Thomas Kiely’s Guest Blog on Jubilee Schools

Thomas Kiely’s Guest Blog on Jubilee Schools

When the Jubilee School in Memphis, TN announced their closure earlier this year I shared the sadness of those engaged directly in the schools, and the general discontent of colleagues working in urban Catholic education more generally.  While I am sure that the reasons for the closure had been building over time, I believe that the larger Catholic educational community can look to Jubilee as both a successful venture that did not last forever, and as a cautionary tale that can help inform Catholic school colleagues.  To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy: successful Catholic schools are all alike; every troubled Catholic school is troubled in its own way.

As an American Catholic church we love to celebrate success and mourn loss, but we have adopted too easily the cultural habit of “whispering” behind the scenes during troubled times rather than working collectively to solve problems.  We need to speak more openly about our troubles as well as our triumphs.  However, too often the competitive situations in which we find ourselves regarding enrollment, unique programming, or public relations silences the insights we might receive from each other.

Our schools were set up in a time of abundant students, limited school choices, and families who were deeply motivated to remain in tightly bound community relationships.  In addition, the faculty and staff overwhelmingly were the vowed members of religious orders.  A great deal of that landscape has changed.  Student population numbers are large in some demographics and scarce in others.  The watchword of the day is school choice.  Communities are of a much more shifting and amorphous quality than ever before and are often driven by diverse interests rather than proximity and defined relationships.  The faculty and staff are mostly lay women and men who must earn a living, support families, and envision a career that contains a measure of upward mobility.  Information sharing and criticism is the currency by which culture moves rather than a more hierarchical transfer system from those who know to those who learn.

This leads to a need for conversations among Catholic administrators, teachers, parents, and students.  This Summer over 30 Catholic School Urban system administrators will gather at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the first Congress of Conversations among such a group.  Sparked in part by Dr. Bill Hughes of Seton Catholic Schools Milwaukee, the Congress will attempt to dig deeply into the areas described by the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Schools (NSBECS).  Moving beyond somewhat static understandings of the NSBECS the Congress hopes to provoke thought and conversation around areas such as leadership transitions, teacher and leadership pipelines, collaboration with partners who can assist schools in multiple areas, flexibility, integrating non-Catholic students and families into urban Catholic schools, enrollment, academic success, funding, governance, and other topics brought to the Congress by the participants.  This event is co-hosted by the NCEA, Marquette University, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and Seton Catholic Schools of Milwaukee.

25 years ago Anthony Bryk, Valerie Lee and Anthony Holland published Catholic Schools and the Common Good a landmark study proclaiming that Catholic schools produced “an independent effect on achievement, especially in reducing disparities between disadvantaged and other students.”  The authors tried to look into the future to anticipate future conceptions of Catholic schools: as “a realization of the prophetic Church that critically engages contemporary culture…” and whose “major value… embodies the tradition of thought, rituals, mores, and organizational practices that form these schools.”  Just as Bryk, Lee, and Holland saw Catholic schools as an “invitation to students both to reflect on a systematic body of thought and to immerse themselves in a communal life,” so, too, today’s urban administrators need such an immersion in order to serve the students they seek to educate.

Confronting the tradition, the lived experiences, the challenges and the successes as a Church spanning the nation’s cities can only enhance hopes for success. In the words of Margaret Brinig and Nicole Stelle Garnett in Lost Classroom, Lost Community: “Catholic schools have long exhibited faith in the ability of all children to learn regardless of circumstance and apparently have fostered community in neighborhoods where social ties are frayed.”  The sharing of conversation: successes and failures, colleagueship, prayer, and community must extend to those who serve often in isolation, under pressure, left with only their wits and their faith in what they do.  Let us not fray the ties that bind us to each other in Christ.


Bernard Dumond Guest Blog on Jubilee Schools

The Audacity of Indifference: Lessons Learned from the Closing of the Memphis Jubilee Schools

On January 23, 2018, like many others in our Catholic educational community, I learned the disheartening news of the closing of the Jubilee Schools of the Diocese of Memphis. As a Catholic school advocate who focuses my ministry work on providing vitality and sustainability strategies for these institutions, the demise of these diocesan schools is especially troubling.

