Dr. Jan Daniel Lancaster, who has served since 2011 as superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and directed a strategic plan to set a course for the future of local Catholic education, will step down at the end of the academic year.
Lancaster, who will leave her position July 1, 2017, said she feels the timing is advantageous because the strategic plan, which established a uniform grade-level structure for elementary and high schools, emphasized the Catholic identity of schools, set up curriculum standards and fostered relationships among school administrators, is now in place.
The 18-month study, launched in 2012, was conducted by researchers from The Catholic University of America and involved meetings with school administrators, teachers, parents and Catholic parishioners.
“I think getting experts to come in and look at our schools and give us concrete recommendations was good because it gave us an outside, objective view,” Lancaster said. “Archbishop (Gregory) Aymond gave all the stakeholders the opportunity to look at it for a year and see which recommendations we could do and which weren’t feasible.”
Lancaster said another benefit of the extensive study was strengthening the relationships among administrators.
“Administrators got to know each other better and worked together for the common good in the name of our faith as one family of Catholic schools,” Lancaster said. “There was so much relationship building. There were so many conversations. It’s not always easy, and people made sacrifices for the greater good.”
Sacrifices were made
In particular, Lancaster said, St. Augustine and Brother Martin high schools gave up middle-school grades and agreed to become grade 8-12 high schools, which is the norm for all high schools. Elementary schools now run from grades K-7.
The Office of Catholic Schools also has investigated ways to make Catholic education more affordable. A fund-raising vehicle called Champions for Catholic Education has been established, allowing businesses and individuals to donate money that can be used to help low-income families send their children to Catholic schools. The tuition assistance is distributed through a defined process.
Lancaster also advocated for the expansion of the State Scholarship for Excellence program, which allowed more students from low-income families to attend Catholic schools.
Lancaster said her office is making strides in helping more students with special needs attend Catholic schools, and it has procedures in place to help identify struggling schools and help them try to remain open.
“I think the greatest thing I’ve learned is just going into schools and seeing the kids so happy and seeing the way our administrators do what they do in the name of the church,” Lancaster said. “The whole point of Catholic education is to teach our kids the importance of service in the name of our faith. The other thing I’ve seen is just how many people care so much because they see the importance of Catholic education.”
Archbishop Aymond praised Lancaster for providing “stability and creativity” in the Office of Catholic Schools.
“(Her) work is truly ministry, leading and serving in the name of Christ the teacher,” the archbishop said.
Lancaster said she is grateful for the work of her colleagues in the Office of Catholic Schools and in the schools.
“They have been a blessing,” she said. “They have shown me the true meaning of ministry and servant leadership. I know of no group of people who work with more passion, dedication and commitment than those leading our schools in the name of Christ.”
Lancaster said she has been “amazed” by the priests and religious men and women who have been involved in Catholic schools. “I don’t think they realize the positive impact they make, especially in times of crisis, when one of our kids is seriously ill or going through a personal crisis,” Lancaster said.
A formal search for Lancaster’s successor will begin soon.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.