Schools commission collects feedback, prepares recommendations

| June 7, 2011 | 0 Comments

A group charged by Archbishop John Nienstedt to make recommendations to him to help ensure the strength and ­sustainability of Cath­olic elementary schools in the archdiocese is on schedule to deliver its report by the June 27 deadline.

“I’m confident we’ll hit our deadline, but it’s really because of the committee work and the feedback we’re getting that’s making that possible,” said John McMahon, co-chair of the 16-member Catholic Schools Commission that was appointed for the task following the announcement of the archdiocese’s Stra­tegic Plan last October.

The commission, which includes educators, priests and business leaders among its members, is divided into committees focused on four strategic areas: academic quality, financial management, governance and advancement.

Commission members are crafting their recommendations in part based on feedback they received from focus groups that included school principals and presidents, teachers, pastors, parish business administrators, marketing directors, parish finance and school council members and parents.

The commission has also been receiving information through web surveys focused on finance, marketing and the views of parents regarding their perceptions of Catholic schools and school choice decision-making.

As of June 6, some 1,625 parents have participated in the survey, according to Rita Beatty, archdiocesan planning process communications manager.

The survey — which can still be accessed at (click on “Schools Commission”) — is intended for current Catholic school parents as well as parents of school-aged children not enrolled in Catholic schools and those of children soon to be school age, Beatty said.

Additional information is being collected through comments and suggestions made via email to

“Overall, what we’re hearing is that people are excited we’re addressing this issue and that there is a commitment from the archdiocese to look at our Catholic schools,” said Catholic Schools Commission co-chair Karen Rauen­horst. “People want some direction, and they want to participate.”

Commission members are also crafting their recommendations based on successful strategies employed in other dioceses as well as information gathered previously by the Strategic Planning Task Force and recommendations made by a national Catholic education consulting group, the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame.

Among ACE’s recommendations were:

» to establish an archdiocesan schools advisory council as well as advisory boards at individual schools;

» to establish archdiocesan learning standards for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade;

» to develop a centralized program to identify, recruit and develop principals;

» to ensure all Catholic elementary schools develop individualized marketing and enrollment management plans; and

» to establish a framework for consistent financial management and reporting.

As Catholic schools face a variety of chal­lenges today — including shifts in socio-economic trends, economic pressures and the proliferation of new technology — one outcome of the Catholic School Commission’s work will hopefully be to help schools develop “best practices” in strategic areas, said McMahon, a member of Holy Spirit in St. Paul and director of federal tax services with Ernst & Young.

Looking ahead

While the recommendations that will ultimately be presented to the archbishop are still being finalized, Rauenhorst is confident they will lead to a stronger Catholic education system in the arch-diocese.

“We want strong benchmarks in quality, and we want people to feel good about Catholic education,” said Rauenhorst, a community volunteer, trustee of the archdiocese and member of Holy Name of Jesus in Medina.

“We need to refine our message or develop a broader message for the archdiocese on Catholic schools, highlighting some of the great things we’re doing,” added McMahon. “Beyond the immediate constituency, there’s a perception that Catholic education is a bit unknown. You will see a fair amount [of effort] around elevating that. It really is a community asset.”

An Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Advisory Council will be appointed later this summer to build upon the work of the Catholic Schools Commission and provide ongoing evaluation and support to Catholic schools, as called for in the Strategic Plan. Both the council and the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools will also make use of the data gathered via the online surveys, Beatty said.

Kathleen O’Hara, a member of the commission and principal of St. Vincent de Paul School in Brooklyn Park, said she hopes the commission’s collaborative approach to issues affecting schools in the archdiocese continues in the future “because we have so much to learn from each other.”

“I really hope this Archdiocesan Catho­lic Schools Advisory Council will be the key in fostering this culture of collaboration,” she said.

For more information about the membership and work of the Catholic Schools Com­mission, visit and click on “Schools Commission.”

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Category: Archdiocese Planning Process