The Personnel Review: An Annual Practice

The following blog was contributed by Cathy Stephen, assistant superintendent of Operational Vitality, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

As Operational Vitality covers finance, function, facilities and funding, making sure that the right personnel is in place is critical to a sustainable and balanced budget. The rule of thumb for school budgeting matches the classic 80/20 rule. Salary and benefits run 80% of the expenses, and tuition and fee collections counter this with 80% of the income. Taking an annual look at the costs and people currently in place helps to determine how to move forward with a strategy for hiring the right people, training current staff to improvement and forecasting the annual budget. Principals must look at enrollment trends and ensure that they have the most qualified, positive people in the positions as there are few, and we need the most excellent people filling them. An annual personnel review is a practice that assists any principal in their budget knowledge and cost controls.

In a world where rising costs are shutting down business, we know that our Catholic schools need to reduce costs while increasing enrollment. We need to have an appropriate amount of staff for instruction and supervision of students. Although the standard timing for a personnel review is January – February, considering this before the end of the fall semester helps our schools move forward in the right direction in the most challenging year we have faced.

Conducting an annual personnel review takes time and attention to detail. Principals need thought-partners (perhaps from the Schools Office) who can assist in tough decision-making when it comes to rethinking the standard 40 hours of work for full-time staff, as well as what positions need to be reduced or cut altogether. Sometimes a thought-partner can challenge the status quo and thinking of a principal, allowing for new ideas and a shake-up of traditional positions. Some of our Catholic schools have no choice if they want to remain open.

Start with building a case for each current staff member. Notate number of years serving there, what their specialty is and what dollar figure they represent in expense to the budget. Ask the questions that help to move them toward offering a new contract for next year. Do we have enough Catholics? Catechist certified teachers? State certified teachers? Is our staff diversified to match the community and student body? What other value-adds do staff members bring to the community? Have they asked for a change in assignment? Do they need one? Can a paraprofessional or ancillary teacher position move from 40 hours to 30 hours for full-time benefits? Begin to match the strongest members of the team to the jobs you know you’ll have next year. Do the math on the salary and benefits of these valued employees. Does this keep you within the 80%? Do open positions require you to hire first year, lower salaried teachers? 

The tough decisions made from this line of thinking actually strengthen the team overall. Some teachers need the change of grade level or assignment to spark their passion again. Newly schooled candidates bring a different set of skills to our schools. A balance of veteran, master teachers and the blessing of a new generation of apprentice teachers can be a marketing message that with traditional values comes a new way of teaching and learning. The budget, too, is all the better for it.

Happy Thanksgiving…Remember to Count Your Blessings!

The following blog was contributed by Kathy Mears, interim president/CEO at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, Virginia.

Each November, on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, we begin our Advent and Christmas preparations. While putting out the Advent wreath and putting up the Christmas tree, we watch White Christmas. I enjoy it more than others in my family, but they put up with me.

One of my absolute favorite songs from the movie is “Count Your Blessings.” November is traditionally the month where we give thanks for God’s many blessings, so the song works during Thanksgiving weekend. This year, it would seem like it might be harder to find gratitude. 2020 has kicked us and some days, it is difficult for us to remember the abundance of blessings that God has provided. Yet, the multitude of blessings we enjoy is right in front of us.

The first on my list of blessings is the dedication and commitment of our teachers and school leaders. The love that they show to our children is never ending. They model what it means to be lifelong learners. They show us day after day that they are heroes and saints in the making. We are so grateful for our teachers and school leaders. During this pandemic they have been fantastic, and I am grateful that these particular people have answered God’s call to serve in this wonderful vocation of Catholic education at this moment in time.

Our families are on my gratitude list, too. They have handled the shift from in person teaching and learning, to online teaching and learning, to sometimes online and sometimes in person, to person to person, to online and back again. Their flexibility and willingness to “roll” with us is so very much appreciated. They trust us with their children, and I am very happy that they do.

