Author Archives: NCEATALK

Thank You to Our Catholic School Educators

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

When our children were growing up, they both had to be taken to the doctor because their legs would hurt. Sometimes the pain would wake them up and they would come into our room crying because it hurt so much. In both instances, after several tests, doctors diagnosed “growing pains.” Our children’s growth spurts were causing physical pains. The treatment was ice, ibuprofen and patience. The pain would go away when the growth spurt ended.

During this pandemic, I think our schools have suffered some growing pains. Our teachers and school leaders have pivoted so quickly, that the learning has come in spurts and the needed rapid change has caused headaches and heartaches. It has also led to better teaching and increased learning for our students. Our Catholic school educators are to be commended, because through the pain, they have persisted in learning and teaching so that our students come out of the pandemic understanding that they are known, that they are loved and that they have been well served by caring teachers.

Switching from online learning to face to face and back to online learning has been the norm this year as educators respond to cases of COVID in their classrooms. Doing both online and in person learning is challenging. Our educators have responded with grace, enthusiasm and new skills. While not always perfect, there is no doubt that they are making every effort to meet the needs of their students.

NCEA recently surveyed over 1400 parents who chose Catholic schools this year for the first time. One of the questions asks, “What has been the best part of the school?” The number one answer: “Caring and effective faculty and staff.”

During this Catholic Schools Week, we honor our Catholic school educators. Without a doubt, their dedication to teaching the whole child is making a difference. Caring for our students, knowing them and their needs are nothing new for Catholic school faculties and staff. Yet, it is different, because they have done this work while wearing masks, while staying six feet away from their students, while meeting students online.

I so wish I could thank each teacher personally, perhaps provide them a token of appreciation. They have handled our growth spurt so very well. I’m sure there are days when they have needed the ibuprofen, days when it really hurt. Yet, they continued to learn, to do what was necessary, doing the impossible really, really well.

I am so impressed and very grateful. Your work and commitment to your vocation have been noticed. You are doing the impossible. You are serving your students, your community, your nation and your Church. You are showing our children the love of God. Thank you.

Tell Your Story: The Importance of Marketing for Catholic Schools

The following blog was contributed by Rachel Rell, University of Notre Dame student and 2020 NCEA marketing intern.

Stories move us. Emotional connection draws us deeper and forces us to better remember and identify with a cause. This fact has been proven in psychology time and time again. Although all consumers may not sit in their living rooms and inform the whole family when a great commercial comes on like I do, there is no doubt that we form connections with stories that we can empathize with and relate to.

With the many responsibilities expected of school administrative members, marketing can be easily pushed aside. But, the mission and stories of your school must be shared. Catholic schools identify very strongly with the Catholic faith and the missions set before them. Parents, students and community members need to hear these stories and missions, the inspirations behind why you do what you do. Sharing these can not only increase student enrollment, but also help your school connect with the broader community and gain parent and community advocates. Use the stories and motivations that inspired you to also inspire others.

There is no doubt that schools this year will look different than ever before. But, what hasn’t changed? What will stay the same no matter how much the world as we know it continues to change? The answer is the work that you do and the reason you do it. Whether your school’s story is overcoming the damage done by wildfires, creating a diversity program despite the challenges of virtual learning, establishing the first mental health initiative in your diocese, dedicating resources to help underprivileged families during the pandemic, or something else, the work that you’re doing is important and needs to be shared. The Catholic Church has stood at the forefront of countless worldwide challenges in the past. Take the initiative to share what makes your school and the education you provide to your students and families instrumental in forming our nation’s young people and shaping our communities.

As an intern at NCEA last summer, I made it my goal to do everything I can to support you in the work that you are doing, a mission that guides the work of all NCEA employees. As a proponent of the importance of marketing, I have rewritten the Catholic Schools Week Marketing Guide that we make available to our members each year, www.ncea.org/csw. This guide contains not only resources for planning both Discover and Celebrate Catholic Schools Weeks, but also tips for continuing your marketing all year long. In light of the changes this past year, I have added many resources to this guide to assist you in formulating marketing plans for your schools despite the challenges and constraints of COVID-19 that no doubt weigh heavily on your minds.

