Category Archives: Catholic School Matters

Catholic School Matters Radio Hour

This week’s Catholic School Matters Radio Hour features two great guests.

Tim Bopp, the president of Holy Trinity High School in his 27th year, discusses the fascinating origin of his high school which responded to the Polish neighborhood in inner-city Chicago and was borne out of conflict in Catholic Chicago. The demographics of the school have changed radically over the years as has the neighborhood. Holy Trinity is no longer a Polish-only school and is a melting pot.

Providing a Catholic high school education to a student body which skews toward poverty is difficult, but not impossible. Bopp outlines their financial model and the need for fundraising. He explains the value-add for Holy Trinity and how they sell the school.

Bopp’s determination to greet every student every morning sets the tone for students. It is a bold, interesting choice for a high school president to make knowing each student by name. Bopp explains how he articulates the central values of the school which are carried from the mission to the classroom.

Bopp is a school leader focused on mission who knows his school and his students. He knows the stories of his families and raises money based on these stories. He has a job that no one quite understands so he has worked to develop what a president does and what the position means. “Leading your friends and colleagues to believe in the mission of the school” is how he defines it.

Bopp told the story of coaching an athlete who broke his ankle which helped him realize that Holy Trinity was more than an academic institution and was a living, breathing community which helps these struggling families to raise their students to excellence. He also discussed the heroic example of a teacher who helped him understand the meaning of Holy Trinity.

“We have to know what you know” and “you have to know what we know” is a great way to explain the partnership between home and school which guides Bopp’s practice.

The second guest is the Lead Economist from the World Bank and the publisher of the Educatio Si bulletinDr. Quentin Wodon, who joins the podcast to discuss his work promoting and encouraging research on Catholic schools around the world. His hobby has taken him to support the work of the OIEC (International Office of Catholic Education).

Dr. Wodon also explains his work with the World Bank and his research on the developing world and how these research interests have led him to research on Catholic education since the developing world is seeing growth in Catholic schooling.

He is examining the NCEA market research study and its challenging findings.  He points out that market share of Catholic schools has not changed but African Catholic schools will soon become the majority of Catholic school students.

Here is another link to the podcast.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

Last month, retired Seattle Archbishop Alexander Brunett passed away at the age of 86. You can read a Seattle Times article about him here. When I read Thanks for the Feedback last year, I took to heart the author’s idea that we need to listen for the message behind feedback—even if it seems untrue, unfair, and/or poorly delivered. The authors brought me back to an unfortunate day in 2004 when I found myself in Archbishop Brunett’s office.

I had applied to be a principal and thought I was meeting with the Archbishop so he could confirm the search committee’s choice. But I soon found myself being interrogated about Catholic identity. Archbishop Brunett made his vision for Catholic identity very clear—more priestly vocations, crosses and other religious symbols widely visible, uniforms, and devotions. At that time, I saw those symbols as window dressing and not nearly important as every student having a personal encounter with Jesus, every student finding his/her own place in the world, religion classes being relevant, and all feeling called to holiness. I found myself defending Vatican II and questioned whether his vision was still relevant.

We were two ships passing in the night, each holding to our own version—either/or, black/white, and each of us maintaining that the other was wrong. We argued. He was offended that I refused to back down. It was my first face-to-face meeting with an archbishop who was MY archbishop at the time. He was condescending and insulting. I was shaken that my shepherd was accusing me of not being Catholic enough. However, he was partly right.

I didn’t listen for the feedback, didn’t appreciate his perspective, didn’t see that it wasn’t an “either/or” but a “both/and.” I didn’t need to be a martyr for the cause of Vatican II. I needed to listen to his concerns and respond accordingly. Reading Stone & Heen’s book forced me to reexamine that disappointing episode and mine it for lessons. I came to realize that my vision for Catholic identity wasn’t wrong, it just wasn’t the only vision.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. It was a bitterly disappointing day and caused me to question whether I really belonged as a Catholic school principal and a lay leader in the church. I wish I had learned the lessons of Thanks for the Feedback two decades ago so that I could have handled the disappointment better. Eventually, my resentment toward Archbishop Brunett dissipated as I grew to appreciate that his forceful personality led to many positive changes in the archdiocese.

Some lessons take a few years to really learn. I’m grateful for the lesson Archbishop Brunett taught me back in 2004, and I pray for his eternal rest.