Once hailed as a true success story, the Jubilee Schools represented forward thinking, strong community partnerships, and an innovative approach to the financial challenges facing Catholic schools.

According to the latest statistics by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in 2016-17, 16 new schools were opened and 110 schools were consolidated or closed. While it is abundantly clear that Catholic schools are declining in numbers, it is the indifference to this issue by our leaders that remains intolerable.

Where is the outrage over the closing of our beloved Catholic schools?

As we examine the current state of restrictive financial models, increased marketplace competition and our ever-growing dependency on pervasive fundraising activity, all Catholic schools remain vulnerable to the destructive forces that crippled the Jubilee Schools.

It is indeed time for a new approach. But first, we must explore the issues relative to the closing of the Jubilee Schools.

So, what went wrong and what can we learn?

  • Leadership Challenges

Over the course of its 20-year history serving youth in urban areas, this system of nine schools experienced high levels of administrative turnover, faculty and staff instability and upon the departure of its founder (in 2012) began to lose its unifying mission and momentum.

  • Academic Issues

With leadership and faculty turnover, the academic commitment becomes a concern. Student performance is uneven and doubts are raised about curriculum, parent involvement and Catholic Identity.

  • Financial Instability

Urban schools under the Jubilee Schools model, require a diversified set of revenue streams and a dependency on philanthropic activity to achieve operational vitality. Due to the economic realities in these neighborhoods, parents are simply not able to pay full – or even partial – tuition and required fees. This reliance on a small group of donors and corporate sponsors became a daunting task—and even more daunting without a clear vision of the mission of the schools. The schools at one time had a large endowment ($38 million) but fundraising efforts fell short and the corpus of the endowment was utilized to plug funding gaps.

  • Enrollment Decline

Plagued by leadership uncertainty, faculty turnover and financial decline, the resulting paradox becomes declining enrollment. Unsatisfied parents seek other educational options and the mission and promise is diminished. The perception of value is compromised and the exodus has devastating consequences. Without students, this life-giving ministry of the Catholic Church ceases to function.

So where do we go from here?

The first lesson learned of the closing of the Jubilee Schools is that if we do not innovate, we will continue to decline. New approaches and solutions are necessary for the mission of Catholic schools to advance. The traditional revenue model of tuition, parish subsidy and fundraising is clearly flawed and unsound. New and recurring revenue sources must be secured and long-term philanthropic support becomes a top priority.

The second valuable lesson learned from the demise of the Jubilee Schools is that the quality of leadership and academics play a major role in the value proposition presented to parents. Administrators must be collaborative and visionary while cultivating a culture of innovation and engagement. We need to hire and retain the best teachers and support them in the vocation of Catholic education.

The third important lesson learned from the loss of the Jubilee Schools is that market competition demands that we create a very special student experience where young people are valued, challenged, and encouraged to find God’s place in their lives. Our Catholic schools must be a safe place of discovery and growth. We must also tell this story of distinction and success through strong marketing and communication efforts. We must be attractive in order to attract others.

So, what can we do?

The closing of the Jubilee Schools needs to reverberate through our Catholic community like a beckoning alarm. When one of our schools closes its doors, we all suffer and the mission of the universal Catholic Church is weakened.

The good news is that we can begin working at the diocesan and parish level to ensure thriving Catholic schools. Here are some workable strategies that can transform our Catholic school mission and ministry:

Strive to be a Catholic School of Vitality and Distinction

  • Focus on high standards, quality in all areas, transparency and customer service.
  • Create and implement a Strategic Vision with bold priorities, dedicated resources and monthly monitoring.
  • Establish the school as a School of Distinction with excellence as a cultural value.

Build a Culture of Continuous Improvement and Innovation

  • Encourage teachers to experiment with new techniques and methods.
  • Establish the Faculty Innovation Team to bring fresh ideas to the school community.
  • Create the Faculty Innovation Award to recognize academic advancements.

