Bishop establishes commission to study school
With a heart for Catholic education and a steadfast eye on its future, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., recently convened a new Commission for the Study of the Sustainability of Our Catholic Schools and charged them with the mission that will engage them over the next 13 months. Father Douglas Freer, vicar for Catholic education, will serve as commission chair, and Joanne Tier, diocesan superintendent of schools will act as vice-chair.
During the inaugural meeting, March 16, Bishop O’Connell, who has spent 30 years in educational ministry, introduced members of the commission which is comprised of parents, clergy, diocesan administrators, educators, and business persons. Leading the diocesan study is Dr. John J. Convey, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Professor of Education and former provost at The Catholic University of America.
Click HERE for more about Dr. Convey.
Dr. Convey, a statistician, researcher and expert on strategic planning for Catholic schools, has conducted some 20 similar diocesan-wide planning and evaluation studies during the past 30 years for Catholic schools in the Archdioceses of Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Mobile and Washington and the Dioceses of Alexandria (Louisiana), Biloxi, Brooklyn, Charlotte, Cheyenne, Corpus Christi, Honolulu, and Providence. He is presently conducting a study in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. `
Addressing the nearly two dozen commission members, Bishop O’Connell pointed out that while he is often known as the education bishop, “we are really an education people, an education Church and an education diocese.” He continued, “There are not too many things as important as Catholic education, whether it is Catholic schools, religious education programs or other venues.” Bishop O’Connell also stressed the importance of having parents as grassroots members of the commission; “to have people who know what it is like to pack a lunch and send their kids off to school every day and to trust our schools.”
An integral part of the bishop’s first two years as shepherd of the diocese has been his visits to as many schools as possible, having spent time at each of the high schools and many of the elementary schools. “What I experienced,” said Bishop O’Connell, “from our one Catholic university to our youngest parish school, is that all are great places for our young people, who are learning the faith and learning to be citizens of the world.”
The bishop emphasized that the commission was undertaking crucial work which would help him “to analyze and understand the concrete realities facing our schools.” To commission members he said, “At the end of the day you will present a plan to me … for sustaining schools wherever possible.”
Bishop O’Connell then charged the commission with four tasks: investigating the short and long term viability, vitality and vibrancy (sustainability) of Catholic schools within the diocese, particularly those schools whose continued existence may appear to be at risk; developing clear and consistent criteria that can be applied across the board and used in an ongoing analysis, evaluation and assessment of the short and long term sustainability of these same schools; identifying those Catholic schools within the diocese that appear to be sustainable in light of those criteria with a view toward creating a long term strategic “sustainability plan” for those same schools, and similarly, identify those Catholic schools within the diocese that appear to be at risk, and creating a strategic “sustainability plan” by May 1, 2013 to be presented to the bishop for approval.
The Office of Catholic Education/Department of Catholic Schools will serve as the principal resource to the commission and will be the conduit for obtaining and sharing any information needed by the commission in the fulfillment of its charge. Commenting on the charge and the process to carry it out, Dr. Convey noted there would be “lots of consultation so people can understand the data.”
Dr. Convey went on to highlight the pivotal areas of evaluation, including viability and the criteria used to make decisions; finances, which, while important, he pointed out, “are not what make the schools ‘go,’” and Catholic identity and academic excellence, both of which are the crucial factors that will encourage parents to pay tuition. “This is the methodology I’ve been using for 30 years,” he said.
These elements, Dr. Convey stressed, must be evaluated and strengthened where necessary, to ensure a quality education. Marketing and public relations will also be assessed, as well as governance, and consideration of possible different models.
Commission chair, Father Freer, stressed that the focus of the work of the commission will be much broader than a discussion of “at risk” schools. “It is our hope that from the commission’s work will come concrete steps toward insuring financial stability, consistent enrollment, and developing alternate revenue streams in addition to tuition and subsidy.
“My hope,” said Father Freer, “is that this initiative will provide tangible ways in which every school in the diocese is strengthened, and that the best practices already taking place may be shared. We look forward to greater cooperation between our schools in our common mission to provide strongly Catholic excellent education for years to come.”[[In-content Ad]]