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Catholic School Champions

Catholic School Champion: Sister Mary Willette, SSND

on Wednesday, 07 March 2012.

SrWilletteWithChildren SmallSister Mary Willette is an expert at creating a welcoming school environment for Latino families. She did that--with great success--for nearly a decade as principal of the former San Miguel Middle School in Minneapolis.

Well before becoming principal, the School Sister of Notre Dame believed strongly in responding to urgent needs. But the belief took on a particular shape while she was studying to become a licensed administrator. "After I finished my studies," Sr. Mary says, "I had a deep desire to be in ministry with economically challenged families and students who struggle academically."

The desire led her to San Miguel, where her focus became the school's many Latino immigrant families. There she saw that "serving the immigrant population is one of those [urgent] needs," she says.

Sr. Mary developed many strategies for welcoming and enfolding Latino families into the school. Among them, she actively involved parents and guardians in their child/ren's education, offering conferences four times a year (with nearly 100% participation!) and meetings on topics pertinent to raising middle school children. Sr. Mary also trained her teachers in culturally responsive techniques and strategies for teaching second language learners.

Along the way, she learned many important lessons: "Integrate Latino values and history into the curriculum and the school environment rather than just celebrating specific events," she says. "Educate benefactors, volunteers, families and students, teachers and staff regarding the value of including Latinos in the school; encourage them to get involved with comprehensive immigration reform."

Such strategies and lessons worked well for the students at San Miguel, closing the achievement gap and sending them well-prepared to high school. Though the school shut its doors in June 2011 due to insufficient funds, its influence—and that of Sr. Mary—lives on. According to a farewell letter from the school's leaders:

"Our alumni provide the most tangible evidence of the fulfillment of our mission. Over 92% of students who graduated in the past four years from San Miguel are still in high school and progressing toward graduation. Many graduates are the first in their families to complete high school in the United States. San Miguel students and graduates represent a vital bridge, connecting their families to the realization of the American dream."

We congratulate Sr. Mary Willette for the integral role she has played in the lives of her students. And we pray God's richest blessings on her in her new role as coordinator of the School Sisters of Notre Dame Generalate House and Local Community in Rome, Italy.

Catholic School Champion: Antonio Ortiz

Written by William Schmitt on Friday, 20 January 2012.

Antonio Ortiz, a graduate of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) who has embodied a commitment to Catholic schools throughout his career, will become president of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, effective June 25, 2012.

The school's board of trustees and presidential search committee announced recently that Tony had been elected to succeed Rev. Jim Garland, S.J. The announcement is headlined at the school's website.

Cristo Rey Jesuit, founded in 1996, enrolls more than 500 students. Located in the Pilsen/Little Village neighborhood, it serves low-income Latino communities. The school is part of a distinctive network of Cristo Rey schools that offer a college preparatory education to children for whom other private schools are not a financial option. Indeed, the Cristo Rey school model started at this Chicago site, and there are now 24 Cristo Rey schools across the country, of which Cristo Rey Jesuit High School is the largest.

"If you look at the education and experience that have prepared me for this very important responsibility, I would have to credit Notre Dame—both my undergraduate studies and the ACE Program—as having inspired me to focus on the mission of Catholic schools," Tony commented following the Cristo Rey announcement. "As enthusiastic as I am about the opportunity, I'm also a little bit nervous to be the first lay president. However, I know I have the ACE Program, resources, and ACE Advocates to lean on for support and prayers!"

Tony previously served at Cristo Rey Jesuit for ten years, with titles including Associate Principal and Director of Foundation and Corporate Relations. His experience in the ACE Teaching Fellows program, during which he earned a Master of Education degree, included teaching for two years at a Catholic grade school in the border area of Mission, Texas. He graduated from ACE in 1999 as a member of the program's fifth cohort.

In 2010, Tony received ACE's Michael Pressley Award for Excellence in Catholic Education.

"I was raised in a family where my parents emphasized Catholic education as our absolute number one priority," said Tony in his recent email. "My experience in the ACE Program shaped my value system, work ethic, and spiritual life. I am now eager for the opportunity to return and continue advancing [Cristo Rey Jesuit HS] as one of the most important works of hope and opportunity for so many families who simply want the best education for their children."

Tony was among the ACErs profiled in the 2010-2011 ACE Annual Report. At that time, he was serving as director for partnerships and outreach at the Big Shoulders Fund. The fund provides millions of dollars annually for scholarships, instructional equipment, and facility improvements in Catholic schools in Chicago's neediest areas.

In the profile, Tony described his vision of ACE's future—providing more and more graduates the opportunity to enter leadership positions in education and public policy and giving more children access to the transformational benefits of excellent schools.

"The most important expression of ACE's mission," he said, "will be when traditionally underserved students, who have benefited from ACE teachers, reach their personal and professional dreams, as well as improving the quality of life for families and communities."

Tony holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from Loyola University Chicago. He and his wife Brenda have two children, Gabriela and Antonio.

Using the Cristo Rey model adopted in other cities, Cristo Rey Jesuit utilizes the Corporate Internship Program. All students participate in this work-study program, through which they work five days per month in entry-level jobs in Chicago firms. In this way, they fund a majority of the cost of their education.

ACE congratulates Tony and joins in prayers for his continued success in service to young people through Catholic education.
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Photo above: Antonio Ortiz at center.

ACE Graduate to Serve as President of Cristo Rey Jesuit HS in Chicago

Written by William Schmitt on Thursday, 19 January 2012.

