Reinvesting in Catholic schools

| August 15, 2011 | 1 Comment

With classrooms opening in just a few weeks, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are getting what in many ways is a fresh start, one principals, pastors and parish administrators called “exciting” and “energizing.”

Here’s what’s happening:

» New standards are in the works for improving the Catholic identity of both elementary and secondary schools.

» A new foundation is being created for financial support, and it already has a $600,000 head start.

» A new advisory council is being formed.

» A blue-ribbon commission has developed – and Archbishop John Nienstedt has approved – a flurry of initiatives that will promote best practices in everything from school governance to educational excellence, to marketing and accounting procedures.

The plans were announced by the archbishop Aug. 11 at a leadership meeting attended by some 200 school and ministry personnel at St. Peter Church in Mendota.

Superintendent of Schools Marty Frauenheim noted that even new guidelines for report cards are on the table.

Frauenheim presented details of standardized tests that showed high achievement results for English language learners at inner-city Catholic schools, test scores at or above proficiency for a vast majority of 8th graders and pie charts of survey results that point to non-white preparation for college that comes close to mirroring that of the majority population.

Hope and motivation

Kathleen Segna was heartened by the belief in and commitment to Catholic schools she heard especially from the archbishop but from other speakers and her colleagues.

“This day makes me so hopeful for Catholic education,” said Segna, the principal of St. John the Evangelist in Hopkins.

“I liked that we’re focusing on the points about what you need to do to be a viable Catholic school,” she said. “It’s a motivator to us.”

With a vision from the Archdiocesan Strategic Plan for Parishes and Schools that was released last October, the plans the archbishop announced began with research on national best practices was undertaken.

Work by the 17-member Catholic Schools Commission convened in January. The archbishop received the commission’s proposal in June, and he explained his acceptance of the plan that now carries the title “Catholic Schools: Reinvesting in Our Future.”

“The initiatives announced today,” Archbishop Nienstedt said, “are part of an overarching vision for this local church, as articulated in the strategic plan, aimed at fostering a culture of ongoing evaluation and greater accountability so as to realize a more vibrant community of faith, hope and love.

“These are not the only initiatives necessary to attain that end,” the archbishop said. “We still have need, for example, to reinvest in the religious education of students who are not fortunate enough to attend Catholic schools, as well as to build faith relationships with all Catholic teenagers and college-aged youth.

“But these initiatives with respect to Catholic schools are necessary and an important part of the investment we are called to make since Catholic schools are an essential part of the mission of this local church,” he added, “to make the name of Jesus Christ known and loved by promoting and proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed through vibrant parish communities, quality Catholic education, and ready outreach to the poor and marginalized.”

Many played a role

The consultation process involved a wide segment of the Catholic community.

More than 3,000 school and parish leaders, parents, teachers and other stakeholders participated in surveys, and dozens more participated in eight focus groups, including pastors, principals, business administrators, teaches, marketing staff, school council members, parish finance council members, volunteers and benefactors.

What developed – and what was recommended to and accepted by Archbishop Nienstedt – were steps to drive Catholic schools in the archdiocese to be academically superb, financially sustainable, well-administered and consistently excellent.

Commission co-chairs Karen Rauenhorst and John McMahon went into detail explaining that the commission’s initiatives focus on four areas:

» Governance;

» Educational excellence;

» Advancement (marketing);

» Funding models/financial management.

The commission made recommendations – 18 in all – in each of the four areas.

They include such things as increased financial aid, uniform accounting methods, a marketing and branding plan that includes a toolkit schools may customize, comprehensive evaluation tools, professional growth opportunities for teachers and principals, and an archdiocesan Catholic School Advisory Council to support and oversee implementation.

Details of Catholic Schools: Reinvesting in Our Future are online at

Positive feedback

Ann Garland, parish administrator at St. Peter in Richfield, said she felt “super excited” and hoped that the word gets out to all those who are now benefitting from their own Catholic education. St. Peter is part of the consolidation that formed Blessed Trinity School in Richfield.

Father Michael Tix, pastor of St. John the Baptist in Savage, was impressed with the language used that called for Catholic schools to produce graduates who will engage society “with faith, virtue and reason.”

He said he liked the proactive approach to marketing Catholic education that is in the plans, and he was looking forward to assistance in the development area, which, as a pastor, he finds he just doesn’t have time to get to.

“One thing that I walk away with with hope is to see the foundation that focuses solely on schools,” Father Tix said. “That’s critical for our schools because of the difference between our costs and the amount of tuition we can charge.

“We’ve got a great story with a long and rich tradition.”

As a firm believer in Catholic education, Father Tix also said he appreciated the archbishop’s statement that support of Catholic schools was an archdiocesan concern, not solely on the shoulders of parishes with schools.