I am blessed by our students. Their energy, enthusiasm and joy are gifts and thankfully, these gifts are visible to use in the classroom and online. This is a very difficult time for them, yet from all reports, they are trying and showing maturity that not all adults display when met with confusing moments in their lives. Our students continue to learn, to serve and to bring smiles to our faces and for that I am thankful.

Our pastors also bring hope to our work and I thank God for them. Learning to connect to people via Zoom or other platforms is challenging and they meet that challenge in a variety of ways. They are patient and kind. We are indebted to them for their work.

I am grateful for the generosity of many. Catholic schools depend on the generosity of others and although many have fewer financial resources than they did last year, people are still giving of their time, talent and treasure to our schools. We need them and so many are supporting us in every way that they are able.

Finally, I am so very thankful for our NCEA family. Our team has had many surprises and twists and turns this year, but they greet each day with a smile and a desire to serve you. They care about you! Everyone says, “our” schools, “our” teachers, “our principals.” They worry when they hear about a loss in a school community and they join in prayer for you each day. They laugh or cry each day because they care so deeply for our shared vocation. They are truly servant leaders.

My gratitude list is much longer than this, but I will end this blog with words from the song:

If you’re worried,
And you can’t sleep,
Just count your blessings instead of sheep,
And you’ll fall asleep,
Counting your blessings.

I hope you sleep well, counting your blessings. Happy Thanksgiving!

Non-Traditional Instruction of our Lord

The following blog was contributed by Adam P. Zoeller, a member of the theology department at Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, Kentucky.

What is your educational philosophy? Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching? Embarking ever so slowly on my 20th year as a theology teacher, sacred scripture continues to be my primary source of inspiration for what I consider to be sound pedagogy. In light of the lessons of the faith of the patriarchs, the challenging words of wisdom literature, and the unconventional teachings of Jesus Christ, my philosophy of education is rooted in scripture. 

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8). The disruption of the unseen coronavirus on school systems, administrators, teachers, students and parents is seen throughout the country. I find myself soul searching asking the question, where did this come from and where is it going? Teachers have been required to teach in-person, teach remotely or teach in a hybrid model. Flexibility and patience have been essential to navigate through these uncertain times. However, using sacred scripture as my inspiration in light of the pandemic, the opportunity for my craft to evolve is evident and necessary. The Call of Simon the Fisherman from the Gospel of Luke reflects my educational philosophy that has brought comfort and stability throughout teaching this school year. While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. (Luke 5:1-6). The primary lesson of this story is Jesus Christ calling His Apostles and specifically the faith of Saint Peter to respond to discipleship. However, the application of this story to the classroom teacher is focused on not what to do (curriculum), but how to do it (pedagogy). For example, my educational approach during the pandemic has been rebranded to focus on “how to think” and not “what to think.” While navigating on a new online platform and teaching in a hybrid model, I have transitioned to student-centered, project-based learning. My “pedagogical net” has been cast out to enhance the 21st century skills of my students by not focusing on the content for the sake of content, but instead requiring the students in my class to research, apply, analyze, or evaluate the information. 

Perhaps the challenge of teaching amidst the pandemic is to recognize that it is time to rethink the old ways of teaching and move towards a new approach. Which side of the boat are you standing on? Which side of the boat are you looking out? The challenge is not only to cast the nets in a new direction, but to “lower these nets” deep into the theological content in our classroom in order to “tear” our students from the secular world in order to bring them closer to Christ, and be true fishers of men (and women).

About the Author

Adam P. Zoeller is a member of the theology department at Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, KY.  He earned his B.A. in religious studies and B.A. in clinical psychology from Spalding University (Louisville, KY) and his M.Ed. in educational leadership from the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH).  He holds a Master’s Catechist Certification from the Archdiocese of Louisville.

