Diocese unveils new Catholic schools plan

Strategic, mission plan focuses on missionary discipleship; new superintendent announced

ALLOUEZ — Catholic schools in the Diocese of Green Bay are embarking on a new strategic mission plan. It embraces the focus on missionary discipleship that Bishop David Ricken outlined for the diocese in his six-year plan for the new evangelization, “Disciples on the Way,” in 2014.

The strategic plan was announced by Bishop Ricken at a gathering with Catholic school leaders at St. Mary Catholic Middle School in Neenah Jan. 25.

Bishop David Ricken announces the Diocese of Green Bay’s new Strategic and Mission Plan for Catholic Schools Jan. 25 at St. Mary Catholic Middle School in Neenah. (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)

“As we begin to implement this strategic plan, we are looking for new ways of thinking and new ways of implementing change to create parishes, schools and communities alive with missionary disciples,” Bishop Ricken told the school representatives.

One of the first steps in the plan is creating a new Office of Catholic Schools. Bishop Ricken has named Todd Blahnik, assistant director of education for the Diocese of Green Bay, as superintendent.

In an interview, Blahnik gave an overview of the strategic plan’s history and what it will mean to schools and parishes.

“The title really connects to ‘Disciples on the Way’ and how we’re rebuilding disciples and how we’re building schools of discipleship,” he said. “That’s the language we are using. Also, as parish mission planning unfolds, this is going to unfold into that as well.”

Blahnik explained that when the Catholic Schools Initiative, the previous strategic plan for diocesan schools, was coming to an end, “it prompted the department to say, ‘OK, it’s time to look ahead to the next three to five years.”

This preparation happened to coincide with Bishop Ricken’s plan for the new evangelization spelled out in “Disciples on the Way.”

Blahnik said the timing showed that “the Holy Spirit was truly at work.”

“As the department began working on strategic planning, the diocese came out with the new mission and vision and we were able to incorporate that as a core tenant of what we are doing,” he said.

In his address Jan. 25, Bishop Ricken mentioned five key steps that will be implemented by Catholic schools.

  • For students: Schools will be “schools of student discipleship,” mirroring the diocese’s mission.
  • For staff: The diocese will support school leaders and staff, helping to mentor and develop them.
  • For education: Academic excellence will be enhanced through new curriculum benchmarks and other education models.
  • For operations: All schools will showcase professional excellence in their operations. This will include partnerships with universities, colleges and corporations.
  • For funding: Schools will be supported through funding. “The diocese is committed to allocating meaningful resources for our schools,” said Bishop Ricken.

The diocesan vision and mission statements, which now guide the diocese’s outreach, are as follows:

Vision statement: “We are missionary disciples striving to lead all people to the Kingdom of God.”

Mission statement: “As friends and followers of Jesus, we are devoted to fostering households and communities of discipleship through the mission and ministry of the Catholic Church.”

“This whole restructuring and mobilization to mission (begun by the diocese), fits so well” with the Catholic schools strategic and mission plan, said Blahnik. “This is the way we are going to help our schools align to our mission/vision and cultural values.”

Strategic planning, which began in August 2016, was led by consultants at Meitler, a consulting and planning firm based in Milwaukee that assists churches and faith-based schools.

Parish and school leaders also contributed to the planning process.

“The thing I enjoyed tremendously about being part of the process was having the opportunity to visit every single one of our 54 school sites, to see what is going on in our classrooms, that was amazing,” said Blahnik. “I believe in my heart that if the parents in our larger community got to see what I saw, they would be lining up” to enroll their children in Catholic schools.

Blahnik said his visits to schools “crystalized for me one of the recommendations in the plan, which is, we need to tell our story and have a well-organized marketing effort to say, ‘Here’s what’s happening,’ from large schools to small schools.”

He said many innovative learning tools are being practiced in the diocese’s Catholic schools, he said. “Cutting-edge things I’ve seen in schools with less than 50 students. … We have some great things going on in our systems as well. We just have such a diversity that is exciting.”

The 37-page strategic and mission plan is divided into four areas:

  • Schools of discipleship;
  • Governance and leadership;
  • Academic excellence;
  • Operational vitality;

Each area includes observations, along with priorities and goals.

Although every school is in a different situation, Blahnik said, “there are some common themes that we see. One being, ‘How do we move, as bishop mentioned, from a mentality of scarcity to abundance?’ That’s going to require some shifts in how we do some things operationally, in terms of telling our story, structuring our tuition and financial assistance. It’s looking at how we staff our positions and how we are developing leaders.”

In addition to a new Office of Catholic Schools superintendent, two key positions will be added: a director of school finance and a marketing and enrollment director.

The director of finance “will walk with schools as we start to change our model of how we structure tuition assistance, how we set our tuition rates, how we budget for mission,” said Blahnik.

The marketing and enrollment director will help schools with best practices and help guide a marketing plan “for all schools in the diocese” so that 1.2 million Catholics in our diocese know what goes on (and help tell) those personal stories that impact” families and students.

On the academic side, Blahnik said more ways of learning will be explored, such as a blended learning initiative that is already taking place at St. Thomas Aquinas Academy, St. Mary Campus, in Peshtigo, and distance learning pilot programs.

“I expect we will be doing more piloting as we, internally, finalize what that implementation plan looks like,” said Blahnik. “We will have specific benchmarks and deadlines for ourselves.”

His goal is to make sure that strategies and steps recommended for each priority and goal in the plan are completed.

“One thing I’m going to guarantee is that we are going to be as transparent as we can about where we are at with plan implementation and sharing our successes and things we are struggling with,” he said. “This is going to be a living, breathing plan. Not a plan that’s going to go on the shelf.”

Blahnik said Bishop Ricken’s support for Catholic school education will help the diocese implement its strategic and mission plan.

Editor’s note: A PDF copy of the Strategic and Mission Plan for Catholic Schools can be viewed at this link.