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Catholic Education Journal Focuses on ACE Leadership in Action Research

Written by William Schmitt on Monday, 12 March 2012.

Remick Leadership Program Faculty and Students Spotlight Problem-Solving

An article by Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) faculty members in the latest issue of Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice makes the case for "action research" as crucial to formation in ACE's Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program and "at the center of a vocation in Catholic education."

The online journal's March 2012 edition, just posted this week, also includes three examples of action research completed by participants in the Remick Leadership Program (RLP) curriculum. They reflect the value of Catholic school leaders who are prepared to solve problems through insights from both sound data and the school's mission.

This exploration of action research in the journal's current issue is summed up by the article, "Mission Driven and Data Informed Leadership," written by Anthony Holter, Ph.D., and Jim Frabutt, Ph.D., who are members of the RLP faculty. They present three problem-solving research products generated through the RLP program—one on attracting Latino families to Catholic schools, one on addressing children's literacy needs in grades 4 through 8, and one on building a Catholic school's sense of community.

"We believe that action research is an integral skill set and response to the leadership challenges manifest in Catholic education today," Frabutt and Holter write in their article. "By embracing the practice of action research—systematic inquiry conducted by educators—Catholic educational leaders are better equipped and more empowered to act in ways that support the Catholic mission, always informed by the careful and strategic use of data."

The new generation of Catholic school leaders must have "the skills, dispositions, and mindsets" that go with action research to help them confront the many challenges now inherent in their positions, the authors say. These leaders can reshape Catholic education if they accept the call to use data rigorously for solving problems and improving their schools as communities of faith and learning.

Noting that many educators serving in Catholic schools see their work as a vocation, Frabutt and Holter point out that the systematic, problem-solving, and participatory characteristics of action research are good fits with the call to make every school a strong, effective community that seeks the success of every learner.

Driven by that vision, the Remick Leadership Program—which is the largest graduate program for Catholic educational leaders in the country—places a greater emphasis on action research than is typical among principal preparation programs, say Frabutt and Holter. The curriculum features a four-course sequence in action research, and the master's degree candidates all make presentations about their action research projects at the program's Mary Ann Remick Leadership Conference, held every summer at the University of Notre Dame.

The Catholic Education journal's March edition presents summaries of three action research projects from the program.

"Sustaining the Heart: Attracting Latino Families to Inner-City Catholic Schools" was conducted by RLP graduate Thom Suhy, who is principal at Saint Mary of Carmel School in Dallas.

"Response to Student Literacy Needs at Mother of Sorrows Catholic School" was conducted by graduate Jennifer Beltramo, who is principal at Mother of Sorrows School in Los Angeles.

"Fostering Community through the House System at Most Holy Trinity Catholic School" was conducted by Michael Brennan, an RLP graduate who directs the Rochester Catholic Schools system in Rochester, Minn.

Thom Suhy recalled in a recent interview that the action research component was "one reason I was excited about the Remick Leadership Program." He said he and his classmates shared the hope that a well-done project focused on an actual problem "would be something that would not only impact your own school but help other schools as well."

He said his research aimed first to understand the real reasons why many members of the Hispanic community were not inclined to send their children to Catholic school, and second to tailor a marketing plan by which his school could address those reasons. Suhy learned that one reason is that, given the cost of tuition, many Latinos did not consider the possibility of tuition assistance because "they think it's asking for a handout."

As a result, Saint Mary of Carmel School has been focusing more of its recruitment conversations on the fact that tuition assistance makes sense for the school as a Catholic community. This understanding has been communicated by Suhy himself in many one-on-one meetings and has spread through word-of-mouth in the Latino community, he says.

The marketing plan that resulted from his action research has brought the school's enrollment close to its maximum level, with the enrollment growth being predominantly Hispanic and including children from a wider radius around the school.

All Catholic school leaders want to base their problem-solving efforts on good research, but the RLP approach stresses "looking at research where action was taken—things were actually enacted" and results were gained, says Suhy. Action is crucial to the vocation of Catholic education: "The only way we're going to have an impact on these schools, to make them excellent and keep them from closing, is by being active in the process of making them better."

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