Adam has presented the following workshops for the National Catholic Educational Association:

  • Practice & the Game: Using Sports Language to Teach the USCCB Curriculum Framework (NCEA Webinar 2017)
  • Media Literacy & Scriptural Exegesis: Essential Skills for 21st Century Religious Educators, (NCEA Convention and Expo 2017)
  • From heart to missionary zeal: Using language and lessons from athletics to aid adolescent catechesis in the New Evangelization, (NCEA Convention and Expo 2018).
  • Framing Brain-Based Learning in High School Theology (NCEA Webinar 2019)

Adam has written the following reflections for NCEA Talk:

  • Paschal Mystery: Storytelling and Media Literacy (September 2016)
  • Personal Litany of the Saints (April 2017)
  • Motion Offense in Basketball. (November 2017)
  • Bully, Victim, and Bystander in light of the Woman Caught in Adultery (July 2018)
  • Searching for God in the MCU (September 2018)
  • The Way (truth and life) of the Cross: Reflecting on the road to Calvary through the temptations of Jesus Christ (March 2019)
  • My Inner Room during the Coronavirus Pandemic (March 2020)

Adam can be reached at

Rock Star Principals

The following blog was contributed by Jill Annable, executive director of academic excellence at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, Virginia.

I recently ran into an old friend, a fellow Catholic school alum, whose children attend a Catholic school. As we discussed the launch of the most unique school year to date, she candidly shared, “Our principal is a rock star.” I agreed. In her admiration, this parent did not know that her principal has not taken a day off since the pandemic hit; she serves with unwavering passion and is the core of vibrancy of the school.

When I became the assistant superintendent in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, I had never been a school principal. My background is in teaching and curriculum development, and I must admit: I was initially intimidated! I took the first weeks on the job to observe classrooms but also found myself observing principals. It was fascinating. My tunnel vision of classroom life was nothing compared to the scope of principal responsibilities; as a teacher, I had been completely ignorant of school budgets and operational vitality. Now in this seat, positioned to support schools as the assistant superintendent, my internal questioning mirrored what my own children wonder about their principal: “Does she run on coffee alone?” “How does she always know the right answer?” I quickly learned that my role had to be singularly focused: How can I help you?

I focused on this question in my time as assistant superintendent, attempting to lift the work of curriculum and instruction so principals could focus on operations and relationships. It was fulfilling, yet it paled in comparison to what principals were handling on a daily basis.

Not many realize the crises averted and conflicts resolved by Catholic school principals. Parents see how the principal supports their own children, but the sheer volume of personal encounters and supports is unimaginable. The launch of the 2020-2021 school year was no exception. Principals filled their summer with tense brainstorming sessions ranging from safety protocols to instructional practices. They worked late nights, on the phone with parents who were worried about their children’s health, the options our Catholic schools could offer, and concerns much beyond the scope of the school. But how did our principals respond? They delivered. They did not wait for the rest of the world to come up with solutions; they instead rolled up their sleeves and worked tirelessly to ensure Catholic education could continue in the safest ways possible.

When the old friend shared that her principal was a rock star, her next question was, “How can I help?” Reflecting on that moment, and in comparison to my own response years back, I am reminded of the beauty of Catholic school communities. This parent, who already sacrifices financially for her children’s education, seeks to give more. The prayer of St. Francis reminds us “It is in giving that we receive.” We are certainly seeing this in one another during 2020.

The most amazing part of watching principals at work is that I expect, by all laws of nature, to see signs of exhaustion, but it never comes. Instead, they are energized by the ministry. When I explained this to my friend, I encouraged her to pray that God continues to grant grace to those in Catholic school leadership and to perhaps send the principal a note of gratitude.

It is with great admiration that we celebrate this year’s Catholic Principal Appreciation Day on November 19. They are not only rock stars, but also headed to sainthood.

A Perspective on Election 2020 As We Await the Results

The following blog was contributed by Kathy Mears, interim president/CEO at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, Virginia.

As Catholics, we are called to participate in civic activities, to work for the common good.

We are called to vote.

