What do you call schools whose teachers are disciples of Jesus Christ and who help parents and children fall in love, and stay in love, with Jesus Christ and his Church?
What do you call schools where students overachieve academically in the short term, but live virtuously in the long term?
What do you call schools that believe all students are gifts from God and should have access to the formation necessary to navigate through a relativistic and unpredictable world?
Any entity or mission that can accurately describe itself as Catholic must accept their responsibility as stewards of something that Christ himself founded. The Archdiocese of Denver takes the stewardship of the title “Catholic Schools,” and the families we serve, as a sacred honor that currently requires some refining action.
These are the focus areas crucial to our vision:
Catholic Ethos: Catholic schools are one of the best instruments of evangelization; preparing children to answer the universal call to holiness and pursue a saintly life. As such, the beliefs and aspirations of the Catholic faith must pervade every aspect of a Catholic school—from the faith and example of the faculty, to the students’ behavior, to the artwork that hangs on the walls. Ultimately, each individual must respond to the personal invitation of Jesus, to “Come, follow me.”
Accordingly, every opportunity during the school day and year must be used to help create an environment that welcomes, promotes, and nurtures the choice of discipleship. Understanding that there is not necessarily a theological component of all aspects of education, (e.g., math, PE, chemistry), teachers should strive to possess and communicate real Christian wisdom and virtue in teaching. The method of such teachers ought to convey to their students and awaken in them something beyond the subject by helping them understand the subject’s proper place in the students’ lives (past, present, and future), showing them how it points to the universal truths of Creation, and giving them a love for learning. All of these things should ultimately draw students and teachers into closer union with God; the source and end of all virtue and knowledge.
Disciple-Teachers: Teachers who have been transformed by meeting Christ and experiencing conversion. Their love for Jesus Christ, the Church and the sacraments impels them to make following him the highest priority of their life, and calls and inspires others to do the same.
Teaching Vocation: Being a teacher at a Catholic school is a calling that God gives to those whom he wants to play a vital role in helping parents, who are the first teachers of their children, form their children so that they may become saints. Being a teacher involves giving without expecting anything in return. It often means not feeling loved in return, but loving all the more—an experience of unrequited love—just as Jesus experienced on the cross.
Hiring: Principals and pastors need to refine the hiring process for new teachers and aides. Whether or not the person being considered for the job is an authentic disciple, or displays openness to becoming one, must be an aspect of the interview process. This means that administrators and teacher candidates must jointly discern if the desire for a teaching position in a school is vocational.
Continuing Formation: The Office of Catholic Schools, in cooperation with principals and pastors, needs to provide formation that moves each teacher forward in a disciple relationship with Christ and his Church. The goal is not just to convey facts to the staff, but to also provide opportunities for further conversion, for their hearts to be transformed, so that they will then share their faith with their students and fellow faculty members.
Evaluation: In order to determine their suitability for a particular role or position, appraisal of teachers and administrators must go beyond an evaluation of their pedagogy and adherence to certain benchmarks, policies and standards. They should be able to give, in at least a brief fashion, a testimony about their faith journey, as well as ways that they incorporate their faith into their witness and teaching.
Hiring Toolkit: The Office of Catholic Schools will develop a standardized set of tools and procedures to recruit, interview, and place high quality candidates in school positions. The objective is to both find and form disciple-teachers. The hiring toolkit will contain such items as a process timeline, updated job descriptions and sample job postings, pre-hiring assessments, and standardized interview questions.
On-going Formation Programs: Administrators and teachers will participate in ongoing catechesis and faith formation. To begin this effort, two programs will be offered during the current school year (2015-16): to help form hearts, we will offer Jesuit Father William Watson’s “40 Weeks” program; to help form minds, we will offer the Sophia Institute for Teachers.
Mentoring Program: The Office of Catholic Schools, together with school administrators, will formulate a program for new teachers that will help them develop their ability to become faith-filled practitioners and disciple-teachers in their respective classrooms.
Teacher Evaluation Instrument: The Office of Catholic Schools will develop and deploy an improved evaluation instrument for teachers that will assess behaviors, actions, and practices that are used by highly-effective Catholic school teachers. A similar instrument for school administrators will also be developed.
