” meaning that diocesan officials could not verify or produce valid information regarding the current status of buildings listed in their prospectus of sites. Many assets, as the authors put it, have fallen “off the radar.”

Findings like this were made possible through surveys with which diocesan officials generously cooperated, but they also emerged from a complex investigatory process. Research for this book drew upon multiple information sources, including publicly available directory listings as well as numerous interviews and site visits around the country.


Pope Benedict's Support for Catholic Schools Will Be Lasting Legacy

Written by Fr. Ronald J. Nuzzi on Tuesday, 26 February 2013.

An Appreciation: "Soul of a Nation" Remarks Resonate from 2008

Popes do not often have high levels of engagement with the world of K-12 Catholic schooling, but Benedict XVI will be long remembered and often quoted by Catholic educators in the United States.

“How beautiful are the footsteps of those who bring good news” (Romans 10:15). Saint Paul wrote those words to Christians in Rome, but it was Pope Benedict XVI who spoke them to a group of Catholic educators. The occasion was a pastoral visit to the United States in April 2008.The venue was a conference hall at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.

pope-catholic-schoolsWith this biblical phrase first formulated by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 52:27) and then quoted by Saint Paul, Pope Benedict praised the dedication and commitment of Catholic educational leaders, including teachers, principals, diocesan superintendents, religious educators, university presidents, and professors.

It was a grand and blessed moment for all involved in the ministry of Catholic education, for such high praise does not often come from such a high office.

His Holiness offered additional words of support and encouragement to vowed religious women and men, urging them to stay committed to educational ministries and especially not to abandon Catholic schools, which he characterized as “an outstanding apostolate of hope.”

Such a resounding endorsement from the Pope himself served as a great inspiration.

Citing the sacrifices made by countless vowed religious women and the religious communities and congregations they founded to serve in Catholic schools, Benedict XVI called for a renewed sense of sacrifice in our day in order to meet the material, intellectual, and spiritual needs of millions of students. Addressing the financial challenges of many Catholic schools today, Benedict spoke forcefully about the future and a way forward:

“[Catholic schools] provide a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”

U.S. Catholic educators, especially those serving in K-12 Catholic schools, will never forget the Pope’s encouraging words and pastoral visit.

Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, Ph.D., is senior director of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program in the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education. A priest of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, Father Nuzzi is a nationally recognized author and speaker on the Catholic school system in the United States.

The remarks of Pope Benedict XVI about Catholic schools in April 2008 contributed inspiration--and the title--for the 2009 report of the Notre Dame Task Force on the Participation of Latino Children and Families in Catholic Schools. See the report, titled To Nurture the Soul of a Nation: Latino Families, Catholic Schools, and Educational Opportunity, which gave rise to the Alliance for Catholic Education's "Catholic School Advantage" campaign.

Catholic School Students in the News: Video from "Today"

Written by William Schmitt on Thursday, 14 February 2013.

Kids from St. Anthony School, Washington, D.C., Hosted by Speaker Boehner

Rep. John Boehner, Speaker of the House, invited two students of St. Anthony Catholic School in Washington, D.C., to be among his guests in the Speaker's Box at this week's State of the Union Address. The students, Lacy Joseph and Zuri Franklin, were interviewed for NBC's "Today" Show, and Boehner was interviewed by anchor Matt Lauer as well.

The principal of St. Anthony School is Michael Thomasian, a graduate of ACE's Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program. He is pictured in the middle of the accompanying photo.

Boehner, a strong supporter of Catholic schools, led the fight to reinstitute the Opportunity Scholarships program, a parental choice program in Washington, D.C., that allows public school students to receive financial support for attending private schools like St. Anthony to pursue greater educational opportunities.

The Speaker told Lauer that he hopes the message to fourth-graders Lacy and Zuri this week is that they can grow up to experience the American Dream. He has made it a tradition to invite students of inner-city schools as State of the Union guests.

ACE Connections Leverage Technology for Catholic School Kids

Written by William Schmitt on Thursday, 07 February 2013.