As a principal, my school was a polling place and our eighth graders were treated to lessons from poll workers and voters. Our students recognized that our school was important, as we were a place where we selected our next president, governor and other elected officials. Our students saw firsthand that people had different opinions, but everyone was respected, and everyone had the right to express their hopes and dreams by choosing the candidate of his/her choice. I believe that most people still honor and respect that right and I know it is what our teachers are teaching.

Pope Francis stated, that if “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,” the Church, “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 183). As members of the Church, we are called to be part of the solution to the problems we face. We are asked to do what we can to assist in the political process in order to work for outcomes that support the common good. Therefore, we vote, we serve, we do what our conscience calls us to do for the common good. We are guided by our faith, our consciences, our hearts and our minds. 

We must also remember that the election will not solve our problems. People will still need employment, people will still need food, and healthcare will be needed by all tomorrow and the next day. The election does not end our civic responsibility. It is one point along the journey of faithful citizenship. It is but one way that we participate.

As in all elections, someone will win, and someone will lose. We are called to challenge each other to respond with kindness and respect after the election. We must model this and teach our students that our response shows our character.

Micah 6:8 asks what is required of us. The response: To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. It is our prayer that these words become our guide as we teach and learn during our electoral process. We pray for unity, grace, peace and mercy. We pray for our nation and its promise.

Running Towards the Danger: Early Learnings from Catholic Schools in the Midst of the Pandemic

The following blog was contributed by John Reyes, Ed.D., executive director of operational vitality at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, VA.

“Over time, even an academically rigorous school with strong Catholic identity will not survive without operational vitality.” – National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools, 2020

While much attention has been drawn to the academic and spiritual response of Catholic schools to the pandemic – are you tired of Zoom yet? – there is more we can and ought to learn about the operational response from Catholic schools. Catholic schools, while operating first and foremost as an apostolate of the Church and in service of the Great Commission, also happen to be businesses – “temporal organizations” with which school leaders are charged to operate in the four key areas of finances, human resources/personnel, facilities and institutional advancement.

In a survey we conducted with our membership and led by Annie Smith, our director of research and data management, we sought to gather insight on school and diocesan responses to the pandemic. (You can view a summary of the data set here.)

After analyzing an advance copy of the data with participants at our Catholic Leadership Summit last week, I pulled out a few key findings that helped to illustrate how Catholic school leaders “ran towards the danger” in responding to the pandemic:

  • The vast majority of Catholic schools across the nation are operating with at least part-time in-person instruction, with no major outbreaks or transmission of COVID-19 being reported. Only 8% of school leaders who responded were operating completely virtually, with the vast majority of those school leaders in California (and in Los Angeles’s 70,000+ student Catholic school system, the first wave of schools were granted waivers and opened in-person instruction to early elementary students this week). The lack of major outbreaks or transmission in Catholic schools substantiates prior nationwide research suggesting that schools, particularly elementary schools, pose minimal risk in terms of the spread of the disease.
  • Early infusions of cash from the state and federal level to support schools and businesses were crucial in addressing the uncertain financial position brought about by the pandemic. 91% of diocesan leaders and 78% of school leaders reported utilizing state and federal funding as a strategy to bolster finances over the last seven months. Conversely, only 37% of school leaders reported using savings to cover operating deficits; depending on the already fragile nature of school budgets and lack of clarity around future funding support for schools at the state and federal level, we may start to see many more schools touch “rainy-day funds.”
  • Leaders saw the use of technology as the most lasting change to “business-as-usual.” Despite problems with technology procurement, including delays and cost, 83% of diocesan leaders and 71% of school leaders said that improving or strengthening educational technology as a positive aspect of the shift in operations due to COVID-19. Sixty percent  of school and diocesan leaders also stated that they intended to make technology-related changes permanent, even after the pandemic.