Implement a Process to Determine New Funding Models and Growth Strategies

  • Establish a Resource and Revenue Task Force to identify and implement new funding models that offer a variety of financial options and choices for parents, donors and corporate entities.
  • Cultivate a growth mindset by implementing proactive strategies and embracing change as opportunities.
  • Be patient and persistent in the wake of change and evolution. Share the purpose and rationale for all decisions. Be transparent and open to feedback.

Engage More People in the Mission and Vision of the School

  • Tap into the abundance of talent within your parish and school community. Right now, people are waiting for your invitation. Through personal invitation, allow them to help solve your challenges and secure the needed resources for growth.
  • Each year, conduct a Vision and Vitality Summit. Invite the community on campus to hear about the great work of your school and ask them to give input into the top priorities for the coming year.
  • Listen and respond to the needs of your teachers, parents, alumni, donors and friends. Find out – through formal surveys and informal conversations — the current state of the school. Implement policy and procedures that make people feel valued and recognized.

Be Intentional about Enrollment Growth

  • Understand the educational marketplace and the decision-drivers for families. Offer a value proposition that is desired and affordable.
  • Recognize that enrollment is the life-blood of the school and all activities are connected to retaining and attracting families. Everyone is responsible for enrollment growth.
  • Implement a year-round Strategic Enrollment Management Plan that is intentional, strategic and deliberate – and responsive to the needs of the market. Eliminate generic appeals and customize your approach to each interested family.

Execute a Monthly Marketing and Communications Plan

  • Properly manage the story of your school through creative marketing and communications strategies that take full advantage of digital platforms. Tailor your messages for targeted groups and audiences.
  • Create a new school website as a marketing tool. No longer is the website an online bulletin board. Design the new website to appeal to a variety of users with portals filled with relative content.
  • Establish your compelling message through 5-7 branding statements that form the foundation of all marketing and communication pieces – from social media to printed materials. Utilize the talents of professional vendors to give your school brand a polished and refined image.

The time is NOW to begin the Catholic School Vitality Movement!

Although the closing of the Jubilee Schools is the latest high-profile example of the vulnerable state of Catholic education, there is much to celebrate. New schools are opening, quality leadership is emerging and new thinking is gaining traction.

However, every movement demands a passionate champion that can rally the cause in their local diocese or school. This champion is you! It is simply not enough to be a believer in Catholic schools, we must be believable.

Our believability is built on action and the time to act is now. Organize a meeting next week with interested people who can begin the conversation about the value of Catholic school vitality.

I stand with you as a passionate champion for Catholic schools, knowing that the future is bright and God’s grace is with us. Onward!

Bernard Dumond is the President & CEO of the consulting group, Development Innovations 360, serving parishes, schools and dioceses. For over 20 years, Mr. Dumond has been a sought-after speaker, process facilitator, writer and leadership coach, believing that all Catholic schools can create growth and sustainability. His framework for innovation, The Seven Circles of Catholic School Vitality was presented at the NCEA Convention in Cincinnati in April. He is a husband and father to two daughters and active in his parish, the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Lafayette, LA, serving in numerous volunteer capacities for the church and school.


Dr. Joseph Hollowell Guest Blog on Jubilee Schools

What Have Researchers Learned That Might Still Help Memphis

Reading the postmortem comments regarding the closure of the Jubilee Schools followed by the reopening of those campuses by a charter school operator aroused within me both a deep sense of concern and remorse. Like the diocesan leaders before them in Washington D.C., Miami, and Indianapolis where similar Catholic-to-charter “conversions” had occurred, leaders in Memphis offered expressions such as, “Our hope is that students will continue to receive an excellent education that prepares them to be giving members of their communities” and “We’re hopeful the charter organization is keen on keeping the local aspect – keeping teachers and principals where they are and make it a seamless transition for all.” Research by Brinson (2010), Smarick (2010), and Carr (2014) concludes that similar hopes in the aforementioned locales sadly went unfulfilled. My concern is that the leaders in Memphis will find themselves in similar positions of disappointment within a few years.

