Group will focus exclusively on helping Catholic schools lead, learn and proclaim the Faith
Catholic Education has always been about much more than just academic excellence. It is first and foremost about forming students according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. In today’s culture, that mission has never been more relevant. Yet, the changing world presents ever-new challenges.
To help Catholic schools keep pace, the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) announced in April that it will begin exclusively serving Catholic schools. Previously, they had also provided support to seminaries and religious education programs.
“We can’t be all things for all people,” NCEA president Brother Robert Bimonte told Our Sunday Visitor. “We did a very good job at that for over 100 years, but the world is becoming an increasingly complex place.”
Each group, according to Brother Bimonte, needs its own identity and focus to fully address the issues that are in front of them. He said that the NCEA is helping with transitions to other support networks.
The shift to exclusively serve Catholic schools was decided unanimously by the NCEA board of directors after a yearlong study that included a survey sent to more than 12,500 members and 70 personal interviews.
The vast majority of their more than 150,000 members come from 6,568 Catholic schools, according to Brother Bimonte. By comparison, there are only 70 seminaries, and parish membership from religious education programs only accounted for 544 members. When a school joins the NCEA, the entire staff becomes members.
The exclusive focus on Catholic schools includes three primary goals: lead, learn and proclaim.
“Those were the areas that surfaced from our members with remarkable consistency,” Brother Bimonte said.
Learning to succeed
For Catholic schools to succeed, strong leadership is key, Brother Bimonte said.
“We all know that as goes the principal, so goes the school,” he said. “People are looking to NCEA to identify and help train future leaders — who will be the next generation of presidents, principals and department chairs?”
In addition to online resources, the NCEA will hold a Catholic leadership summit this October on the best practices of leadership, where they will study what works in businesses such as marketing, understanding branding and learning about team-building skills. “An important aspect for Catholic schools, however, is the Catholic identity, because it is in everything we do,” Brother Bimonte said.
Managing and stretching money is also a major concern for leaders. “Tuition usually only covers about, 60 percent of the cost of educating a child,” Brother Bimonte said. “We help schools to look at creative funding mechanisms. We don’t want to become a private school system for the wealthy.”
He said the Catholic school commitment to serve and evangelize the poor needs to work in union with sound business principals.
“We will present fewer topics at the summit but take a deeper dive,” Brother Bimonte said. “Workshops will focus on building new skills and opportunities for those that attend to interact with each other [in] online discussion boards.”
The Good News
One of the key reasons parents send their children to Catholic schools is to receive a faith-based education. Brother Bimonte said that the NCEA provides support to help the integration of Catholic values throughout the curriculum.
“Teachers fresh out of college often need to be taught how to do that,” he said.
Some of the ways NCEA can help is with Catholic professional development for teachers through their Catholic Identity Curriculum Infusion website (cici-online.org). Resources and sample lessons show how the Catholic Faith can be integrated into all subjects.
While the Good News of Jesus Christ is being integrated into Catholic education, Brother Bimonte said that the good news regarding Catholic schools also needs to be told.
“Marketing is local,” he said. “And the NCEA can help Catholic schools tell their stories in their area.”
Daryl C. Hagan, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Evansville, Indiana, expressed appreciation for the NCEA’s help by creating a new model. “We want our leaders — even before their first day as principal — to be Catholic school leaders and understand it goes back to the mission of forming our children in Christ.” Hagan also said the NCEA is helping their teachers by offering ongoing professional development and exploring new models such as organizing diocesan-wide teacher “share” meetings through the Internet.
“Teachers bring their own Catholic culture to school, but when we put them into the classroom, we need to be sure the structure is there to shape students in the person of Jesus Christ,” he said. Hagan explained that even during math class teachers can integrate faith by using elements of religion in word problems. “Every class can begin with prayer and include intentions so that the teacher gets to the know the students better by understanding what they are dealing with.”
New models are needed, according to Hagan. “Major shifts have occurred in education, such as technology and what is appropriate,” he said. “We have also had to take on more and more in terms of the whole child,” he said.
John Czaplicki, principal of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish School in Plymouth, Michigan, said he is excited about NCEA’s new focus. Of key importance, he said is their role in cultivating strong leaders.
“As a Catholic school principal, the benefits of a national network cannot be understated,” he said. “It provides peer support and assistance and allows us to share ideas and learn from other Catholic school administrators.”
Sister Mary Grace Walsh, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, shares the enthusiasm.
“This is exactly what our Catholic schools need in the 21st century,” she said. “Focusing on the professional development of leaders and teachers will help us to sustain those already committed as well as assist us in raising up a new generation of leaders.”
Sister Walsh said that opportunities for teachers to collaborate with other Catholic school teachers (whether they are gathered in the same location or virtually) is something that teachers often request.
“All of us in Catholic education are also aware that we need to share the good news about Catholic schools as an important evangelizing mission of our Church,” she said. “We try to do that in our own dioceses, but it is important to have a professional organization to take the lead and be the voice of Catholic education on the national level.”