Our findings also raised some important questions and considerations, particularly as it relates to how we best move forward:

  • How will schools respond to the challenge of retention? One crucial piece of data that the survey was less than definitive on was the impact of the pandemic on school or diocesan Catholic school enrollment. While some schools and dioceses saw notable and even double-digit percentage point increases in enrollment, there were plenty of enrollment declines that mirrored or exceeded similar declines during the late 2000s. We are convinced, probably now more than ever, that offering in-person instruction matters greatly to parents – but how can school leaders experiencing enrollment growth sustain their pandemic-related boosts, particularly as more public and charter schools begin to return to in-person instruction? 
  • What will staffing in schools and dioceses look like going forward? Salaries and benefits comprise the majority of most school operating budgets, yet in the midst of severe economic downturn, a mere 37% of schools reduced staff to address their uncertain financial position. Only “increasing advancement events” ranked lower in terms of strategies used by school leaders. We know that staffing has been an operational concern in Catholic schools for quite some time now – our own data at NCEA tells us that despite a two-thirds drop in enrollment from 1960 to 2017, staffing levels have remained exactly the same (!) – but could this be the moment where the levee finally breaks?
  • How are leaders choosing to make temporary strategies permanent? At the Catholic Leadership Summit last week, many diocesan leaders analyzing an advance copy of the data noted that leaders considered the majority of the new strategies implemented in the areas of enrollment, finance, marketing, staffing and advancement as temporary. It’s hard to tell whether respondents are “waiting things out” to see whether those temporary strategies are worth maintaining going forward, or if there is full intent to return back to business as usual in those areas once a sense of relative normalcy is restored. That said, we must see crisis as an opportunity for innovation and as an opportunity for things to be “born anew” – could there be strategies and tactics that, instead of being bound to the graveyard of reactive and short-term change, shine a path for a new chapter of vitality and vibrancy for Catholic schools?

We invite you to look at the data for yourself – let us know what resonates with you, what aligns with your experiences, what you’d like to learn more about. A commitment to challenging our preconceived notions, testing our presumptions and asking questions only serves to strengthen and not undermine the shared work we do in leading and sustaining vibrant Catholic schools.

We Are Called to Love All of God’s Children

The following blog was contributed by Tiffany Norris, MA, school counselor at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, California.

As a society, we are in a time of tremendous insight, potential transformation, listening and for many a newfound understanding. The horrific acts of cruel injustices inflicted upon George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others have become the most recent cry for change in the African American community. As a faith-based community, we are called to love all of God’s children and bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ. In our Catholic schools, we have a unique opportunity to implement change that is long overdue, and can better address the injustices that are rooted in over 400 years of systemic oppression.

The question for faculty, staff and administrators then becomes, “what tangible things can I do to help at my school?” It seems as though thoughts and prayers are no longer enough, and so we must now take action. To overlook this opportunity to address our Catholic school communities would be a failure to accept our responsibility as Catholic school educators. Upon return to school in the fall, conversations with students (no matter the subject area) can start fairly simple. Develop ice breakers that discuss what topics really resonated with them over the summer. If no students openly discuss social injustice, make that your topic of choice and hold open discussions in your classroom about what students feel will help them better understand social injustice in the world around them. It will be important to remain upfront with them and let them know that you, as an educator, are willing to take on hard topics for the betterment of the class. For example, in visual and performing arts classes, study African American music, base a school play or musical on an African American show. Take time to reflect upon why this has or hasn’t been a part of your school’s curriculum in the past, and if it hasn’t been…change that.

Knowledge is power. As an educator, you have a chance to make a tremendous impact. Take time to decide what you want your students to get out of the school year, and find reading material for them that addresses systemic racism and how that plays a role in your subject area. I would recommend making this an individual versus group project, so that students are engaging and everyone has an opportunity to learn.

As you work through this next school year and new topics are discussed, one thing to keep in mind is that many people are still learning. As you take the lead in these discussions, carefully foster all perspectives, which will lead to deeper learning opportunities for everyone. With transition in curriculum there also may be negative feedback from time to time. Your focus must remain on what God has called you to do, and that is to lead by His example.

The devil is the root of fear, but God is the presence of truth. You’ve got this!

