Catholic School Matters Top 5

This week has found me engrossed in Learning to Improve by Tony Bryk et al. In the beginning, the authors point out several recent reform initiatives such as smaller high schools and rigorous teacher evaluations. In each case, there was a germ of a good idea but the process was “going fast and learning slow.” In other words, systems were quick to implement new ideas but didn’t implement the changes well.  They point out that inspiration has a place but so does proper implementation.

The Cristo Rey high school model began 22 years ago on the south side of Chicago. It has slowly and deliberately grown over time and is now comprised of 35 high schools across the country, poised to grow to 50 in the next decade. It was founded on a revolutionary idea—how do we serve poor students and only poor students? Whereas other schools are founded on the scarcity model (“how many scholarship students can we afford to accept” most schools say, assuming there are only so many dollars available), the Cristo Rey model turns away students from families above the poverty line but has increased its capacity to raise money.

I heard echoes of the creativity of the model in the recent HBR article “Strategy Needs Creativity.” As the authors suggest, Cristo Rey challenges common assumptions and turned them on its head.

Yes, they turn away students WITH resources! Their mission is to serve students under the poverty line and they do this by combining a corporate work study program (which raises approximately half of all revenue) with robust fund-raising. This is a new paradigm and a model of innovative thinking about Catholic schools which needs to be replicated.

This week’s podcast focuses on the Cristo Rey model. Focusing on the user experience (another Bryk-inspired concept from Learning to Improve), the conversations with the CEO, students from a Cristo Rey HS, teachers from a Cristo Rey HS, and Corporate Work Study directors all provide a window into the fantastic Cristo Rey model.  The Catholic School Matters Radio Hour podcast drops on Wednesday.  Give it a listen and see if you might be inspired to implement a new innovation in Catholic schools.

Top 5

This week I focus the blog and the podcast on the Cristo Rey model. Why not spend a little time learning about one of the greatest new innovations going on?

This edition of Catholic School Matters is full of great articles and it was difficult to choose the best 5.  Here’s my best effort:

  1. Underneath the American Catholic News section is a little section I included entitled “Leadership Dilemmas.” I’ve included links to articles about a coach dismissed from a Catholic school due to her marital status, another article focusing on Archbishop Naumann’s response to the controversy in the Archdiocese of KC, and the new developments in West Virginia.  It’s important for all us to stay abreast of controversies and dilemmas.
  1. In the Leadership Links, the first article entitled “Why Feedback Rarely Does What What It’s Meant To” is a great reflection to read at this time of the year. Many of us are embarking on or wrapping up evaluations and this articles will inform your approach.
  1. In the Teaching & Learning section, the first article is focused on “Stress-free Training” and posits that a different learning environment might be more effective for emerging surgeons. I often hear coaches (like Saban) or teachers espouse the value of making the learning environment stressful so that learning can be more effective.  This article challenges that hypothesis, and like the article in #2 above, supports the notion that learning is often consolidated on what they already know—as opposed to lying outside of current neural pathways.
  1. In the Miscellaneous section, the absolutely best article I read last week is “How to Make Friends, Build a Community, and Create the Life You Want” is fantastic. Challenged to make sense of the sudden loss of a loved one, the author realizes that community and connections are the most valuable.
  1. The next article is a link to Roy Petitfils’ new book, Helping Teens with Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: A Field Guide for Catholic Parents, Pastors, and Youth Leaders (2019).  Roy is currently at the LA Congress and will be a speaker at the NCEA Convention.  I’ve heard him speak about these topics and know that his community-based approach (see #4 above) is valuable for all Catholic school educators.

Have a great week!


On this week’s Catholic School Matters Radio Hour podcast, the focus is on the Cristo Rey network. First, President/CEO Elizabeth Goettl of the Cristo Rey network joins me to discuss the origins of the Cristo Rey network and how it operates as a system.

Currently sitting at 35 schools, the goal is to grow to 50 schools in the next decade. Goettl describes the four-part feasibility study which is mandatory—based on finding a facility, establishing a need, finding the seed money, and locating partners to secure the jobs.

Next, three juniors from Cristo Rey New York HS in Spanish Harlem join the podcast and discuss what their jobs look like, what their commutes look like, and how their high school experience is different from their peers at other schools. It’s a great look at the Cristo Rey model from the students—meaning we are focusing on the student experience.

The students are followed by three great teachers from the same high school. These are committed educators who believe in the mission of Cristo Rey. It is clear that the teachers are committed, work hard, and hold themselves and the students to high standards.

The school is demanding for students and teachers alike. The mission is palpable and ever-present in the school.

The final guests were from the schools’ Corporate Work Study Program. The logistics of employing students, managing their work relationships, and teaching them the skills necessary is an ongoing challenge for the Corporate Work Study program, which raises 40% of the school’s operating budget every year.