These three researchers all found increased enrollments and increased diversity in the newly formed charter schools. However, while new revenues from facility rental by the charter schools were generated for center-city parishes that were in desperate need of capital infusion, the unfulfilled hopes of the Catholic leaders who had facilitated these conversions provide a cautionary tale. The lessons learned from these “conversion” projects should inform the thinking of all Catholic school leaders. Smarick, Brinson, and Carr each concluded that Catholic-to-charter conversions they studied led to:

  • unsatisfactory results in maintaining the Catholic character that had been the original hope of Catholic leaders
  • an overwhelming regulatory burden of the governing public-school agency that crushed the enthusiasm of the teachers
  • a general lack of effectiveness and accountability in the optional “wraparound” religious education programs.

The good news is that there is a new model for these partnerships with public school chartering authorities that has been piloted by the Chicago Public Schools and the Midwest Province of the Lasallian Christian Brothers. The schools that resulted from this partnership – the Catalyst Schools – were first studied and reported in the research literature by Proehl, Starnes and Everett (2015). These researchers found indications of a high degree of satisfaction of all stakeholders which was clearly not found in the three previously mentioned locales. This discovery led to my own research (Hollowell, 2016) which uncovered some important differences between the Catalyst Schools and previous partnerships with public school chartering agencies in Washington D.C., Miami, and Indianapolis. Among the new directions charted by the Catalyst Schools leadership, two stood out that seemed to make the critical difference in stakeholder satisfaction:

  • hiring faculty and administrators who were aligned to the Christian Brother charism of educating the poor
  • allowing and encouraging those teachers to participate in traditional professional development opportunities provided by the Lasallian Christian Brothers.

The Lasallian Christian Brothers have been running schools and writing about teaching and learning for over 300 years. Catalyst Schools teachers study side-by-side with teachers at Christian Brother schools as they reflect upon the methods first pioneered by St. John Baptiste de la Salle – the patron St. of Catholic school teachers! This approach to professional development is worth thoroughly understanding by those who will be collaborating with the Diocese of Memphis. It may or may not be able to be replicated in other venues but it is absolutely thriving in Chicago.

The Catalyst model deserves close scrutiny by all leaders around the country who are forced to consider these types of Catholic-to-charter conversions.

 

References

Brinson, D. (2010). Turning loss into renewal: Catholic schools, charter schools, and the Miami experience (pp. 1-22, Rep.). New York: Seton Education Partners.

Carr, K. A. (2014). When Catholic schools close and become charter schools: A case study of organizational narratives and legitimacy (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Indiana University.

Hollowell, J. D. (2016). Collaboration of a religious order and a public school chartering authority (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 10120501)

Proehl, R., Starnes, H., & Everett, S. (2015). Catalyst Schools: The Catholic Ethos and Public Charter Schools. Journal of Catholic Education, 18(2), 125-158.   doi:10.15365/joce.1802072015

Smarick, A. (2010). Catholic schools become charter schools: Lessons from the Washington experience (pp. 1-26, Rep.). New York: Seton Education Partners.

 

 

 


Dr. RaeNell Houston Guest Blog on Jubilee Schools

Upon hearing the news of the closing of the Jubilee Catholic Schools in Memphis, I was saddened but not shocked. The reality that Catholic school leaders face today is a complicated and complex one, most especially those serving high-poverty communities. Often times, these leaders are isolated from others in the diocese because they face different challenges. I am a firm believer that we are only as strong as the weakest among us. It is only in working together that we can overcome the challenges we face.

For almost 300 years, Catholic education has been an important part of the fabric of New Orleans society and culture. No matter who you were or where you came from, doors of Catholic schools were open to help create new opportunities and brighter futures for generations. As I read about the events leading up to the announcement of the Jubilee Catholic Schools closure, I couldn’t help but think about the things we have in common.

