First-year Catholic school principals learn about faith integration

By Steve Wideman | For The Compass | February 21, 2014

New Administrator’s Training Workshops funded through Bishop’s Appeal

NEW LONDON — The idea seemed simple, but nonetheless an eye-opener for Annie Koehnke, principal at Most Precious Blood School in New London.

Anne Koehnke, first-year principal at Most Precious Blood School in New London, helps first grade student  Ava Peters make  a Valentine “candy-ka-bob” during a math exercise. (Steve Wideman | For The Compass)
Anne Koehnke, first-year principal at Most Precious Blood School in New London, helps first grade student Ava Peters make a Valentine “candy-ka-bob” during a math exercise. (Steve Wideman | For The Compass)

Have teachers fill out a quick form reflecting on their week’s work to infuse the Catholic faith and technology into basic courses like English, math, history and language arts.

“It’s wonderful and really helps our staff focus on making faith integration and technology part of our core subjects,” said Koehnke, who is half way through her first year as principal at the 3K-fourth grade school.

The idea of teacher reflections came from another first-year school principal during regular gatherings of all first-year principals and school administrators in the Green Bay Diocese.

The gatherings are part of a four-session program, known as the “New Administrator’s Training Workshops,” funded, in part, through an estimated $1 million allocated annually to the diocesan Department of Education from the Bishop’s Appeal.2014-Bishop's-Appeal-logo.jpgweb2

In 2013, the department received 19 percent of the $5.4 million collected in the diocesan-wide Bishop’s Appeal.

“The Bishop’s Appeal is a large part of the Education Department budget,” said John Reetz, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools. “The New Administrator’s Training Workshops include principals who are new to our diocese, or are first-year principals from within the diocese. We encourage principals to participate in a year-long series of workshops designed to bring them up to speed and acclimate them to the kinds of things we want them to be aware of as instructional and spiritual leaders in our Catholic schools.”

Currently, nine new principals are participating in the workshops.

Spiritual guidance is a key element in training new principals, Reetz said.

“We talk to the principal about the fact they are the spiritual leaders of their schools and are looked upon to provide that spiritual presence as they get out of their offices and into the hallways and classrooms and engage in dialogue with parents,” Reetz said.

Faith integration can be challenging in some classes, but Reetz and others in the training workshops are always ready with suggestions to solve problems, said Koehnke, who taught first and second grade at Most Precious Blood before becoming principal.

“One thing we have to do as a principal or administrator is put a Catholic identity into our school not only in religious class, but into our math, science, art, social studies, reading and other classes,” Koehnke said. “John Reetz certainly helps us figure out how to do that, whether it is simply reading a story from the Bible or using Bible characters in math story problems.”

Kyle Kapinos, who is in his first year as principal at St. Clare School in Wrightstown, said academics hold a high priority for students, but learning their faith is essential.

“When the students leave here, we hope they have a better idea of what it means to be a Catholic or Christian in everyday society,” Kapinos said.

He said it’s easier to spread the faith “when you have a good understanding of it and the training provided to principals by the diocese helps us do so.”

Kapinos said he is surprised by the amount of resources available from the Department of Education for school principals and administrators.

“It’s amazing how much stuff is out there for first-year principals. You never feel like you are alone or by yourself on an island,” Kapinos said.

Reetz said that in addition to stressing the role as spiritual leaders of their school, new principals are updated on emerging practices in education, department services available for teacher and school board training and marketing and development workshops.

“We also make sure they have a good grasp on Catholic school finance and the way a budget is constructed for Catholic schools, which is certainly different than in public schools,” Reetz said. “There can be as many as 12 parishes contributing to a school campus, plus tuition that parents pay and third–source funding. We encourage them to develop long-term financing campaigns and endowments,” Reetz said.

Ideally, Reetz said, the training program for new principals will “put everybody on the same page while taking into account the autonomy needed to address local school issues.”

“We’ve got 60 schools and almost 10,000 students enrolled, so it’s hard to put together a one-size-fits-all training model,” Reetz said. “We do make sure any new school policy is not contrary to church teachings and not in conflict with existing diocesan policy.”

Steve Thiele, who is in his first year as principal at St. Francis of Assisi School in Manitowoc, after nine years teaching sixth grade science at Valders Middle School, said the training program goes beyond introducing new principals to policies and procedures within the diocesan education system.

“We also get to know the people in the diocese; that there are people who can help us,” Thiele said. “It’s also a good time for the new principals to learn from each other. It’s a really good opportunity to network. John Reetz facilitates that quite well through his program.”

Kapinos agreed, saying there is one common thread among the new principals.

“We all have the same challenges,” he said.

“It’s very helpful to bounce ideas off each other to see what is working for others,” said Koehnke.

Thiele said the training program boils down to what will benefit the students.

“What the training program is doing is helping us to meet Bishop Ricken’s call to strengthen our schools and our relationship with the parishes,” he said. “By giving us the resources it helps us, as Catholic school administrators, to be successful in our schools. Our goal as a Catholic school is to make disciples of the children. By making disciples it strengthens our parishes. It’s a continuous cycle. The training program makes us strong administrators, which helps us make strong schools and hopefully vibrant parishes.”

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