Recommended Resources:

The NCEA Catholic Leadership Summit 2020

The following blog was contributed by Kevin Baxter, chief innovation officer for the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, Virginia.

When COVID-19 turned everything upside down in the spring, we knew that NCEA was going to need to think differently about how we approached our work moving forward. We were inspired by the courage and creativity we saw in Catholic schools across the United States as they adapted to virtual instruction so effectively. Thus, with prayer and faith in the Holy Spirit, we dove in and transformed our annual Convention, which was scheduled to take place in Baltimore, to a completely virtual event. With nearly 7,000 registrations, we knew there was interest in and need for high quality professional development in Catholic schools.

For the 2020-2021 school year, we were determined to take our innovative approach to a higher level. Thus, we developed several different professional services that we will offer over the course of the school year. The first of these is our New Leaders Academy, which starts the first week in October with a unique blend of synchronous content delivery, professional collaboration and network building, and one-on-one coaching for new school site leaders. We have a great cohort of participants and exceptional, experienced facilitators and coaches to support this new program at NCEA.

We also recognized that one of our anchor events each year, the Catholic Leadership Summit (CLS), required new thinking and an innovative approach to address the current reality. So, we looked at the event through an adult learner perspective, and with the frame that understood that collaboration and networking were the aspects of CLS that attendees most appreciated in years past. We began by addressing the issues that have consumed much of our nation over the past six months – first, the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has impacted not just our schools but all aspects of our lives. Leadership in crisis is something every superintendent, principal and higher education leader must understand and be prepared for to be effective in their roles. Thus, we wanted to be sure we addressed the challenging reality we are faced with in Catholic schools at this moment.

Second, we have all been impacted by the issues of racial justice in our country and, specifically, how we can do a better job in Catholic schools to address the underlying aspects of equity. We want to address this question directly and have honest and difficult conversations in order to begin the process of healing and moving forward with intentionality so that we can educate the students in our schools with our Catholic faith at the forefront.

With these two themes in mind, we sought to have high level, keynote speakers for each of the four days, each one of which would address a specific domain of the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools (NSBECS).  We were blessed to have such a positive response and our lineup is extremely impressive on multiple fronts.

Dr. Howard Fuller is a legend in the school choice movement and his advocacy for families, especially those from low income backgrounds, is an inspiration for all. His commitment and dedication to the civil rights movement extends back to the 1960s, so he is a particularly appropriate keynote on Day 1 for Governance and Leadership. Dr. Marie Lynn Miranda is the Charles and Jill Fischer Provost of the University of Notre Dame. As she stated when she was appointed, “As the first American-born member of an immigrant family, I have benefited tremendously from the transformative power of education” so we felt she was a great person to speak on Day 2 for Academic Excellence.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory needs little introduction to Catholic school educators. He is the seventh Archbishop of Washington and a former president of the USCCB. Archbishop Gregory brings a great pastoral approach to the challenges we are faced with today and we are blessed by his keynote on Day 3 for Mission and Catholic Identity. Betsy Bohlen is the chief operating officer for the Archdiocese of Chicago. With an MBA from Harvard and 16 years of experience at McKinsey and Co. she brings both a business approach to her work and a commitment to the Catholic faith. She is ideal in keynoting the last of our four days on Operational Vitality.

Each day will start with a welcome message and some words of hope from four American Cardinals (Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Cardinal Blase Cupich, and Cardinal Joseph Tobin). This will be followed by opening prayer and a brief welcome message. The keynote speaker will then address the group live and set the tone for the day in the domain area of the NSBECS.

Following the keynote during each day of CLS, we will have Focus Sessions. These will group attendees into one of three different groups: one for diocesan level leadership, one for school site leadership and one for higher education and other leadership. Each of these sessions will be led by colleagues in the field to 1) address the theme of the keynote at a high level and 2) create a collaborative space where participants can share successes and challenges they face in their work in the specific domain. It will be part content delivery and sharing but much of the time will be spent in smaller groups to address specific questions from the keynote and the topic.