Formation of the Entire Person: Every person is created in the image and likeness of God and has been given a natural inclination toward truth, beauty, and goodness. Catholic schools form the minds, bodies, souls, and hearts of students. In addition to academics and physical education, they help to cultivate an understanding of the dignity of the human person by forming students in virtue, reverence, and the beatitudes.
Support Families: Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. Further, family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Catholic schools exist to assist parents in their responsibility by providing a high–quality educational atmosphere and programs that complement what is being done in the family.
Permanence: Christ promised that his Church would continue until his second coming. The enduring truths of the Catholic faith will prevail until the end of time. Schools, as an extension and ministry of the Church, speak to the Church’s enduring nature. Our schools need to offer the security of continuity to families who enroll their children.
Community: It is the responsibility of the faithful in each local community to support the Church and her ministries. By extension, it is the obligation of the faithful to participate in supporting schools that seek to form the next generation of intentional disciples to Christ.
Promote Strengths: Schools must actively and effectively promote the purpose of a Catholic education and how they will help to achieve their promise. There are already many aspects of our schools that make them very attractive, yet sometimes they are not readily known to the community, and especially prospective families of students.
Enrollment Management: Schools must systematically approach recruiting and retaining students and families. This process requires appropriate resources and personnel.
Boards of Specified Jurisdiction: Pastors often lack the time and the training to serve as the president of a school. By employing the governance of a board, members are able to bring their specific areas of expertise to bear. Rather than relinquishing administration of their schools, pastors are given the tools and support they need to govern them more effectively. The Office of Catholic Schools will pilot boards of specified jurisdiction at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Denver and St. Joseph Catholic School in Fort Collins. Should these pilot projects prove successful, the model will be deployed in various configurations across the archdiocese.
Academic Programming & Configuration: Catholic schools should develop specialized programing and/or configurations. Schools will be advised on how they can adapt to offer academic enhancements (e.g., specialized high quality academic programs, student cohort specialty tracks) to better compete in the education market and meet the unique needs of our students. This will assist schools in becoming individually and uniquely excellent, all the while driving enrollment across the school system. Additionally, where conditions and circumstances warrant, alternative configurations may be explored.
Professional Marketing: A leading marketing and public relations firm will be contracted to consult on highly effective strategies to share the good news of Catholic education with the faithful across the Archdiocese of Denver. This endeavor will supplement and not replace the marketing efforts that exist at individual schools. Development of market tested messaging and its development across a variety of media (e.g. internet, television, radio, print) will increase awareness of the value and efficacy of Catholic schools.
Changing Demographics: Latinos are the fastest growing school age population in the United States. The future of the Catholic Church in the United States is closely bound to this growing population. Presently, 1 out of 5 Latinos in the US leave the Catholic Church every year, but research indicates that Latinos who attend Catholic schools are less likely to do so. Catholic schools can offer a point of entrance to the parish for the Latino community.
Cultural Response: When the first wave of immigrants to the US arrived in the 1800-1900s, they founded parishes and schools. The second wave of immigrants, who have come in recent times, have stepped into a land where schools have already been established. These pre-established schools are not fully culturally responsive to new immigrants. We need creative ways to serve and educate this growing population. This cultural responsiveness begins with charity, and should be rooted in the recognition that the bonds of baptism are stronger than national or ethnic bonds.
Ownership: Outreach to Latinos in the Archdiocese of Denver is often perceived as an afterthought. Masses, classes, and other functions are relegated to secondary time slots. This reality has created a mentality that Latino parishioners, especially those who do not yet speak English, are not valued members of a parish, and do not contribute as much as English-speaking members. When this happens, it is difficult for Latinos to authentically engage in the life of a parish and take ownership. Efforts to transform the Latino population into key stakeholders in parishes and schools are necessary for the Archdiocese to thrive in the future.
Develop Demand: Approximately two–thirds of the Latino population in the United States has roots in Mexico. Among this population there is a cultural disposition to view Catholic education as something unattainable or inaccessible because of the educational situation in their home country. It is important to correct misconceptions and create demand (i.e., an understanding that Catholic education is a viable option for Latino families).
