Neenah/Menasha school system raises eyebrows
TCCES invited to share success secrets at Boston symposium
By Sam Lucero
ALLOUEZ -- If imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery, the Twin City Catholic Educational System (TCCES) is in flattery heaven.
The school system - which consists of three K-8 schools, one middle school and one high school in Neenah and Menasha - is one of five U.S. Catholic school programs chosen to showcase their efforts at a national symposium in Boston June 26-29.
The symposium, Selected Programs for Improving Catholic Education (SPICE), is sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association and Boston College. The theme is "Designs for Success: New Configurations for Catholic Schools." All five school programs (individual schools and school systems) offer innovative practices that they will share with their peers in Boston.
Three TCCES representatives will travel to Boston next week. They include Michael Sullivan, TCCES president, Monica Bausom, Seton Middle School principal, and Ann Engelhard, TCCES director of advancement. They will discuss strategic planning, enrollment growth and retention, progressive business practices and marketing strategies.
"A big part of what we're going to talk about is the actual process of joining the schools and working with the parishes," said Engelhard. "We'll discuss the beginning of the system, how we slowly aligned our salary schedules and parish subsidies, and working with the parishes to make sure there was an equitable share (of expenses) for everyone. We will also focus on the advancement effort, recruiting, fund-raising, our foundations and a lot of the third-source income that was required."
The creation of TCCES dates back about 20 years, said Engelhard, when Seton Middle School began. "It was four parishes that came together and the high school was not part of it originally," she said.
The parishes - St. Patrick, St. Gabriel, St. Margaret Mary and St. Mary - "were all having issues with dwindling enrollment and not being able to address middle school education needs of students," said Engelhard. "Five years ago, it was dwindling enrollment that got the schools talking and working to include the high school."
Although the framework for a school system was created nearly two decades ago, it was only recently that all schools bought into the system approach, said Bausom, a 17-year veteran with TCCES.
"The system came together about 20 years ago this year, but we worked out as individual parishes. We've gotten into a system vision and mission," she said. "We all talk system now. At the beginning, Seton was the only true system school. ... We had a budget given to us from parishes and it was not overseen by one parish. It's been a real long journey but a very fruitful one."
One of the benefits of a system-wide approach to Catholic education in the Twin Cities of Neenah and Menasha is a standardized instruction and testing. All three elementary schools use the same curriculum and students enter the middle school at the same level.
"We're not overlapping or teaching the same things at any of the three levels," said Bausom. Teachers at all the schools have opportunities to network and share their ideas and
With updated diocesan curriculum in the works, Bausom said TCCES is anxious to incorporate the changes. "I could see us doing more things as a system when it comes to curriculum for Catholic identity," she said, noting that faculty and staff have held system-wide retreats for the past three years.
Sullivan said it is an honor for TCCES to be chosen as a presenter at the Boston conference. "This distinction reflects the efforts of the many people who have worked tirelessly to make the formation of our integrated school system a successful reality."
This is the second national recognition TCCES has received in the last three years. In 2005, TCCES elementary schools received a "Catholic Schools for Tomorrow Award" for innovations in excellence. The award was presented for the schools' "Let the Spirit Move You" program, which is a faith-based, five-component activity and nutrition program.
To learn more about TCCES, go to www.tcces.k12.wi.us. To learn more about the SPICE initiative go to www.ncea.org/services/spice.asp.