In the Archdiocese of New Orleans we have a cohort of schools that serve high-poverty communities. While Louisiana is blessed to have a state-funded voucher program and a tax credit scholarship program, we still face financial challenges. Each year we have to fight for funding to maintain the voucher program because it is funded as a line item in our state’s annual budget. In addition, we are anxiously waiting to measure the results of the impact of a newly created tax credit scholarship program. Currently, we serve over 3,600 students utilizing needs-based, state-funded tuition programs. If that funding ceases to exist, we would find ourselves in a situation much like our colleagues in Memphis.

Have you ever heard the saying: Everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten? When I was reprimanded for being disobedient as a five year old, my teacher would ask me to think about what I did and how I would respond to the same situation if it were to happen again. She encouraged me to use that opportunity to learn. Today, I still look for lessons, or takeaways, in every situation. In light of the Jubilee Catholic Schools closing, and as I move forward into my second year as Superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, I embrace the following lessons:

  • We must support school leaders in strengthening Catholic identity. It is the ONE thing that sets us apart;
  • As transformational Catholic school leaders, we must work collaboratively at a national level. By sharing our experiences and resources, we can develop innovative solutions;
  • We must recruit, retain and grow strong school leaders; and
  • We must be accountable to stakeholders, and hold school leaders accountable in the areas of Catholic identity, academic quality and finances.

After prayerful reflection on the closing of the Jubilee Catholic Schools, I am even more committed to identifying ways to preserve and sustain Catholic education for all who desire it.

 


Dr. Christian Dallavis Guest Blog on Jubilee Schools

My colleague on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame, Kole Knueppel, often talks about leadership in terms of mountaintop and valley experiences. A few months ago, on a Tuesday in January, several of us on Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education team drove to Chicago to participate in the kickoff to Catholic Schools Week, and I witnessed both a summit and a crater for Catholic schools, all within the span of a few hours. It was a Paschal Mystery kind of day, in reverse.

In Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich hosted the annual archdiocesan Catholic education breakfast at the Chicago Hilton, where he and Superintendent Jim Rigg had invited Notre Dame’s president, Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, and a graduate of ACE’s leadership program, St. Genevieve principal McKenna Corrigan, to speak to Chicago’s 500 best friends of Catholic schools about their passion for our schools and the children we serve. There was an electric buzz in the air; everyone in the ballroom was bubbling about the impending $100 million in parental choice scholarships that will be available for students this fall. Many of the people who made this victory for parental choice possible were present, and the breakfast was very much a well-deserved celebration of a landmark moment in a battle the Church has been fighting since 1840. Cardinal Cupich said, “One of the most important decisions parents make for their children is where their kids are going to go to school. We should make sure that all parents have that decision-making freedom and that power.” Thanks in large part to his efforts, the future of Catholic education in an archdiocese with more than 200 schools never seemed brighter.

Later that day, 8 hours down Interstate 57, lay the valley. After spending 19 years and $30 million in private scholarships on the Jubilee Schools provided by generous faith-filled donors, the leadership of the Diocese of Memphis had decided to close the doors of these schools for good. That same Tuesday afternoon the Diocese sent a letter home to parents from all 10 Jubilee Schools and one additional school, announcing that each would be closing.

The Jubilee Schools had been reopened in 1999, with the support of two anonymous funders and many others who had poured their personal resources into the schools, to help realize Bishop Terry Steib’s vision to provide a Gospel-centered education to thousands of urban children living in poverty, whether the children were Catholic or not. Less than two decades after being on the mountaintop themselves when they opened the “Miracle in Memphis” (with a young Jim Rigg as one of the school’s founding principals), the diocese blamed financial challenges and recent failures to pass school choice legislation for the closures, while announcing tentative plans to allow a charter management operator to lease the buildings to operate public charter schools pending state and district approval.