Enduring Community Links Learning in Massachusetts, Oklahoma Classrooms

A spirited exchange of learning between fourth graders at the Taylor Elementary School in Foxborough, MA, and seventh graders at Christ the King Catholic School in Oklahoma City, OK, came alive recently thanks to digital technology—Skype for connecting, an iPad for viewing, and Facebook networking between two friends who hatched the plan.

But this event also was powered by a more traditional set of connections—the ability of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) to form friendships and shape career paths that transcend not only distance, but also time. The event symbolized enduring ties between Erin Bergin Earnst, who graduated from ACE teaching in 1998, and Brittany Riesenberg, who drew inspiration from ACE teachers like Erin as a grade-school student. Brittany graduated last year from ACE's Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program (RLP).

"I'm a second-generation ACEr," says Brittany, who now teaches middle school religion at Christ the King. That's the Oklahoma school where Erin taught as part of the ACE 3 cohort of volunteers, about 15 years ago.

Erin stayed in teaching for a time after her ACE formation and then became a professional development consultant, working closely with teachers in areas like educational technology and social media. Now she works for an education non-profit in Massachusetts. Erin and her husband, Collin, have a son in second grade and a daughter in fourth grade—the grade she used to teach when she was an ACE teacher in Oklahoma City.

A few years ago, recalling her Oklahoma City days fondly, Erin started communicating with the ACE teachers—and some former ACE students—in that town. Brittany became one of her contacts through ACE's Facebook network because she came to teach at Christ the King and enrolled in the Remick Leadership Program. She had been feeling a gravitational pull toward the field of education and toward Notre Dame since childhood.

"I was in middle school at Christ the King when Erin was teaching fourth grade. I got to know her, and I had other ACErs as teachers in grade school and high school," explains Brittany. "I saw their love for learning and the evidence that their faith was important to them. They inspired me to be a teacher."

Brittany aspires to leadership roles in Catholic education, but right now she's enjoying teaching religion and anticipates using her leadership skills in school athletics programs within the Oklahoma City Archdiocese. During her M.A. studies in the RLP 9 cohort, her action research project focused on grade-school coaching, and she earned certification to conduct workshops as part of ACE's Play Like a Champion Today program.

For her part, Erin was happy to be back in contact with Brittany. "I remembered her as an amazing student with a great volunteer spirit," she says. When school resumed in January this year, Erin's daughter's class was studying U.S. geography and was about to study the Southwest.

Erin immediately thought of Oklahoma City—how good it would be for her daughter (and the whole class) to connect to the place where she had taught, and how a partnership with Brittany's class might allow students in the two cities to see and hear each other via Skype.

When Brittany agreed on Facebook, Erin approached her daughter's teacher with the idea. That teacher also embraced the attempt to link up Foxborough and Oklahoma City. Erin came to class on Jan. 10 with her iPad, ready to use Skype. Brittany had worked with her technology-coordinator colleague to enable Skyping at her school.

The students in both schools enjoyed a lively conversation, with the fourth graders asking the older kids questions like, "Do you have tornados?" and "Do you have Pizza Huts in Oklahoma?" Erin says of her daughter's class, "It made what they were studying come alive."

Students of today benefited from student-teacher relationships, commitments to education, and varied expressions of those commitments that had been forged years ago in ACE—still evolving, still innovating. Students in Oklahoma and Foxborough may continue to benefit as both schools consider possible Skype connections in the future.

For Brittany, the connection to ND that she made early on as a student will continue to have a variety of positive effects. "I got engaged at the Notre Dame-Oklahoma football game this season," she points out.

Erin and Brittany's connection is a great example of how technology has helped to strengthen the power of the ACE network and support the unique calling to serve through education, says Erin. "It's a credit to the lasting relationships that have been built through the ACE programs. There's an enduring legacy from the ACE experience."

Photo: Erin Bergin Earnst and her iPad, tapping into technology and enduring ACE connections, helped students in Erin's daughter's fourth grade class learn along with a far-away RLP grad's seventh graders.