Archbishop Hebda: Catholic education needs to be Church priority

| January 24, 2019 | 0 Comments
Archbishop Bernard Hebda greets Catholic elementary school students following the Mass of the Holy Spirit at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis

Archbishop Bernard Hebda greets Catholic elementary school students following the Mass of the Holy Spirit at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis Oct. 10. More than 12,000 students from 79 Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis attended. The event was organized by the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence, which supports enrollment and excellence efforts at local Catholic elementary schools. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

The Catholic Spirit asked Archbishop Bernard Hebda to describe the Roadmap for Excellence in Catholic Education and to explain how he hopes it shapes Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He shared his responses by email.

Q. What is the Roadmap for Catholic education?

A. It is essentially a tool that will guide and coordinate the strategic approach of the archdiocese over the next several years to the important work of Catholic schools.

Q. What is the goal?

A. Mothers and fathers need partners in the education of their children. Through a united effort across the archdiocese, parishes partner with families in making Catholic schools available and accessible. The Roadmap for Catholic Education will help the archdiocese sequence steps over the next several years in an effort to ensure that parents and parishes have support that they can count on in Catholic schools now and in the years ahead.

Q. What has been your role in shaping it?

A. While the Roadmap has been the product of broad and meaningful consultation with Catholic educators, pastors and foundations along with local and national experts, I have been involved at every step and am personally committed to seeing this process to its conclusion. I feel privileged to have had this opportunity to shape and lead this important effort. It is astonishing to see the level of interest and excitement that we have encountered through this effort. I am excited when I think about the Roadmap shaping the work of Catholic education in the coming years.

Q. How would you describe the current landscape of Catholic schools in the archdiocese?

A. Through the commitment of our parishes and the help of community partners, our Catholic schools continue meeting the demands of families in a highly competitive education landscape. A clear key to success for a school in these circumstances is finding ways to emphasize what makes our schools exceptional: an integrated Catholic education rooted in Jesus Christ that seeks excellence for every student in every area of their young lives. We would like to level the playing field for families seeking a Catholic education by finding new ways of making Catholic schools accessible and sustainable.

Q. What do you see as our schools’ core challenges?

A. The Roadmap was in fact designed to meet the core challenges facing Catholic schools through five areas of priority focus: talent management, curriculum and metrics, access and sustainability, mission schools and their governance, and local governance. These areas of priority focus are designed to address the core challenges that have emerged over the past two decades.

Q. What do you see as our schools’ core strengths and how does the Roadmap address or leverage them?

A. Catholic schools are places where students are challenged to grow in all areas of their lives. These are schools where the bar is set high for student achievement and students are encouraged to dream big. The heart of Catholic schools is that they are places where students have an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ in the classroom. Appreciation for the quality and richness of that opportunity is a strength that is simultaneously the starting point and the end point for our Roadmap.

Q. How does the Roadmap differ from a strategic plan?

A. The Roadmap was not designed to be a substitute for a strategic plan; rather, it is a strategic tool that allows us to roll up our sleeves and get started on addressing some of the fundamental challenges that Catholic education has been facing for years. There are issues such as the training, leadership development, and recruitment and retention of Catholic school principals — which the Roadmap calls “talent management” — that even with our limited resources we need to begin addressing today.

Strategic planning for the archdiocesan system of Catholic schools is needed as well, and it is certainly something that we will need to address in the next five years. Work on the Roadmap now will help better position us for future strategic planning efforts.

Q. Why is this Roadmap necessary in general? Why now?

A. The Roadmap for Catholic Education is designed to coordinate and engage leadership and resources today in an effort to meet our challenges and capitalize on our opportunities. No effort should be spared in helping ensure that Catholic education is an option for students and parents. Our parishes, pastors, teachers and school leaders need our help.

Q. Will Catholic schools experience the impact of this Roadmap in similar ways, or will the impact depend on their unique strengths and challenges?

A. Trusting in the unfailing help of God’s grace, I think we can rely on the aphorism that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Q. How many Catholic schools have you visited in the archdiocese? What is your impression of our Catholic schools from those visits?

A. I have visited about half of our elementary schools and all of our Catholic high schools. They’re joy-filled schools where the faith and enthusiasm of our students and faculty are palpable, and the pursuit of excellence is obvious. It’s always a shot in the arm to visit our schools.