The archbishop declared a firm commitment to Catholic schools, noting, “As our Catholic schools are an indispensible tool for the mission of the church, I believe that this entire local church should share responsibility for supporting our Catholic schools.”

Archbishop Nienstedt’s vision for Catholic schools

In announcing new initiatives for Catholic education, Archbishop John Nienstedt clearly stated his vision for schools in the archdiocese:

“Our overall goal must include more than an excellent education in reading, writing, math, and science. It must aim at more than the development of personal character through social relationships, successful sports teams, creative arts, and service projects. The overall goal for all Catholic schools is to prepare young men and young women to be virtuous disciples of Christ and, as such, to be active leaders in our Catholic Church as well as our civic communities; bringing their gifts of faith and reason to the issues and challenges of our world today. Guiding us to this goal is a vibrant and cohesive vision which we affirm anew today: The Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis form students to live out the Gospel message, achieve academic excellence, and lead by faith, virtue, and reason.”

New initiatives aimed at challenges Catholic schools face

Eighteen recommendations—pulled from four areas of focus – are included in Catholic Schools: Reinvesting in Our Future, the initiatives announced by Archbishop John Nienstedt Aug. 11.
By area of focus, here are the challenges Catholic schools face and the recommendations to address them:


Challenges: Without a strong champion for the identification and implementation of best practice, we are now burdened in our decentralized Catholic school system with dozens of variations on school governance structures which confuse the pastor’s role and fail to engage the laity in an appropriate and effective manner. This multiplicity of governance structures has led to inefficiencies and isolation. The Office of Catholic Schools would benefit greatly from an advisory body skilled in strategic planning and the sharing of best practices, as well as focused on fostering a culture of ongoing evaluation and greater accountability. Finally, the Office of Catholic Schools itself needs reinvigoration to empower it to address declining enrollment with new tools and resources and partnering with schools to proclaim and deliver on the promise of Catholic schools: our next generation of church and civic leaders who have been formed to live out the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

1: An Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Advisory Council should be established to be a visible and supportive leader for the Catholic schools of our Archdiocese.

2: All parish schools should establish a school advisory council to advise the pastor and the principal in the governance of the school.

3: There should be clear roles and responsibilities outlined for the parties involved in the governance of consolidated Catholic schools in order to enhance the schools’ capabilities and long-term viability.

4: The Archdiocese should adopt Operating Principles which outline the manner in which the local school operations, the parishes, the Office of Catholic Schools, and other Archdiocesan staff with school-related responsibilities will collaborate, support, and be accountable to each other in order to advance Catholic schools in the Archdiocese.

5: The Archdiocese should adopt the Model for the Archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools in order to solidify the office’s leadership role in the renewal and advancement of our Catholic schools.

Educational Excellence

Challenges: Due to the decentralized nature of Catholic schools within the archdiocese, there are diverse curriculums and testing models. Today, potential Catholic school parents are, by and large, as concerned about academic excellence as they are about Catholic formation and spiritual life. Parents want to know schools assess student achievement; growth and progress to ensure children are assisted in reaching their full academic potential. Additionally, many benefactors want to see comparative data when making their gift decisions. Therefore, it is essential that Catholic schools have a uniform assessment system, including uniform standardized tests, that addresses these needs. It is recognized that there are not currently archdiocese-wide learning standards aligned to locally-established curriculum, which can lead to inconsistencies between schools and inefficiencies. It is also recognized that parish and school leaders need assistance in recruiting the right principal for their school, and that principals/presidents and teachers desire more development opportunities.

1: Office of Catholic Schools should establish benchmarks for addressing school vitality and viability for all elementary schools to support a culture of continuous improvement and ongoing renewal within the schools.

2: Professional development related to the role and mission of Catholic schools and their operation and governance should be provided to seminarians and priests. Furthermore, it is recommended that the archbishop assign pastors with expertise or high interest in schools as pastors/canonical administrators.

3: Office of Catholic Schools develops and employs a professional growth and evaluation tool for principals/presidents.

4: Office of Catholic Schools organizes and supports ongoing professional development and learning communities for all school administrators and teachers that enhances professional practices and aligns with diocesan strategic initiatives.

5: To continue to attract qualified and effective principals, it is critical to have an effective principal recruiting and hiring process. It is recommended that the Office of Catholic Schools work with pastors and school leadership in the process of principal selection, recruitment, and hiring.

6: By July 1, 2015, all current principals and teachers have a current up-to-date Minnesota Department of Education license or equivalent. Also, all newly hired principals and teachers have three years, from their date of employment, to attain their Minnesota Department of Education license or equivalent for their position. Also, it is expected the hiring process strongly emphasizes the recruitment of practicing Catholics who understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the Gospel. Non-Catholics are only hired for compelling reasons and never as teachers of religion. Furthermore, school administrators (president, principal, assistant principal, etc.) are active, practicing Catholics who understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the Gospel.