I last visited the Jubilee Schools three years ago. It felt like a reunion, to me anyway – Bishop Steib confirmed me almost thirty years ago, when he was a young auxiliary bishop in St. Louis. He joked that he remembered me well and was gracious enough to take a selfie with me that I could post to Facebook to show my old 8th grade classmates from Sts. Joachim & Ann. He had invited several of us from ACE down to help his team think about how the Jubilee Schools might face the future, and we spent a long time talking about the need to integrate academic quality with a deep sense of mission and commitment to root beliefs. I was struck by Bishop Steib’s vision of schools that could be indelibly Catholic and academically extraordinary, and that visit reinforced my belief in the power of strong Catholic school culture as a tool that great school leaders need to learn, practice, and master.

Around that time, the Tennessee legislature came close to passing school choice legislation and they came closer still the following year. Now, however, that literally all of the urban Catholic schools in the city of Memphis will be closed, the prospects for school choice legislation has nearly vanished for the families of Memphis. I don’t know if the failure to pass school choice killed the Jubilee Schools. But I suspect the closure of the Jubilee Schools will probably kill school choice in Memphis.

Some will say–indeed, in the article announcing the closures in the Memphis paper, it has already been said–that the rising charter sector has created choices that did not exist in 1999 and that these choices soften the blow of the closures. Many have used the word “conversion” to describe what will happen when these schools close and re-open as charter schools. Many have written and spoken (including bishops) about so-called “wrap-around” charter schools that offer religious education outside of school hours, as though this were a suitable substitute for a Catholic school.

Let’s stop fooling ourselves with euphemisms.  We have to be honest about the words we use, words like “wrap-around” and “conversion.” It sounds comforting to “wrap” ourselves up in our Catholic identity, but that is not really what happens. There is a romantic notion that we would shroud the statues from 8 am to 3 pm only to dramatically remove them when the bell rings at 3, and the sudden appearance of Mary or Jesus in the building would have a powerful evangelizing effect. The reality is more mundane. Of course, schools offer an optional after school religious education program that also provides tutoring and physical education and other extracurriculars. I’ve not yet heard of a charter school that attempts to have religious education before school as well as after, and certainly none that offer sacraments.  What is “wrapping around?” The efforts I have read about seem to have as much after-school physical education and tutoring as they have religious education.

“Conversion” is another word that can lull us into feeling good about our abandonment of our evangelizing mission. There is no “conversion” taking place when Catholic school buildings stop teaching the faith to host public schools. After all, “conversions” often evince positive religious experiences. But when a Catholic school closes and a pastor leases its space to a public school, there is no religious experience. In reality, quite the opposite: the faith and values – the elements of the school that were most important to the community the school served – must, by law, be sacrificed.

To offer 45 or 60 minutes of optional after-school religious education a few times a week does not replace the ability to hire our teachers based on whether they believe each child is made in the image and likeness of God – and to hold them accountable to a set of actions that are consistent with that belief and others that are core to our faith and the faith that parents have entrusted us to transmit to their children.

That is what we are sacrificing, for a relatively small bag of silver.

I send my children to Catholic school not because they get 45 minutes of religious education every day but because they (and I) know that every teacher believes deeply in their God-given dignity; that each of their teachers believes she is a disciple with hope to bring; that each teacher holds a sacramental view of the world that sees God in all things and encourages my children to find God’s living presence in history, in literature, under a microscope, in imaginary numbers in math, in each other, and in themselves. The 45 minutes of religious education is important, but it is not even close to the main thing.

It’s not why the 1,500 parents of Jubilee students have been sending their kids to the Memphis schools. They could have been going to public charter schools and CCD this whole time. There has been no demand for “wrap-around” charters in Memphis–there has been demand for Jubilee Schools. Why? Because there is a demand–and always will be, I suspect, among parents–for teachers who believe that each child is made in the image and likeness of God. There is a demand for school leaders who will hold teachers accountable for being a disciple with hope to bring. There is demand for classrooms that seek God in all things, and not just correct answers. There is demand for school communities that are more like families and second homes. Charter school leaders cannot, by law, hire and fire teachers based on whether or not they believe these things. Supplemental religious education after school cannot supplant a shared set of root beliefs.