The new resources added to the guide this year include a guide to choosing and using various marketing channels, a guide to establishing a social media presence, updated and improved liturgy planning guides for both Discover and Celebrate Catholic Schools Weeks, and a guide to planning and running virtual events and school tours. These new resources were added based on your feedback and are provided to you to help in continuing to share your stories with your communities.

Although this year will look different for us all, I urge you to demonstrate perseverance and stay grounded in the missions of your school and the goals of the Catholic Church and Catholic schools as a whole. We are all in this together, and NCEA is here to support you in any way we can. I greatly enjoyed serving you and the mission of Catholic education last summer, and I hope that you are able to use the resource I have created to keep telling your stories. The work that you do is important; share it!

Has the Pandemic Impacted Parents’ Perceptions of Catholic Schools?

The following blog was contributed by Amelia Riedel, Senior Consultant for FADICA, (Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities), which partners with NCEA to support the sustainability of Catholic schools. (Photo courtesy of St. James School, Archdiocese of Cincinnati.)

One of the most important lessons that I think we have learned from the pandemic is the value of community. Throughout history, our Catholic institutions have been at the center of healthy communities and I believe that our Catholic schools are well-equipped to provide the connections and social support needed to assist families throughout the duration of the pandemic.

The increased need for social support and community during the pandemic prompted many parents to consider alternative educational options. A number of Catholic schools across the country experienced an influx of new students this fall, particularly in regions where public school systems remained in remote learning. This activity prompted us to ask some key questions:

“What factors influenced parents to transfer students to Catholic schools?”  

“When the pandemic ends, will the transferred students remain in the Catholic schools?”

“What can Catholic schools do now to retain these families for the next school year and beyond?”

FADICA and NCEA have been researching the answers to those questions in relation to their 2018 study of parents’ perceptions of Catholic schools: The Catholic School Choice: Understanding the Perspectives of Parents and Understanding Opportunities for More Engagement. The study focused on parents who did not have a child enrolled in a Catholic school in order to understand the factors that drive the decision process when choosing a school.

The 2018 study revealed these key findings:

  • More than half (51%) of all parents reported that they are willing to consider Catholic school. If the parents were Catholic, the rate of consideration increased to 77%.

  • Of the parents with students in a public school, 42% reported that they were not satisfied with public school education, with common complaints of over-crowded classrooms, criticisms of the common core curriculum, and the lack of character development.
  • The top three factors that influenced a parent’s consideration of a Catholic school were:
    • Provides a good balance between academics and religious teachings;
    • Creates a diverse learning environment where everyone is welcome;
    • Provides strong character development, with an emphasis on community service.

  • Although affordability may be a barrier for parents considering a Catholic school, the study revealed that 68% of Catholic parents felt confident that they could afford a Catholic school. This confidence increased with awareness of tuition assistance programs through school-based or state-funded school choice programs.

Recently FADICA partnered with the team at Meitler to conduct a sample survey of parents who had transferred their students to a Catholic school this fall, which revealed that:

  • The majority of families who transferred into Catholic schools this fall were Catholic (73%), and reported a household income of $100,000 and up (63%).

  • In addition to the top factors from the 2018 study, additional factors rose to the same level of importance for considering a Catholic school, including:
    • Encourages independent and critical thinking
    • Offers a challenging academic curriculum
    • Has highly trained faculty and staff
    • Uses the latest technology and teaching tools

Since the applications for tuition assistance and school choice programs are often requested several months prior to the start of the next school year, it is not surprising that the parents with a higher level of resources were best equipped to quickly pivot their educational plans during the pandemic. However, an opportunity still exists for schools to build awareness of tuition assistance programs available to families who may feel less confident about the affordability of Catholic schools.

The fact that most Catholic schools were open for in-person learning this fall may have been a primary driver for bringing new students in the door. Once the new students and families experienced all that Catholic schools had to offer, the majority of them (87%) said they are planning to stay, and 90% of parents said they would recommend the school to a friend or colleague. The effectiveness of this “word-of-mouth” marketing may be enhanced through the school’s ability to promote its strengths, especially when correlated with the key drivers of consideration discussed earlier.