Q. The Roadmap identifies Catholic education leadership as one of the top priorities, and the new Institute for Catholic School Leadership at the St. Paul Seminary has launched to help meet that objective. (See story on page 12.) Why is this so important?

A. It takes more than goodwill to be a great Catholic school principal or leader — there are skills that need to be developed and a faith-based outlook on life that needs to permeate professional competence. I’m thrilled that the new institute, moreover, will be a resource not only for our future lay leaders but also for our seminarians and young priests.

Q. Have your own experiences of Catholic education shaped the Roadmap process?

A. My own experience of Catholic education (at the elementary and high school levels) is the context for my belief that Catholic education needs to be a priority not only for parents, but also for the Church. I am so grateful for what I learned about Christ and his Church in the course of my Catholic education. I think that my Catholic education taught me to love learning and to think critically.


Setting the direction

The Roadmap for Excellence in Catholic Education includes five teams tasked with tackling its five focus areas: talent management, curriculum and metrics, access and sustainability, mission schools and local governance. Those teams are leveraging the expertise of local education leaders as well as experts from across the country. A member of each team spoke with The Catholic Spirit about the scope of the team’s work.

Talent Management
“Schools, like any institution, will rise and fall with their leaders,” said Therese Coons, a board member of The Seminaries of St. Paul. “And we know leaders are not born; leaders are made — through formation and education.” To that end, Coons and other members of the Roadmap’s Talent Management Team are exploring Catholic school leadership recruitment, hiring and on-boarding, professional development, performance management and retention. She said she expects the new Institute for Catholic School Leadership at the St. Paul Seminary to play a role in their aims, as it “will be key to providing formed and educated leaders for our schools.”

Curriculum and Metrics
The Curriculum and Metrics Team is ruminating on questions of what makes Catholic education entirely distinctive and then how to measure that, said member Michael Naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. Catholic schools are not public schools with religion class; rather, he said, the truths of the faith should permeate every subject, from math to science to language arts, so that students develop a sacramental imagination, or a Catholic way of seeing the world with wonder and awe. Catholic curriculum should be academically excellent, connect faith and reason, and also connect each area of knowledge, he said. Catholic schools also need tools to help them assess their curricula with appropriate metrics, which is a key focus of his team’s work, Naughton said. “That’s going to be the tricky challenge because that’s not an easy thing to measure,” he said of evaluating how faith and reason are infused into the classroom. “We’re looking for the ‘yeast in the dough.’”

Access and Sustainability
“What we’re trying to do is … ensure that every child that wants access to a Catholic education can achieve that,” said Jean Houghton, Aim Higher Foundation president and a member of the Roadmap’s Access and Sustainability Team. The team is exploring the barriers some families face in obtaining a Catholic education for their children — which are primarily financial, Houghton said — as well as questions of how schools can achieve overall financial sustainability and growth. “We’re looking at best practices across the entire United States,” Houghton said. “I believe that we will be able to come up with solutions that will help not only the schools but ultimately the kids.”

Mission Schools and their Governance
The Mission Schools Team’s work centers on the archdiocese’s “mission schools,” or schools in the archdiocese that primarily serve underprivileged students, most of whom cannot pay full tuition. Part of the team’s job is to determine how to define “mission schools” and determine which local schools are part of this special category, and then how best to serve their unique needs, said member Father Nate Wills, a priest of the Congregation of the Holy Cross who works for the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame. A graduate of St. Joseph Catholic School in West St. Paul and St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, Father Wills said he and his colleagues “believe deeply in the power of Catholic education and especially the way it can transform lives and help kids to see a great future and to know the Lord,” he said. “The more we can do to support those [mission] schools and build them up, the better off we all are.”

Governance of Catholic Schools
The work of the Roadmap’s Local Governance Team is twofold: identify best practices regarding Catholic school governance models, and clarify and strengthen the relationship between Catholic schools and the archdiocese, especially the archbishop, said team member Sister John Mary Fleming, a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee, who recently completed a six-year term as executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She said her team is guided by the Catholic social teaching principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. “There are many different models [of Catholic school governance] functioning in the archdiocese right now,” she said. “This committee is helping the archdiocese to look at those and hold up what is really good and then clarify what needs to be clarified.” Leaders are exploring how the needs of schools may be met by clarifying the governance role of the Office for the Mission of Catholic Education.

— Maria Wiering

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Category: Catholic Schools Week, Featured