Strong leaders imagine a vision of a better tomorrow, and they provide a roadmap to show us how to get there. If no such map exists, they draw one. They refuse to sacrifice their root beliefs for revenue. It is uncertain whether or not the Jubilee funding model was sustainable, but were efforts really made to try to find a way forward?  The key to vision–whether you’re standing on top of a mountain or in the bottom of a valley–is to find a way. I am deeply saddened that the leadership of the Diocese of Memphis ultimately felt they had to walk away rather than find a way, and as a result, the urban families of Memphis will no longer have access to Catholic schools.

After spending some days with Bishop Steib, I appreciate the enormous costs that it took to run the Jubilee Schools. I’m disappointed that the Church was unable to find a way to leverage these school communities to advocate effectively for parental choice in Tennessee, and I’m anxious that the closure of the schools will almost certainly result in the end of urban Catholic education for vulnerable families in Memphis. I hope that this tragic example will not discourage other leaders; instead, I pray that in other places like Memphis, where leaders find themselves against long odds, that they will find the strength and imagination and zeal to dig deep to bring their vision to life, and that the two decades that the Jubilee Schools spent on the mountaintop may stand as an example to inspire efforts elsewhere to offer an education in the faith.

At the same time, I pray in thanksgiving for the opportunity to help demonstrate what is possible in Chicago, where strong leaders with extraordinary vision have demonstrated the courage to create a once-in-a-century opportunity. As parental choice scholarships come into play in one of our nation’s largest archdioceses, we have an opportunity to reach new heights, proving what is possible in Catholic schools.


March 4th Newsletter

Here is the link to the March 4th newsletter.  In my blog today I spotlight Bishop McNamara HS in suburban Washington, DC.  Founded as a mostly-white all-boys school, it’s now a beacon of diversity.  My top 5 articles:

  1. Why Increased Enrollment of Hispanic Student Benefits Catholic Schools” is a great piece by Dr. Hosffman Ospino of Boston College in America. This is the first article in the American Catholic News section.
  2. Pair that article with the next two article in the American Catholic News section—the NY Times opinion piece “The Cruel Ploy of Taking Immigrant Children From Their Parents” and “Why Do Hispanics Leave the Church?” We need to face the realities (declining enrollments alongside a growing population of Hispanics in the Church) and we need to respond.  I think every Catholic school should put up a not-so-subtle banner outside the front door saying “Welcome Dreamers.”
  3. In the Leadership section, “Plan a Better Meeting with Design Thinking” from Harvard Business Review should help you re-think your faculty meetings, your Advisory Council meetings, and those boring meetings with the superintendent!
  4. In the Teaching & Learning section, I’ve included great articles on project-based learning and a great common craft video on flipping classrooms.
  5. In the Miscellaneous section, Matt Brower’s essay “Reflections on Human Life and Dignity” is a well-articulated argument for a consistent ethic of life.

Have a great week!


Feb 25th Newsletter

This week’s newsletter highlights 5 more new Catholic schools and their great stories in the blog and podcasts.  In the newsletter, however, I’ve also included some of my favorite articles about school communication.  Specifically, I’ve included resources to help school leaders.  My favorite five articles are the first 5 listed:

  1. Justin Baeder’s “Brevity Challenge” has been very popular. He gives some great advice on effective emails.
  2. Shane Parrish’s blog post “Carl Braun on Communicating Like a Grown Up” is full of great advice. I’ve always thought that being willing to have the difficult conversations and enter into the fray is part of being an effective leader.
  3. It’s Not Just What You Say, It’s How You Say It” is a great advice for school leaders for effective communication. It supports the notion that it’s not about having the right words (i.e. in an email or written memo) but it’s paying attention to the relationships that matter.
  4. To be effective, school leaders need to engender and build trust. Thomas Murray’s “7 Ways to Build Trust With Your School Community” is a great reflection full of great ideas.
  5. Edutopia’s “Turning Classes Into Communities” strikes at the heart of what makes Catholic schools successful—community. Yes, we’re faith communities.  But ultimately if you ask any Catholic school parent what they like about Catholic schools they will point to the community or family feel.  We must continue to be intentional about building and supporting this.  This approach might mean making more phone calls rather than emails or memos as outlined by the Harvard Business Review’s “How Customer Service Can Turn Angry Customers Into Loyal Ones.”