In order to obtain more actionable data, we encourage schools to conduct their own parent satisfaction surveys with a special focus on new families. Collecting this information at this point in the school year will allow school leaders to capitalize on strengths and address any concerns that may impact student retention.

Though our study was based on a smaller sample, similar findings were discovered with the NCEA study on transfer students. NCEA plans to share those results in detail via webinar on January 27.

To learn more about FADICA’s Catholic Education Initiatives, visit: fadica.org.

Distance Learning Best Practices

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

The partnership between Catholic schools and the families we serve has undoubtedly strengthened in the past year. Live video feed has welcomed Catholic teachers into the homes of their students. Parents have expressed a strengthening of their own personal faith lives through participation in the school’s daily prayer rituals, overhearing the virtual preparation of their children’s upcoming Sacraments, and through the work as daily facilitators of their children’s Catholic education.

We all recognize, however, that it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses. Students learning from home hasn’t been easy. Most families never imagined setting up school-like workspaces with strong WiFi signals throughout their homes. The relationship between teacher and parent came to the forefront as whole school communities shared tips and ideas to make the 2020-2021 school year as seamless as possible.

One clear example of this school-home partnership is Our Lady of Mercy School in Potomac, Maryland. Led by Mrs. Doreen Engel, Our Lady of Mercy School prioritized procedures for safe reopening plans in Fall 2020, offering in-person learning. However, like many Catholic schools, distance learning was also inevitable for some families and for entire classes at times throughout the first semester of 20-21.

To assist families who would be learning virtually, parents at Our Lady of Mercy School offered Distance Learning: Best Practices and Helpful Tips to their fellow virtual families. The tips include various home workstation set-ups, routines in family life, and communication strategies to reduce confusion and stress. The goal of this era certainly is not perfection, yet in sharing strategies that work, families can strengthen the opportunities before them for various forms of distance learning in our schools.

Catholic school families continue to amaze me. We have witnessed resilience and dedication to the common good throughout the pandemic, including the family’s commitment to Catholic education. We are grateful for this commitment and are humbled by the ways Catholic school communities continue to strengthen their members.

How to Help Families Support Math Learning at Home

The following blog was contributed by NWEA of Portland, Oregon. NWEA is a research-based, not-for-profit organization that supports students and educators worldwide by creating assessment solutions that precisely measure growth and proficiency—and provide insights to help tailor instruction.

As this uncertain school year continues—and as research shows math is proving especially challenging for many students—there are many ways to support families with at-home learning. For starters, they can encourage their kids to see how math is all around us. Children can count similar items as they help put away groceries, measure ingredients for a recipe or calculate the number of days remaining until a special event or holiday.

Building strong skills now can help kids meet grade-level standards in the short term and tackle advanced math in the future. Here are just a few tips to pass along to your families and support their efforts.

Computation

  • Count orally by twos, fives or tens.
  • Complete connect-the-dot pictures.
  • Count and pair objects around your home and determine whether there’s an odd or even number of items.
  • Ask your child to solve verbal math problems. “Take the number five. Add six. Multiply by three. Subtract three. Divide by five. What’s your answer?” Speak slowly at first until your child gets better at solving these mental problems.
  • Help your child identify percentages in signs, on websites and in books and magazines.
  • Encourage your child to read nutrition labels. Have them calculate the percent of a specific nutrient in each item.

Geometry

  • Fold a sheet of paper in half and have your child draw a shape along the fold. Cut out the shape and unfold the paper to create a symmetrical shape.
  • Search your home or neighborhood for different geometric shapes, such as triangles, squares, circles and rectangles.
  • Use common household items, such as toothpicks, empty toilet paper rolls, twist ties, sticks and paper, to construct shapes.
  • Help your child recognize and identify real-world examples of right angles (e.g., the corner of a book) and parallel lines (e.g., railroad tracks).

