Schools band together to improve Catholic education

| March 12, 2014 | 0 Comments

Enhanced innovation, staffing among collaborative’s goals

A new collaborative among eight Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis will enable the schools to accomplish together what they aren’t able to individually, organizers say.

West Collaborative for Catholic Schools, an inaugural program in the archdiocese, includes Guardian Angels in Chaska, Notre Dame Academy in Minnetonka, Our Lady of the Lake in Mound, St. Bartholomew in Wayzata, St. Bernard in Cologne, St. John the Baptist in Excelsior, St. Joseph in Waconia and St. Therese in Deephaven.

To form the collaborative, the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Schools enlisted the expertise of the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame.

“It is not about closing or consolidating schools, or anything of that nature,” said Jill Reilly, interim superintendent for the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Schools and coordinator for the collaborative.

“There’s an enormously strong commitment from those pastors and principals at those schools.”

As is the case for many small schools — the eight WestCo schools have an average enrollment of 117 students in kindergarten through eighth grade — resources can be limited. But by communicating their needs, together the schools have the opportunity to add staff, offer specialized services and purchase learning tools, among other goals.

Each parish and school will retain its independent governance and financial structure.

Through the collaborative, St. Joseph principal Bruce Richards would like to be able to offer services for students with special needs instead of having to go through the local school district.

That could mean more assistance for students with learning disabilities or enhanced curriculum for students identified as “gifted and talented.”

“We still have a lot to discover, but we’re scratching the surface and knocking on doors that we didn’t know existed before,” said Richards, who is in his first year as principal at St. Joseph.

Although WestCo is still in its infancy, St. Joseph already is benefiting. After sending teachers to learn about science-technology-engineering-mathematics curriculum, the school adopted a new educational model — C-STEM — by adding a Catholic component.

WestCo schools

The following Catholic elementary schools in the archdiocese comprise the new collaborative in the west metro:

Guardian Angels, Chaska
Notre Dame Academy, Minnetonka
Our Lady of the Lake, Mound
St. Bartholomew, Wayzata
St. Bernard, Cologne
St. John the Baptist, Excelsior
St. Joseph, Waconia
St. Therese, Deephaven

“Embracing different models is giving us another value-added piece; we already have that by teaching our Catholic faith. It’s like a charm bracelet — adding more jewels to something already beautiful,” Richards said of C-STEM. “I’m excited about it.”

St. Joseph recently received a $75,000 grant for the program, and its teachers will receive graduate-level certification in STEM from St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

“I just think being able to share ideas is so, so important,” Richards said. “When we work together better as leaders, it benefits everyone in the Catholic system.”

Having a coordinator to help market and stay abreast of educational standards will be valuable to all the schools, said Father Michael Van Sloun, pastor at St. Bartholomew in Wayzata.

As a former school administrator, Father Van Sloun knows the importance of staff development, but also how difficult that can be to coordinate for a small staff. Joining other schools in the collaborative will make it more feasible.

“We have to form the teachers who are going to form the kids,” Father Van Sloun said. “The more viable your school is, the more students we’re able to serve, and we’re going to be able to fulfill the mission of the Church.”

With improved consistency in marketing, the Catholic climate will be front and center, said Father Van Sloun.

As a new model, Reilly said WestCo has a lot of room to evolve.

“When you have people working together, it infuses new ideas and collaboration, instead of staying strictly in your silo,” Reilly said. “And that can only be good for the local Church.”

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