7: The Office of Catholic Schools (OCS), through a collaborative process, should develop a comprehensive, multi-variant evaluation process that promotes best practices and a holistic look at K-8 schools using existing and new tools and programs. This evaluation should be ongoing to promote continuous improvement and should include the evaluation of school performance (e.g., accreditation, Catholic identity), principal and teacher performance, and student performance.


Challenges: Leadership at many Catholic schools is ill equipped to effectively market the value of their schools. This is due to the lack of professional expertise and the absence of available revenue to fund creative efforts and access vehicles for sharing the message. The need, however, for marketing is more important than ever for several reasons: a continuing decline in enrollment during the past decade and in light of a decline in the belief that the entire Catholic community should support Catholic schools because of their fundamental value to the future health of the church.

1: The Archdiocese, through the Office of Catholic Schools and the Office of Communications and with the assistance of outside firms as needed, should execute a marketing and branding plan. This plan should include an archdiocesan-level marketing initiative along with a toolkit for individual school implementation which each school should be encouraged to use to improve marketing efforts at the local level.

Funding Models

Challenges: The average, adjusted cost of education per student at Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese is $5,237. The average tuition revenue per student at Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese is $3,377. That leaves an average gap between cost of education and tuition per student of $1,860. The remaining total cost of education not covered by tuition comes to more than $30 million annually. That gap is covered by parish subsidy (intentional and unintentional), grants and gifts, endowments, local fundraising and financial support through the archdiocese and other sources.

Due to the revenue shortfall, schools and parishes have taken increasingly drastic approaches to meet budget which have resulted in donor fatigue, reduction of capital reserves, delayed facility investment, and other concerns. Adding to the challenge is the use of a variety of charts of accounts among parishes and schools, resulting in lack of clarity about the true cost of Catholic school education. Moreover, it is recognized that parishes without a school must do more to support Catholic schools.

1: Consolidate archdiocesan support (Assessment, CSA, CCF, new Foundation) for schools/students to a coordinated transparent function that provides coordination, monitoring, measurement, and reporting to all stakeholders. The granting philosophy should be to move K-8 support from block grants to schools to primarily student-based financial aid. While specific school level support will be made in certain instances, the vast majority of aid will go to students. Aid should be provided to students across the archdiocese based on a financial need assessment approach to be developed and which will include family needs, community resources, and school finances. This will be phased in by the 2013-2014 academic year. Metrics and functions of qualifying schools will be articulated by June 1, 2012.

2: Catholic schools are an important ministry of our local church and are the responsibility of all parishes in the archdiocese. We recommend that through the assessment process, the amount of aid for students across the archdiocese significantly expand over the next five years, and that the assessment levy be altered (through another process) to include a component related to supporting Catholic schools for those parishes without a school. In addition, we recommend that the level of Catholic Services Appeal (CSA) support continue to be in the 20-25% range.

3: Increase the amount of financial resources from outside the archdiocese that would be available primarily for student assistance at Catholic schools across the archdiocese.

4: Deploy a uniform accounting and reporting methodology that will strengthen school management capabilities. The goal is to move to a consistent financial model that emphasizes transparency into per student costs, including an intentional plan to communicate that true cost of education with stakeholders, as well as transparency into levels of financial support from the parish and barriers/gaps to achieving a balanced budget.

5: Centrally coordinated means of enhancing revenue and reducing costs are necessary.

Meet the Catholic Schools ‘blue-ribbon panel’

The Catholic Schools Commission that was appointed by Archbishop John Nienstedt and developed the initiatives recommended in Catholic Schools: Reinvesting in Our Future, was co-chaired by John McMahon and Karen Rauenhorst.

McMahon, a member of Holy Spirit in St. Paul, is director of federal tax services at Ernst & Young. Rauenhorst is a trustee of the archdiocese, community volunteer, and a member of Holy Name of Jesus parish in Medina.

Commission members are:

» John Banovetz, director, Strategy and Business Development Group, 3M

» Christian Brother Michael Collins, president, De La Salle High School

» Gail Dorn, marketing consultant

» Marilou Eldred, president, Catholic Community Foundation

» Marty Frauenheim, superintendent, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

» Michael Frey, partner, EBF & Associates

» Amy Goldman, executive director, GHR Foundation

» Father Peter Laird, vicar general, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

» Sheila Letscher, retired attorney, mother of four, community volunteer

» Marina Munoz Lyon, vice president and director, Pohlad Family Foundation

» Doug Milroy, chief executive officer, G&K Services

» Father Michael O’Connell, pastor, Ascension Parish, Minneapolis

» Kathleen O’Hara, principal, St. Vincent de Paul School, Brooklyn Park

» Richard Pearson, consultant, Archdiocesan Finance Council member

» Jill Reilly, former president, Academy of Holy Angels.

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Category: Archdiocese Planning Process, Featured