Develop Access: Catholic schools should be approachable. The Church loves immigrants. This necessitates adapting to and creatively finding ways to welcome Latino families by eliminating any obstacles (real or perceived) in the established communities/cultures/schools/parishes.
Develop Leadership: Those in leadership positions need to be trained in understanding the culture and faith of Latinos. Additionally, leaders must be called forth and formed from within the Latino population. Together, these leaders will ensure that schools are actually a viable option, one that can address the needs of the students and provide an educational environment in which they can flourish.
Director of Latino Enrollment: Create a new position in the Office of Catholic Schools that will coordinate and lead efforts to recruit and retain Latino students in all of our schools. This individual will also lead professional development efforts for school staff and help with marketing initiatives for this demographic.
Latino Enrollment Initiative: Put into use the Madrinas Model, a successful and proven Latino enrollment initiative developed at the University of Notre Dame. Effective communication with the Latino community is different than the communication methods typically used for non-Latino communities. While it is true that many of the same tools are used, how these tools are used and how a message is communicated can be considerably different. Within the context of the new communication efforts for Catholic schools, particular attention and resources will be used to create a plan specifically for Latinos.
Latino Enrollment Toolbox: Compile resources of the best practices used for increasing Latino enrollment that can be used as a turn-key approach by schools.
Right-Sized: The current affordability can be improved and the future sustainability of our schools can be most easily accomplished through the development of a right–sized school budget, a right–sized personnel to student ratio, and a right–sized tuition per family.
Per Pupil Cost: Budgeting, tuition, and financial aid must be based on real per pupil costs, i.e., the total school expenses, divided by the total number of students.
Shift to Macro: Archdiocesan schools operate mostly autonomously from each other. The future success of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese, especially with funding, will depend on system wide solutions where appropriate.
Standard Tuition: A standard archdiocesan tuition rate for K-8 schools and a different rate for high school will need to be established. This rate will be based on an Archdiocesan per pupil cost average.
Right-Sized School Budgets: Schools will be required to turn in budgets that are right-sized by being based on a reasonable enrollment projection and a reasonable allocation of the parish’s offertory. The budget will be created by multiplying the total number of students by a percentage of the universal tuition rate. Additionally, all schools will be required to include deferred maintenance in their budgets.
Right-Sized Personnel: The following ratios will serve as targets for all schools with an understanding that it may take multiple school years to reach the target.
Right-Sized Tuition: Tuition across the system will be set to give all families an even starting line. To achieve accessibility and affordability, a centralized financial aid system will be developed to assess individual family financial needs and to disburse aid.
Increased Funding: A variety of different techniques, increases, and sources will serve to increase the total amount of funding available, including but not limited to: improved tuition collection programs and technology, increased funding from traditional sources, increase in parish assessment rates, improved individual fundraising efforts from each school, and diocesan-wide stewardship efforts.
Model Uniform Budgeting: The scope of school operations will be contingent upon student enrollment. The Office of Catholic Schools will develop an optimal model of school operations premised on student enrollment. Tuition rates, teacher salaries, scholarships, and all other financial aspects of Catholic schools will be translated into standard units. Each year during the budgeting process the Office of Catholic Schools will determine the dollar amount of the “unit.”
Centralize Fundraising and Financial Aid: Development, fundraising, collection of parish school assistance assessments, and disbursements of student financial aid will be done through a uniform and centralized method for all archdiocesan K-12 schools. Special attention will be paid to relationships both with existing benefactors and new partnerships (e.g. national corporations and foundations) to finance school operations and innovation.
Multiple Child Discount: The experience of a Catholic education is maximized when the entire family is given the opportunity to know the difference a Catholic education makes in the life of a child. The schools will extend their resources to provide this opportunity for all children in a family by offering a discount for the second (and each additional) student in the same family living in the same household.
Teacher Salary Aid: The Office of Catholic Schools will prudently raise teacher salaries to offer a more competitive and attractive environment. This will help to better recruit highly effective teachers and retain such teachers.