In my column two weeks ago, I outlined the great gift that our Catholic schools are for our parishes and Catholic communities. I described that we will begin an analysis of all the schools in our diocese in order to diagnose the problems and the opportunities in the Diocese of Green Bay to save, enhance and improve our schools. I also wrote that I would provide you an overview of some of our accomplishments in this area along with some of the challenges facing us.
Schools at Risk
It has come to my attention that, for various reasons, there are some challenges in several of our schools which need immediate attention by the local parishes, the school themselves and the diocese. Currently, in eight of our schools, I have asked diocesan officials and parish and school representatives to create task forces, called the “School Vitality Vested Partnership Program,” which will initiate focus on problem solving and opportunity identification.
There are five main challenges facing these schools: insufficient finances, enrollment issues, class sizes that are too small, public school competition and the lack of a development program. Their efforts to respond to these challenges either have begun or are now beginning in order to diligently address the problems and find viable solutions to the short-term challenges. They will also position themselves for longer term solutions to these challenges that will surface through the “Meitler” study.
Standards and Benchmark Revisions
At my directive, over the past few years, the Department of Education, along with teachers and administrators, have revised or upgraded the standards and learning benchmarks for our students in the areas of communications, arts, mathematics, religion, social studies and guidance.
These new standards are being included on the diocesan website and will eventually be included on the CESA 7’s Curriculum Companion site so that our teachers can develop detailed unit and lesson plans based directly on individual standards.
The plan is to then upload the standards into “PowerSchool,” the management software used in all of our schools, as a means of reporting grades and activities and communicating with parents regarding student’s performance. Work is now beginning on revising written standards in science, world languages, physical education, health, art and music.
Faith Integration Into All Classes
Woven throughout the standards are ways to integrate our Catholic faith into what is being taught in each discipline, not just in religion class. To help support this effort, the Department of Education’s religion certification program, a program that is required of all administrators, catechists and teachers, has a special class devoted to teaching how a teacher can integrate the faith into daily lessons no matter what subject they teach.
Assistant Director With Special Assignment
I have asked Dr. Joseph Bound, the Director of Education, to begin the search for a qualified candidate for an “Assistant Director of Education,” a position which was vacated by John Reetz, who recently retired. A nationwide search has just begun.
Beginning on July 1, 2016, this new hire will assist Dr. Bound in managing the Department of Education with a special focus on the upcoming consultancy project so that this person is very familiar with each and every school and system in order to facilitate the recommendations coming from the “Meitler” project.
Personal Outreach and Gratitude
I have been reaching out to the Catholic schools in the diocese by celebrating a daily Mass for the schools. Over the past two years I have celebrated Mass in nearly half of the Catholic schools in on-site visits. With every visit my appreciation of the children, their families, and this wonderful mission continues to grow.
My admiration goes to the pastors who are deeply involved in the school, and especially the principals, teachers, staffs and volunteers who continue to amaze me as I see their level of commitment and sacrifice. The generosity of our donors to schools is beginning to grow and has made such a difference whether the donations are large or small.
My gratitude is extended to our own staff and the continued efforts of Jane Scheuller, Sr. Kay Klackner, Dr. Joe Bound and their great team in the Department of Education, all of whom continue to step up.
Creating Schools of Discipleship
We have a lot of work to do but moving forward we need a much clearer focus and mission. We need to set a definite priority on our Catholic schools as the most intensive opportunities to effect the next generation of Catholics.
Our schools have the opportunity to become real schools of discipleship with academic excellence, strong religious and moral formation as followers of Jesus and members of the church and the service ministries flowing out of our schools and parishes.
We need to create stronger links to the parish and Sunday Mass with their families, as the family and the parish that pray together stay together. We must forge great relationships of reciprocity with our religious education program leaders and volunteers to enhance the collaborative effort of these two very important ministries of the church. After all, it’s about all of the children.
Many of these efforts are being financed through your generous gifts to the annual Bishop’s Appeal. Please know that I am most grateful for your generosity and support. Together we can work to rediscover “the diamonds in our own backyard.”