Finally, each day of CLS will end with Professional Learning Groups (PLGs). These will be comprised of approximately 10-15 participants with roughly equal representation from each of the leadership sectors. The PLGs will be led by trained facilitators who will draw input from the various Focus Session meetings so that the conversation centers on how we all can collaboratively assist Catholic schools in dealing with this unique moment in history. Ideally each participant will leave with some tools and strategies to bring back to their own work in their region of the country.

We recognize that this year presents unique challenges to Catholic schools and leaders at all different levels. Our hope and expectation are that the Catholic Leadership Summit will provide an opportunity to learn and be inspired, and then collaborate and share with colleagues around the country to think through the most positive way forward.

On Being a Math Teacher

The following blog was contributed by Julieta Raymundo-Almayda, middle school math teacher at St. Anthony Catholic School in San Antonio, Texas.

Hi all! My students, parents and colleagues call me Mrs. Almayda or Mrs. A. I am from San Antonio, TX. I’ve been teaching middle school and high school math for over 20 years. My school recently recognized me for my acceptance as a 2020 Khan Academy Ambassador. It is not every day that I get to share my life and teaching experiences with a big audience.

My joining Khan Academy is my driving force, my “challenge” to myself to be better and become an expert in NWEA using Khan Academy as I make my learners better. At Khan Academy, the “challenge” has become an inspiration to aspire to go beyond what is expected. With the support and encouragement from Khan Academy, the trust and confidence of my administrators and parents and the cooperation of the learners who have limitless potential, I can push the limits.

I have met many students as well as professionals who have a strong aversion to numbers. As a budding mathematics teacher back in the Philippines, I had that thought at the back of my mind. I heard many say that mathematics is such a difficult subject to learn. As a teacher, I want my students to find math easy, fun and interesting and I resolved to make it so. I observed my students to better understand why they find math difficult and boring. This way, I know what technique or strategy to use for every lesson and for certain groups of learners. It is said “first impressions last”; so, I make it a point to start with very easy lessons to impress upon my students that math is easy to hurdle. It is more of giving the students that “feeling of success.” This may seem insignificant, but in my experience, it makes a difference.

Our learners come from different orientations, different learning experiences and different family backgrounds. We do not simply breeze through lessons and at the end of the day say we have accomplished our lesson plan. That is not what it means to teach, because for me to teach is also to touch lives – the lives of the learners. To do this, I simplify a complicated number lesson. I do my best to make it meaningful and enjoyable for them. I exert every effort to make the lessons relevant to them, especially in this challenging 21st century milieu. I see no harm in combining strategies and techniques, from traditional to non-traditional teaching platforms to approaching with modern technology. I modify and innovate. I believe that we teachers are endowed with the gift of being creative, and we need to hone our craft. I do not stop “educating” myself with the latest trends in education. I see favorable opportunities and I grab them, and in the end I contribute to the betterment of our learners. They are the beneficiaries of my efforts to do better each time in my vocation as a teacher, just as our Lord Jesus Christ was.

I am from a poor family in the Philippines. The challenge was not just to survive, but to finish my studies. It was not easy to focus on this. I did not simply rely on what my parents could do, because they could only do so much. I helped send myself to school. I held on to my dreams, my goals and I never allowed desperation, frustration and failure discourage me. I held on tight to my faith in God. Even after I was a teacher, I faced obstacles. My immediate supervisors did not seem convinced that I could be a good teacher. Do you know how it feels when your administrator is not supportive? I felt like changing my career track, but I never gave up. And that also accounts for my thirst for more knowledge, for opportunities to do better, never to be complacent just because I already achieved something. For me, there is no stopping. I believe, educating oneself and learning is a lifetime process.

This year of 2020, uncertainties and difficulties stare at us. This pandemic poses challenges difficult to surmount, but as teachers in Catholic schools, let us remain unruffled. Let us hang on. We owe it to our students and parents, too, who are looking up to us. Let us be the role models. It is easier said than done, but with prayers and steadfast faith in our Lord, we shall overcome. At this time of pandemic, let us use whatever technology we have to reach out to our learners. Let us keep the faith while staying safe.

