Plan sets parameters for schools’ own strategic process

| October 16, 2010

From left, kindergartner Tatiana Trembath, eighth-grader Samantha Letscher and kindergartner Elliot Wiederholt walk down the hallway of Our Lady of Grace School in Edina in this file photo from September 2009. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are at the beginning of their own strategic planning process.

Although schools were a significant part of the archdiocesan planning process, the task force determined that community members needed more information and opportunities for input before the future of schools was determined.

The plan addresses Catholic school sustainability, but it does not call for specific schools to merge, cluster or close, said task force member Jim Lundholm-Eades.

Catholic high schools were not included in the planning process.

Facing current needs

In response to different schools’ current realities, the task force grouped many schools into three categories, based on data provided and ideas and concerns Catholics shared with task force members throughout the process.

The categories are “urgent review schools,” “sustainability review schools,” and “shared resource discussion schools.”

“These are schools where change in the near future may be needed,” said Brother Milton Barker, a task force member and president of Totino-Grace High School in Fridley.

The categories were determined by the results of self-studies of vitality conducted by the schools, he said.

As the plan outlines, urgent review schools are in need of immediate review of finances and sustainability. They are asked to immediately undergo the Catholic Elementary School Review Process for School Sustainability, which the archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office created at the beginning of the strategic plan.

This process is designed to help these schools develop a sustainability plan that meets the task force’s criteria for viable Catholic schools in several categories: Catholic identity; academic quality; financial management; and community outreach, or effective marketing.

These criteria are based on criteria for school viability as established by the National Catholic Educational Association.
Some schools have already gone through this process in consultation with the Catholic Schools Office.

Urgent review schools must complete their process in December. An “urgent review” doesn’t mean that a particular school will close. Yet, if a school determines closure is the appropriate outcome, the urgent review timeline ensures that parents, teachers and staff members are notified in time to find a new school or new employment.

Sustainability review schools will be asked to undergo the sustainability review in the next three years.

Other schools will be asked to enter into shared-resource discussions with other schools and parishes in their region. These discussions could yield greater sharing of resources or the creation of a regional school.

“The archdiocese would hope that decisions about local schools would be made by local communities,” Brother Milton said.

Communication emphasis

Principals, pastors and parish trustees will be notified of their situation via letter on Monday, Oct. 18. Principals and pastors will have an opportunity to attend a meeting to address the future of schools in the archdiocese Oct. 20. Schools are asked to send a letter for parents home with students Oct. 21.

The task force is notifying schools directly rather than listing their category with the Oct. 16-18 strategic plan announcement so that schools can understand their situation completely, Lundholm-Eades said.

By not listing these schools with the parish changes, the task force is also trying to prevent students prematurely withdrawing from schools undergoing urgent review, which would only weaken a school’s situation.

“The essence here is the quality of communication,” Lundholm-Eades said. “People should know that the end point of these reviews is not pre-judged.”

At the end of the review process, the whole school community should understand the school’s current condition and what its options are, and be able to recommend a plan for the future of the school to Archbishop John Nienstedt.

“It’s a very consultative model,” Lundholm-Eades added. “In the plan for schools, this is [Archbishop Nienstedt’s] plan for communities to have access to all the information [and] have the opportunity to develop the best outcome possible for their community for having access to Catholic education.”

Glynn

The task force is also searching for successful models of funding for Catholic schools, said Lori Glynn, task force member and principal of Our Lady of Peace in Minneapolis.

Representatives are working with consultants from the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame to research funding models and other best practices in other U.S. dioceses. ACE’s final report is due in November.

As with the archdiocesan plan for parishes, all schools need to be part of the strategic plan, even if they do not need to undergo review immediately or in the near future, Lundholm-Eades said.

“The overall purpose is to have Catholic education available,” Glynn said. “The idea is not to close Catholic schools . . . but to make sure that they’re sustainable and viable, and located in areas that people can access them.”

What makes schools viable?

The Catholic Spirit

As part of the archdiocesan strategic plan for parishes and schools, the task force has identified schools that should undergo review, either immediately or in the near future. As part of the review process, a school is to ensure its community understands its current reality, especially in the areas of financial management, community outreach, Catholic identity and academic excellence.

• Financial management. Currently, schools are “all over the board” in their use of information management databases, said task force member Lori Glynn, principal of Our Lady of Peace School in Minneapolis. She hopes to see all schools soon using information systems that allow families to pay tuition, check grades and register for classes online. She would also like to see schools connect their information systems to their parishes, so that finances can be on one chart of accounts.

• Community outreach. Some schools have done a good job of staying in touch with alumni, and some schools have just started to work in this direction, Glynn said. This is especially true for merged schools, where merging alumni programs was often overlooked. Better marketing means more community relationships and sources of funding.

• Catholic identity. Catholic identity used to be one of the standards measured by the Minnesota Accrediting Association, but the responsibility moved to the jurisdiction of the Catholic Schools Office in 2006. Schools self-evaluate their Catholic identity each year on key points regarding their religious education and incorporation of Catholic teaching and values into the classroom and school life.

• Academic excellence. Catholic schools in the archdiocese are decentralized, which means that the local school, not the archdiocesan schools office, makes decisions about curriculum, testing, finances and hiring. Before last year, there was no means to compare one school’s academics with another. In 2009, the Catholic Schools Office strongly encouraged each Catholic school in the archdiocese to offer the SAT-10 achievement test to eighth-graders, which would allow the office to collect data across all its schools. Shared standards mean better academics for all, Glynn said.

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Category: Archdiocese Planning Process

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