Have a great week!


FEb 18th Newsletter

Here is the link to the newsletter.  The Top 5:

  1. At the top of the American Catholic News section, there is a great feature story on Dr. RaeNell Houston, the superintendent for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Listen to my podcast interview from last fall with Dr. RaeNell here.
  2. As the immigration debate rages, Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners has a great article examining the Christian ethos of immigration reform. Replacing a family-based immigration system with a merit-based system has implications for our values.  Is economic value the best way to value citizenship?
  3. 6 School Culture Building Components,” a blog by Dr. Toby Travis, is a great reflection on building school culture. There’s a little bit of insight for everyone in this.
  4. I recommend you read the editorial “Gun Control is a Pro-Life Issue” as well as the NPR article entitled “Is There Any Way for Schools to Prevent Shootings?” and the story of the victims “Musician, Budding Scholars, Wrestling Coach, Soccer Player Among Fla. Shooting Victims.” We need to do a little bit of everything—put the story in context, figure how we can improve school security, and grieve the loss of our fellow Americans.  Gun violence is not a technical problem with a simple fix.  But that doesn’t mean we should give up trying to resist this “new normal” which has become a ritual for disaffected teens.

Feb 11th Newsletter

Here is the link to the Feb 11th Newsletter.  My Top 5:

  1. The Need to Think Differently” in the American Catholic News section is a great blog post by Don Drees (President) Dr. Bill Hughes (Chief Academic Officer) of Seton Schools in Milwaukee. They argues that we (Catholic school leaders) need new thinking to avoid catastrophes such as the closing of Jubilee Catholic schools.
  2. The next article, “The Scariest Catholic in America” is a feature of Fr. James Martin. It should serve as a wake-up to Catholics to listen to one another and open our hearts to each other.  Otherwise, with friends like these, who needs enemies?  Divided we fall, folks.
  3. In the Catholic School News section, there is a combined NCEA/USCCB document on 529 plans. This FAQ would be a great resource for Catholic school marketing.  You might want to insert these in parish bulletins, post on your website, pass out to your parents, etc.
  4. In the Leadership section, the HBR article entitled “If You’re So Successful, Why Are You Still Working 70 Hours a Week?” is a great article examining what we define as success and what role negative motivators such as insecurity and perfectionism play in our lives.
  5. In the Miscellany section, I love the first article on individualism which appeared in the month’s Sojourners magazine. “Bowling Together” examines how communities have become separated and we need more emphasis on the common good.

Feb 4th Newsletter

Here is the link to the Feb 4th Newsletter

The Top 5 Links:

  1. NCR was very kind in writing a great article about Catholic School Matters. The host of “In Conversations” also invited me onto the show.  I encourage you to click on the links.  Outlets like NCR pay attention to metrics.  The more hits and downloads, the more likely it is they’ll devote resources to telling our stories.
  2. Education Gadfly (part of the Thomas Fordham Institute) has two great blog posts—one very personal essay by Stephanie Saroki de Garcia (of Seton Fellows) about the need for more miracles in education and another by Kathleen Porter-Magee (of Partnership Schools in NYC) entitled “Charter Schools are Not the Future of Catholic Education.”
  3. I came across an article a couple of weeks ago referencing Rod Dreher’s monastic vision and the “Benedict Option.” Last week, Cardinal Cupich spoke out about what he characterized as “withdrawal.”  So I included the three articles in case you weren’t aware of this movement.
  4. In the Leadership section, the first article about decision-making and fighter pilots was one of the best things I read this week.
  5. Campaign Counsel produced a great guide to how the new tax code will impact giving and this can be found in the Leadership section.