Antonio Ortiz, a graduate of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) who has embodied a commitment to Catholic schools throughout his career, will become president of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, effective June 25, 2012.

The school's board of trustees and presidential search committee announced recently that Tony had been elected to succeed Rev. Jim Garland, S.J. The announcement is headlined at the school's website.

Cristo Rey Jesuit, founded in 1996, enrolls more than 500 students. Located in the Pilsen/Little Village neighborhood, it serves low-income Latino communities. The school is part of a distinctive network of Cristo Rey schools that offer a college preparatory education to children for whom other private schools are not a financial option. Indeed, the Cristo Rey school model started at this Chicago site, and there are now 24 Cristo Rey schools across the country, of which Cristo Rey Jesuit High School is the largest.

"If you look at the education and experience that have prepared me for this very important responsibility, I would have to credit Notre Dame—both my undergraduate studies and the ACE Program—as having inspired me to focus on the mission of Catholic schools," Tony commented following the Cristo Rey announcement. "As enthusiastic as I am about the opportunity, I'm also a little bit nervous to be the first lay president. However, I know I have the ACE Program, resources, and ACE Advocates to lean on for support and prayers!"

Tony previously served at Cristo Rey Jesuit for ten years, with titles including Associate Principal and Director of Foundation and Corporate Relations. His experience in the ACE Teaching Fellows program, during which he earned a Master of Education degree, included teaching for two years at a Catholic grade school in the border area of Mission, Texas. He graduated from ACE in 1999 as a member of the program's fifth cohort.

In 2010, Tony received ACE's Michael Pressley Award for Excellence in Catholic Education.

"I was raised in a family where my parents emphasized Catholic education as our absolute number one priority," said Tony in his recent email. "My experience in the ACE Program shaped my value system, work ethic, and spiritual life. I am now eager for the opportunity to return and continue advancing [Cristo Rey Jesuit HS] as one of the most important works of hope and opportunity for so many families who simply want the best education for their children."

Tony was among the ACErs profiled in the 2010-2011 ACE Annual Report. At that time, he was serving as director for partnerships and outreach at the Big Shoulders Fund. The fund provides millions of dollars annually for scholarships, instructional equipment, and facility improvements in Catholic schools in Chicago's neediest areas.

In the profile, Tony described his vision of ACE's future—providing more and more graduates the opportunity to enter leadership positions in education and public policy and giving more children access to the transformational benefits of excellent schools.

"The most important expression of ACE's mission," he said, "will be when traditionally underserved students, who have benefited from ACE teachers, reach their personal and professional dreams, as well as improving the quality of life for families and communities."

Tony holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from Loyola University Chicago. He and his wife Brenda have two children, Garbiela and Antonio.

Using the Cristo Rey model adopted in other cities, Cristo Rey Jesuit utilizes the Corporate Internship Program. All students participate in this work-study program, through which they work five days per month in entry-level jobs in Chicago firms. In this way, they fund a majority of the cost of their education.

ACE congratulates Tony and joins in prayers for his continued success in service to young people through Catholic education.

2011 Pressley Award Winners Announced

on Thursday, 02 June 2011.


ACE Advocates is honored to recognize Joe Womac (ACE 7) and Norma Nelson (ACE 10) with this year’s Michael Pressley Award for Excellence in Catholic Education.  Additionally, we are honored to present the first Michael Pressley Award for a Promising Scholar in the Education Field to Peter Miller (ACE 4).

The Pressley Awards are presented annually during the ACE Commencement Exercises to honor the life and work of Dr. Michael Pressley, the inaugural academic director of ACE. Dr. Pressley was a prodigious and world-renowned scholar in the field of education who lost his battle with cancer in 2006.

Catholic School Champion: This Dad Shows Up

on Tuesday, 03 May 2011.

For Mark Kocovski, supporting Catholic schools goes beyond his commitment as an ACE teacher: he wants to ensure a strong learning foundation for his children.
 
People eagerly camp out for concert tickets or great holiday sales; why not something as vital as your child’s moral formation?  When it came time to enroll his first child in school, Mark wanted to guarantee his daughter a spot in the brand new Catholic school opened by his parish in Granger, Indiana. His was the first car in the St. Pius parking lot at 5:30 am, long before anyone else arrived for the 8:30 registration call. The result: Mary Kate Kocovski became the first preschooler at St. Pius X Catholic School.
 
In the three years following, Mark has shown that same level of commitment to supporting his children (2 now attend) and their teachers through his regular volunteering and participation in their school. The kindergarten class is used to seeing Mary Kate's dad along with other class moms help out with centers; the preschoolers have welcomed him for such activities as Thanksgiving harvests and classroom fiestas. Mark's love for learning in the context of faith, strengthened by his two years as a middle school teacher in ACE, continues to grow and find more avenues for development with his children (Mary Kate, 6, Caroline, 4, and Luke 18 mos).
 
"Eruditio et fides," learning and faith, reads the brick donated to St. Pius by Mark and his wife, MJ. Every one of Mark's 21 years of education have been in classrooms of Catholic institutions, from kindergarten through law school. His professional life has led him back to his alma mater to continue the Catholic mission of the University of Notre Dame through his leadership in the office of Human Resources.  “Catholic schools,” Kocovski says, “can be an option for everyone. It’s about where you put your priorities.” His are clear. He and his wife work to make sure their kids can enjoy the Catholic school advantage. Their children will always attend Catholic schools, the couple says, and Mark will do all he can to make sure those schools are excellent in every way.

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