Measurement

  • Teach your child how to set the kitchen timer when you’re cooking.
  • Arrange various objects (e.g., books, boxes, and cans) by various size and measurement (e.g., length, weight and volume) attributes. Talk with your child about how they are arranged using comparison words like “taller,” “shorter,” “narrower,” “wider,” “heaviest,” “lightest,” “more,” “less,” “about” and “same.”
  • Use a standard measuring tool to measure objects in your home.
  • Gather a tape measure, yardstick, ruler, cup, gallon container and scale. Discuss the various things you can measure with each.
  • Encourage your child to incorporate terms such as “whole,” “halves,” “thirds” and “fourths” into everyday life. Mealtimes are a great time to practice this. Encourage them to eat half their broccoli if they want dessert!

Statistics, probability, and graphing

  • Open a pack of Skittles or M&M’s and make a bar graph showing the number of each color found inside the pack.
  • Look through a science textbook or website and find three examples of different types of graphs.
  • Find the coordinates of places on a map, like your home or town.
  • Watch the weather report for a week, write down the temperatures for each day and then graph the temperatures.
  • Have your child make a list of things that could never happen, things that might happen and things that are sure to happen.

Problem-solving

  • Encourage your child to figure out answers to real-life situations: “We have one can of tuna and we need five. How many more do we need to buy?”
  • Ask questions that involve equal sharing. For example, “Seven children share 49 baseball cards. How many cards does each child get?”
  • Help your child look up the population and land area of the state and city in which you live and compare these facts with those of other states and cities.
  • Visit the website for the U.S. Census Bureau and have your child write down three interesting pieces of information they learned.

Algebraic concepts

  • Encourage your child to count and recognize patterns and color in the environment by discussing what they see, like the color of their math textbook, the number on the house across the street and the number of swings on the playground.
  • Have your child look for patterns on buildings, rugs, floors and clothing

For more ideas on how to support families during COVID-19, visit the NWEA blog, Teach. Learn. Grow.

Refugees: From Bethlehem to America

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

The liturgical celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany at the end of the Christmas season coincides with the beginning of our secular new year. One of the definitions for ‘epiphany’ according to Merriam-Webster is a sudden manifestation of the meaning or essence of something. The turning of calendars provide an opportunity for reflection, growth, and change in light of our own personal epiphanies associated with our role within Church and society.  

As the city of David awaits its Messiah, the Christ child is born. Yet the Holy Family flees to Egypt to escape what is known as the “slaughter of the innocents.” When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi” (Matthew 2:16). This synopsis of the Christmas story calls us to recognize Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fulfilling Old Testament prophecies, caretakers of the Word Incarnate and lastly as refugees. According to The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.” Considering that Herod believed that his kingship was being threatened by the birth foretold by the magi, Jesus and His family fleeing due to impending violence due to religious prophecy appears to be an accurate representation of their experience as refugees.  

The authors of the sacred scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The beauty of this divine inspiration is that the lessons do not merely relate to the audience in the first century, but continue to resonate throughout salvation history and into the experiences of our modern world. Biblical exegesis focuses on the interpretation of sacred scripture through a variety of means including but not limited to: contextually, morally, and anagogically. Did the caravan of refugees fleeing “O little town of Bethlehem” include more than the Holy Family? Was this event the first documented case of Mary’s heart being pierced as a mother as she begins to understand the words of Simeon (Luke 2:25)? How does this application of the flight to Egypt inspire Jesus’ teaching on the Judgment of Nations such as, “a stranger and you welcome me” (Matthew 25:35)?

