The Office of Catholic Schools unveiled an ambitious strategic plan for the future of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 2013 after a study was conducted by The Catholic University of America, followed by extensive input from local educators, parents, a strategic planning committee and focus groups.
Superintendent Dr. Jan Lancaster is pleased to say that many goals of the plan have been met this past academic year, and that the Office of Catholic Schools is ahead in implementing a few goals, such as Catholic identity standards for the 2014-15 school year.
“The most important things we’ve done have been working with Catholic identity standards and conducting Catholic identity workshops,” Lancaster said, noting that Catholic identity was the top recommendation and goal in the action plan.
“Catholic identity standards are what we wanted to focus on first,” Lancaster said. “We are the face of Christ in the church.”
Over the past school year, associate superintendents Kevin Calkins and Joe Rosolino have held multiple, well-attended workshops detailing Catholic identity standards, she said.
In line with Catholic identity, the Office of Catholic Schools also collaborated with the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education on policies for school religion teacher certification.
“We’ve worked closer with many archdiocesan offices in order to maximize the services we could give our schools,” Lancaster said.
Strong academics, viability of schools and financial affordability also were identified as main concentrations of the strategic plan.
Advisors draft handbook
A Superintendent’s Administrators Advisory Council (SAAC) was formed so principals and presidents – elementary and high school – discuss matters of importance and make decisions together. For example, SAAC committee members drafted a comprehensive handbook that will be used in the coming year.
Drs. Raenell Houston and Rebecca Maloney, associate superintendents, began workshops on curriculum initiatives and professional development to meet the needs of schools and posted curriculum resources online for teachers.
OCS also has offered in-service advancement workshops for schools advancement directors and will continue these efforts to meet their needs.
Long-time educator Glenn Gennaro was added to the Office of Catholic Schools staff as an associate superintendent of special projects to work with archdiocesan high schools.
A five-year plan to address students with learning disabilities is being developed with associate superintendent Jane Baker as the lead. She is establishing a special-needs committee of individuals dedicated to teaching students with special needs to evaluate and create a road map to meet the needs of students with learning differences.
Other parts of the strategic plan that were either completed or are in the works include templates for prayer services and principal and teacher evaluation; new bylaws and workshops for school advisory boards; an improvement plan template for schools that fall bellow acceptable levels of progress; a revised Office of Catholic Schools Handbook of Policies; and hosting luncheons to recognize principals and presidents for their years of service.
Tough areas to tackle
One area of contention in the strategic plan was grade-level structuring – creating a system where all elementary and high schools in the archdiocese would offer the same grades: elementary schools would accept students up to seventh grade, and high schools would cover eighth through 12th grade.
“In grade-level structure, we have tackled difficult challenges,” Lancaster said. “It was amazing to see the administrators come together with stakeholders and clergy. All of this was because the archbishop took a leadership role and worked with many people to follow the recommendations made by Catholic University. It was something that was challenging us for years. It was time we found a creative solution, and together we are doing that. We want to educate children in our faith and give children a Catholic education that is academically strong.”
While it has been an evolution of scenarios – considering some schools were operating as middle schools or a combination of middle and high schools – Lancaster said all schools are working toward compliance by the start of the 2015-16 school year as mapped out in the plan.
“All schools have submitted their plans to adhere to the strategic plan, but the details have not been finalized,” she said. “There was a lot of out-of-the-box thinking (in this) so decisions wouldn’t (negatively) affect other schools.”
Addressing the tuition differential between eighth grade at elementary schools and high schools is a part of that objective still in the works, Lancaster said.
Lancaster said she is excited about how everything is playing out and how well school administrators have worked together for solutions.
“I think we have wonderful things on the table that will benefit the family of Catholic schools and will best meet the needs of the schools we serve,” she said.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.