Photo by Peter Finney Jr. | CLARION HERALD
Principals and presidents of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans have been meeting for more than a year in the strategic planning process. The final plan should be completed by the end of October.
More than three decades of shrinking family size and changes in society have affected Catholic schools nationally and locally. Hurricane Katrina also reduced the number of schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans from 105 to 85, and with fewer school-age children living in the metropolitan area, the Catholic school system has seen decreased enrollment.
Knowing that the archdiocese is facing challenging times, Archbishop Gregory Aymond commissioned Dr. John Convey and Dr. Leonard DeFiore of Catholic University of America in late 2010 to conduct a complete study of schools in the archdiocese and make recommendations to ensure their viability.
The results of the study will be presented Sept. 24 to priests, principals, presidents and superiors of religious orders. These individuals were given the working plan in advance of the meeting and were asked to give input to tailor the plan to the needs of schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Dr. Jan Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic schools, spoke with Clarion Herald associate editor Christine Bordelon and offered the following answers to some of the most important questions about the study and the upcoming decision-making process.
1.) What are the main areas of concentration in the study? Catholic identity – which is everything that Catholic schools emcompass, strong academics, viability and financial affordability.
2.) What will the strategic plan do? We want to take a hard look to see what we need to do to ensure Catholic education in the future.
3.) Who has been involved in formulating the plan? Office of Catholic Schools, a strategic planning committee, national educational consultants from Catholic University, school principals and presidents, superiors of religious orders, pastors and parochial vicars and anyone with an interest in Catholic schools.
4.) How did the process work? As part of their research, Drs. Convey and DeFiore created and distributed a survey that was answered by a wide variety of representatives in the archdiocesan community. As the plan progressed, updates were presented to focus groups of superiors, clergy and principals/presidents, the Council of Catholic School Cooperative Clubs, the Office of Religious Education and others to discuss concerns. Then, town hall meetings were held. What I found fascinating was the enthusiasm and passion about Catholic education. It showed that people really care about Catholic education. A strategic planning committee with different areas of experience also met, looked at the recommendations of the town hall meetings and worked with Drs. Convey and DeFiore to formulate a working document of the plan that was given to the archbishop in June.
5.) Where are we in the process? Now, the most important part happens. We take it and make it our own. There are some recommendations that are viable and are wonderful ideas. There are also recommendations in here that I know are not feasible for our family of schools. We need to come together on Sept. 24 and figure out what our process will be to ensure Catholic education and maintain schools that are authentically Catholic, academically excellent and accessible to anyone who wants a Catholic education. The input given will put our own handprint on this. We need everyone’s ideas and collaboration. We have the opportunity to come together to create the future of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
6.) How will the day be structured? Archbishop Aymond will discuss Catholic identity and his visions of Catholic schools in the archdiocese. All the participants at the meeting will offer their opinions on each recommendation by choosing yes or no or coming up with a better alternative. It is going to be a day when everyone’s voice will be heard. And, that’s going to be exciting. Paul Breaux, president of SBS Partners, will facilitate the day.
7.) When will the completed strategic plan be formally announced? A follow-up meeting will be held Oct. 29 for clergy, principals, presidents and superiors. The implementation process will start after that. There is no set date for any part of the plan. It may be done in increments.
8.) What areas of concern do you anticipate in the working plan? Tuition and financing, and grade-level structuring. We need to come together to maximize the choice for Catholic education while still maintaining the importance of our feeder schools. We have to nurture our feeder schools. That’s the bloodline for our other schools.
9.) How will the strategic plans affect school closings? More than 15 schools were identified as struggling last year, and all have been in conversations with the archdiocese since that time. Nothing has been decided about specific school closures yet and won’t be until all data is received for current enrollment and enrollment trends of our schools.
10.) Are the schools in jeopardy of closing spread throughout the archdiocese or are they concentrated in one area? They are spread out. We want to offer every child who wants to attend a Catholic school the opportunity to do so. The Office of Catholic Schools is evaluating the location of schools along with the data of struggling schools to determine the viability of these schools.
11.) How will the Office of Catholic Schools assist parents of children attending a school that will be closed? Many avenues are being discussed. We will be talking with parents and principals to make the transition as smooth as possible. We will be asking schools with openings to hold open houses to give parents choices.
12.) What recommendations have already been implemented or can be implemented quickly? The restructuring of the Office of Catholic Schools to maintain a closer relationship with schools has already been completed. We have established an “Aspiring Leadership” program to build future leaders throughout the archdiocese, and we plan to expand that. I am also hoping to resurrect the archdiocesan school board by early 2013 and continually work closely with the archbishop as we implement this plan.
13.) What do you see as the most positive aspect of the strategic plan? We are addressing something that needed be addressed a long time ago. Our schools are in crisis. But now we have this opportunity to come together as one family of schools in the archdiocese under Archbishop Aymond, who is extremely compassionate, pastoral and brilliant, and so led by the Holy Spirit in this endeavor. I have been so impressed with the way in which the superiors of religious-sponsored schools, the leaders of our archdiocese, the clergy and the principals and presidents have really wanted to come together for the betterment of ministry of Catholic education. That is who we are and that’s what we do, and we want to do what is best for the family of schools.