Displacement of peoples due to oppression is not unique to the 21st century either. In October 2020, CBS News reported that President Trump’s administration refugee resettlement hit a historical low, citing that, “Mr. Trump has reduced refugee spots year after year, radically departing from the 110,000-person cap President Obama set in his last year in office. Mr. Trump slashed refugee spots to 45,000 in fiscal year 2018; to 30,000 in fiscal year 2019; and to 18,000 in fiscal year 2020.” In 2019, USA Today ranked the United States of America as the eleventh richest country in the world while the New York Times reported in 2020 that the United States of America is the richest country with the biggest wealth gap. What type of country do we want to reflect to the world, economically rich or rich in kindness?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the practice of the moral life animated by charity gives to the Christian the spiritual freedom of the children of God.  He no longer stands before God as a slave, in servile fear, or as a mercenary looking for wages, but as a son responding to the love of him who “first loves us.” (CCC, 1828). By our faith, Christians are called to charity which in turn provides hope for the hopeless.  Recognizing human dignity is at the forefront of Jesus Christ’s mission of inclusion which reaches its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. This inherent dignity of the human person has a history of being not valued individually and/or collectively. Therefore, the United Nations created the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to challenge and hold accountable nations that do not recognize the dignity of the human person. For example, the importance of recognizing the dignity of refugees is reflected in Article #2 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Nations have responsibility for solidarity. Healthy relationships between citizens are contingent upon honest communication, mutual respect and empathetic understanding. Under these standards, a metaphorical bridge for citizens can be built within and between nations to promote human dignity. In conclusion, the words of Pope Francis from the 50th World Communications Day in 2016 challenges the faithful to reflect upon not only our actions, but our words: “Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony. Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world. Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred.”

References

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (2002). Washington DC: United States Catholic Conference.

Epiphany. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster online. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epiphany.

Ewing, Jack. (September 23, 2020). The United States is the richest country in the world, and it has the biggest wealth gap. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/23/business/united-states-is-the-richest-country-in-the-world-and-it-has-the-biggest-wealth-gap.html.

Francis – (2016) “Message of the Holy Father for World Communications Day” Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/communications/documents/papa-francesco_20160124_messaggio-comunicazioni-sociali.html.

Montoya-Galvez, Camilo. (October 1, 2020). The Trump administration sets the refugee cap at 15,000, a new record low.  Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/trump-administration-refugee-resettlement-cap-historic-low/.

Suneson, Grant. (July 8, 2019). These are the 25 Richest Countries in the World. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/07/07/richest-countries-in-the-world/39630693/.

The New American Bible. (1991). New York, NY: Catholic Book Publishing Co.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.unhcr.org/.

United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/udhrbook/pdf/udhr_booklet_en_web.pdf 

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. He has presented workshops for the National Catholic Education Association, been published by the Catholic Journal of Education, and worked on educational materials for Revolution of the Heart: The Dorothy Day Story from Journey Films. Adam can be reached at azoeller@saintx.com.

Financial Aid Applications for the 2021-2022 School Year: Considerations for the COVID-19 Era

The following blog was contributed by Megan Fangmeyer, product manager for FACTS Grant & Aid Assessment. Megan recently hosted a webinar on how schools should refine their financial aid strategies for the upcoming school year. She has worked at FACTS for 11 years and spends most of her time researching, interviewing financial aid professionals and working with development teams.

We’ve listed the key highlights from the webinar below.

What We Know About Current Financial Situations

There are still a lot of unknowns and financial situations are changing almost every week. But what we do know is:

  • Lower-income, Hispanic, and black families have been hit the hardest since March.
  • Those in the service industry and some self-employed workers continue to struggle financially as the COVID-19 dials fluctuate across states.
  • Unemployment is nearly twice as high as it was this time last year (6.9% compared to 3.6% in October 2019).
  • The stock market has leveled out and most have made back what they initially lost.

Determining Aid in the COVID-19 Era

Despite these economic and financial changes, the fundamentals of allocating aid are still the same:

  • Families will fall into a “rank” or “order” of need.
  • When a “tie” happens in the ranking with limited funds, additional priorities will need to be given.
  • The goal is to provide families with what they need to send their child(ren) to private school sustainably for the duration of the child’s education.

The struggle we’re facing is that the “order” of need is changing much more rapidly than normal, and there is a lot of uncertainty on when and if the financials will balance out or return for the family. 

Determining Financial Picture

This year – unlike others – you will be digging deeper into family financial situations to see a clear picture of their need. Focus on families whose situations fall into the known affected categories by job type or socio-economic status.