St. Anthony Catholic School, I am truly indebted to you. I am heartily grateful to Mrs. Patricia Ramirez, our school principal, Mrs. Rita Rodriguez, our vice-principal, our school board president, Mr. Derrich Rodriguez, my colleagues and the St. Anthony parents for their trust and confidence in me, for giving me the chance to contribute to the growth of the learners, and for giving me room to grow and make myself a better Catholic school teacher.

I also would like to thank my supporters and my fan base, my husband Tony for his untiring support, sacrifices and love and my children Kaela and Bethanie who give me joy and inspiration always.

Most importantly, thank you God for all these opportunities. I will be forever grateful for your grace and mercy. Please continue to protect and help us. We know that we cannot do anything without YOU. We surrender and lift everything to you.

Taking Hope Back to School

The following blog was contributed by Clare Kilbane, Ph.D., a faculty member at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame. Follow her on Twitter @ClareRKilbane. This article was originally published on the McGrath Institute blog and is being offered here with permission from the publisher.

Going ‘back to school’ always involves a transition for families and educators, but this year it will be even more challenging. Families returning to traditional, in-person schooling will need extra face masks, hand sanitizer, and cleaning wipes, in addition to the usual school supplies and back-to-school clothing. Families transitioning to new modes of schooling—whether online instruction, homeschooling, or “pandemic pods” (i.e., education co-ops)—will need to develop new routines, practices, and relationships to make learning both effective and sustainable. And educators, regardless of who, where and how they will be teaching, will need both creativity and grit as they flexibly adapt to changing conditions when teaching and connecting with their students. Given all this, something everyone will need and benefit from taking back to school this year is hope

Christian hope is not some vague, circumstantial belief that ‘the future will be better than the past.’ Rather, it is a virtue that combines a desire for something and the expectation that it will be received. More specifically, Christian hope is a desire for divine union with God and the expectation of eternal happiness through it. But we need not wait for this union if we practice hope now. Union with God can be experienced in the present and with increasing fullness, if we continually allow our words, actions, and selves to be conformed to and by divine love. Christians consider hope a virtue because it is an act of will—an intentional choice made to approach the events of our lives with a particular orientation. With hope, we can choose to view the upcoming 2020–2021 school year as an opportunity to grow in holiness—especially through our relationship with the source of our hope, Jesus Christ.

It helps to remember that we are the latest in a 2,000+ year succession of Christians who have endured suffering and prevailed through hope. I am reminded, in particular, of Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C., the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Moreau put the motto “Ave crux, spes unica”—”Hail the cross, our only hope”—at the center of his community, founded in the aftermath of the French Revolution. In so doing, he ensured that the sisters, brothers, and priests of Holy Cross who founded schools around the world would form generations of students to approach their lives with hope, even to this day. 

If faith illuminates one’s experience of reality with an awareness of its design and purpose (e.g., a call to intimate and loving relationship with God), then hope is the lens that enables us to see beyond the Cross—to experience the invisible reality of God’s love. When carrying hope along with the Cross, trust in God transforms suffering to joy. As St. Paul wrote, “I pray that God, the source of hope will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).” 

One way to take hope back to school is to meditate on the following questions each morning. 

  • What particular struggles am I experiencing today?
    Ask God to assist you in meeting these struggles with hope.

  • As I engage people, relationships, and events today, how can I more fully awaken the joy that comes from hope?
    Ask God to open your heart to a greater, deeper trust in him.

  • How can I be a model of hope for others (my children, my students, my colleagues)?
    Ask God for the gift of perseverance as you carry your cross, and for the grace to see beyond your struggles—to find in the Cross of Christ a sign of hope. 

Hopefully, by returning often to these meditation questions, your experiences of the 2020–2021 school year—whatever those may be—can be transformative, not only educationally but also spiritually.