Regardless of the tax return year, a family’s situation may have drastically changed. Even if using the 2020 income data, you will still need to consider how a family’s income continues to change and that it may not be a perfect picture to predict their ability to pay next year’s tuition. For instance, consider families that received the extra $600 for unemployment for a few months, and reduce the family’s 2020 income (especially at lower income ranges) as this will not be income they can count on to pay tuition next year. 

In addition to income changes, you may want to take a look at year-over-year changes in assets and debt. Many families are having to tap into savings, or go further into debt in order to pay bills and stay afloat.

To figure out a more immediate family income situation, or to capture proof of changes, you can ask for more recent documents – bank statements, pay stubs or unemployment letters. You and your committee will need to balance what the family is stating has changed on the application with the work of collecting and evaluating the impacts of these extra documents.

Giving Aid as Situations Continue to Change

Unfortunately, even with these documents, the situation may change within a few months for that family – and again – we’re trying to predict affordability.

Some schools and organizations have given temporary additional awards to families – an expansion of emergency awards. These awards help bridge financials during these times, at varying time intervals (for the full year, semester, or quarterly). These funds are tracked separately so you know which awards came from which bucket, can report to the board, and make predictions for future years knowing what supplemental aid was. Families then know what their ‘normal’ financial aid packet was and what has been added to help during these times. This will help set better expectations as finances recover. ​

Options Outside of Financial Aid Budget

  • Does this family need a temporary break? Are they currently paying by semester and need to move the payment date out a little into the future? Or would they benefit from breaking payments down into smaller chunks? ​Tuition payment plan flexibility can help.
  • Look at what other organizations are available in your area, such as state-specific program relief for education costs. The more you can pull from other resources, the more aid you have to give families. 
  • Try COVID-19-specific fundraising. Appeals to donors, other families, or parishioners can sometimes yield enough to help a family – asking for $5, $10, or $20 can add up quickly.

It is vital that families know there is help available, and how they can discreetly ask for help. This is especially important for non-traditional aid families. It’s also important to remember that at the end of the day, your school’s financial stability is as important as the families’.

2021-2022 Application Changes

Due to the changing circumstances, the 2021-2022 application needs to capture more information about family situations.

Here are some general tips when asking questions:

  1. Leverage conditional questions. If you said yes to this question, let me ask you some more questions related to that one.
  2. Ask for narrative in an essay or short answer. This year as the numbers fluctuate the raw financial data may not match what is going on currently with the family. This will not only give you a better picture of their current situation, but will also help families feel heard.
  3. Ensure you ask ‘set answer’ questions, such as dropdowns, checkboxes, fill-in answers with a validation setting such as date or currency. This will allow you to export and pivot on the data for reporting to boards and donors.

Here are some sample questions that you can use (or adjust to better fit your school’s needs): 

  • Have you been affected by COVID-19?
  1. Has your household income decreased due to events surrounding COVID-19? Yes/No
  2. What is the primary reason for the decrease? Check all that apply.
    1. Reduced hours or pay
    2. Unemployment
    3. Self-employed with a significant reduction in business
    4. Self-employed and business closed
  • Income Change (Currency)
  1. Prior to COVID-19, what was the applicant’s monthly gross income?
  2. What is the applicant’s current monthly gross income?
  3. How much do you estimate your total 2020 (or 2021) income has or will decrease?
  • Unemployment & Job Situation
  1. Was unemployment filed for?
  2. Is the applicant currently receiving unemployment?
    1. Yes
    2. No – Application is Pending
    3. No – Ineligible
  3. Please select one of the following that has contributed to your financial situation:
    1. Job Loss
    2. Temporary Lay Off (Furloughed)
    3. Reduced Hours
    4. Essential Worker Paying Additional Daycare
    5. Small Business Owner
    6. Other (Please explain below)
  • Essay Examples
  1. Please describe your current financial situation and how it has changed from your pre-COVID-19 situation.
  2. How long do you believe it will take for your current financial situation to improve?
  3. Please provide any other information that would be helpful for us to know regarding the impact COVID-19 has had on your family.

The most important thing this financial aid season is to not forget to take care of yourself. Working with financial aid and knowing family burdens on a normal year can be hard, but this year and next year are especially difficult. Plan time off, spend time with family and take a minute to focus on your breathing. Find financial aid forums and support groups that can help lift you up. Just by reading this, you’re educating yourself and trying to do what is best for your families. That’s what matters, so be gentle with yourself. ​You got this – and we’re here with you.

To learn about the FACTS Grant & Aid Assessment platform, visit FACTSmgt.com.

Top 4 Reasons Not to Sign Up for the New Certificate in Catholic School Management

The following blog was contributed by Matthew F. Manion, Professor of Practice in Management and Operations and Faculty Director of the Center for Church Management in the Villanova School of Business.

The NCEA is partnering with the Center for Church Management in the Villanova School of Business to offer a new Certificate in Catholic School Management. The program is designed to provide school leaders with the critical business skills and knowledge necessary to successfully manage their schools.

Before registering for this tremendous opportunity, you should consider the top four reasons not to sign up:

  1. I don’t have the time

Catholic school administrators are some of the busiest people on the planet. You have responsibility for students, faculty, staff and their families. Many of you care so deeply about your school that you feel “on” 24/7 and 365 days a year. The thought of adding another commitment to an already overflowing plate can be overwhelming in a normal school year. In a pandemic, it could be impossible.

But imagine if you could handle the financial and human resource issues you face in half the time you do today? Imagine if you could manage your staff and key volunteers so they multiplied what your school could accomplish instead of adding to your workload? Imagine if you could spend more time developing your teachers and students and less time recruiting and fundraising?

This program is designed to fit into your busy schedule. Much of the content is delivered asynchronously and it is 100% online, so you can learn in the time and place that is most convenient for you. It will make the business and management aspects of your role easier, better, and more enjoyable.

  1. It’s too expensive

Similar certificate programs at other institutions cost thousands of dollars. Thanks to a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment and the generosity of the benefactors of the Center for Church Management, eligible educators can receive a $600 scholarship reducing the tuition from $899 to just $299. That is a great deal for a Certificate from the Villanova School of Business. Based on our experience with other programs, you will find much more than $299 in increased revenues and decreased expenses within the first year as you apply what you learn.

You are worth it. Your school is worth it. Your mission is worth it.

  1. I already have advanced degrees in education

Most school leaders like you are highly educated. However, typical educational degree programs, while excellent in leadership, pedagogy and curriculum, do not cover the practical realities of managing a school. This non-credit program will cover topics unique to Catholic school leaders such as budgeting and financing for mission; data-driven decision-making; advancement, stewardship and donor relations; enrollment, recruitment and tuition management; contract negotiations and vendor relations; and spirituality of administration.

This certificate is designed to complement, not replace, the excellent education you have already received.

  1. Catholic education is a calling, not a business

We agree. Yet Catholic schools are organizations and as a leader, you have a responsibility to steward the people, financial and other resources of that organization in a way that is worthy of the Gospel.

In fact, from the beginning, Jesus entrusted much of the mission to entrepreneurial small business owners. Many of the apostles were fishermen, along with a tax collector. St. Paul was a very successful tentmaker before his conversion. Jesus learned how to run a business at the foot of St. Joseph before starting his public ministry.

Jesus was fully reliant on the Father and yet still made time to deal with the management responsibilities of his mission. He is a great role model for how to share a life-changing vision, for coaching and developing people, for giving effective feedback and for attending to the material as well as the spiritual needs of his followers.

We know that when the organizational, strategic, financial and people issues in a school or ministry are done poorly, it reflects negatively on the school and can block or inhibit the transmission of the Gospel. When these same elements are done well and in a way that is worthy of the Good News of Jesus Christ, they are not disconnected from the mission, but actually amplify the Gospel message. Which would you prefer for your school?

If you have considered these four reasons not to sign up and would still like to enroll, we would love to have you join us for this learning experience!

Simply visit Villanova.edu/CCM to learn more and enroll.

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!