Top 5

In this week’s newsletter, I blog about a tough lesson I learned in 2004 from the now-deceased Archbishop of Seattle, Alexander Brunett. I’ve also collected a wide number of articles for your reading pleasure. The Top 5:

  1. In the American Catholic News section, Kathleen Porter-Magee is at it again! This week’s featured article is from America magazine entitled “In An Age of Extreme Individualism, Catholic Schools Are More Important Than Ever.”
  2. In the Leadership section, the Harvard Business Review’s “5 Tips for a Great Presentation” is worth reading. In this month when I encourage school leaders to give a “State of the School” presentation, these tips might help.
  3. The next article from the Farnam Street blog is about elastic thinking. Letting go of our patterns of thinking and learning to navigate a confusing world is essential.
  4. In the Teaching and Learning section, blogger Tom Barrett from Down Under presents two articles on the SOLO taxonomy which I found to be a different paradigm for learning.
  5. The next two articles are on Project-based Learning (PBL) and center on research and practical ideas for implementation. Who says these articles can’t be practical?

Have a great week!


The Catholic School Matters podcast this week features two great guests. Tim Bopp, the president of Holy Trinity High School in his 27th year, discusses the fascinating origin of his high school which responded to the Polish neighborhood in inner-city Chicago and was borne out of conflict in Catholic Chicago. The demographics of the school have changed radically over the years as has the neighborhood. Holy Trinity is no longer a Polish-only school and is a melting pot. Then the Lead Economist from the World Bank and the publisher of the Educatio Si bulletin, Dr. Quentin Wodon joins the podcast to discuss his work promoting and encouraging research on Catholic schools around the world. His hobby has taken him to support the work of the OIEC (International Office of Catholic Education).

Catholic School Matters Radio Hour

My old friend Jim McIntyre joins today’s Catholic School Matters podcast to discuss our joint project, the Nashville Exchange. We discussed how we have grown as Catholic school educators and why we have developed the Nashville Exchange.

Diocesan high school presidents/heads of school are on an island without networks of support and there is no specific professional development designed for them. Jim’s experience as a diocesan high school president certainly supports this.

We outlined the speakers and the importance of each topic that will be discussed:

  • The keynote speaker will be Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, CM, the president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the former president of DePaul University from 2004-17. He will discuss leading for mission and share his experiences of leading Catholic institutions. The guided discussions will be led by:
  • Tom Mengler, president of St. Mary’s University (TX), who will discuss successful fundraising.
  • Br. Tom Long, FMS, a long-time Marist head of school, will lead the discussion on strategic planning.
  •  Jack Peterson, current president of Managing for Mission and former president of Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, will discuss spiritual leadership
  • Dr. Melodie Wyttenbach, the Executive Director of Boston College’s Roche Center and a former President of a Nativity School, will talk about Board relations.

All of these topics are relevant for new, emerging, and experienced heads of school. What are we doing to support our Catholic school leaders? The conference is designed to be a collaborative exchange of best practices and community. The Greeley Center of Loyola-Chicago has been kind enough to underwrite many of our expenses, and the Meitler Group and FACTS Education have signed on as partners. The Diocese of Nashville is our host and we are grateful for their support. Here is a link to the Nashville Exchange flyer. Please go to this link for more information and to register.

Then I’m joined by Melodie Wyttenbach, one of the discussion leaders at the Nashville Exchange. Dr. Wyttenbach moved from Notre Dame to Boston College last summer to become the Executive Director of the Roche Center at Boston College. She spoke about her interest in the position–namely, the Jesuit charism as well as the pull of some familiar faces. She described her beginnings in Catholic education and her pathway of leadership, specifically urban Catholic schools, and the challenges of transitioning to a new position.

She described her understanding of the vision for the Roche Center: to be a place to support K-12 initiatives. Their 4 strategic initiatives:

  1. Leadership development & formation (e.g. Emmaus Series)
  2. Culturally diverse & responsive schools
  3. Innovative professional development
  4. Research

She also described her timely Ph.D. dissertation investigating DACA students and her current research interests and we talk about measurements of effective Catholic school governance. We also discuss the role of research in supporting Catholic schools and what that practically can look like.

Here is another link to the podcast.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

Over 20 years ago, I began teaching in a diocesan high school with Jim McIntyre. As our careers have taken us to different places, one thing that we’ve both noticed (Jim as a diocesan high school president, me as a superintendent) is that there doesn’t seem to be any conferences or professional development specifically designed for diocesan high school presidents/heads of school. There seems to be robust networks of order schools but nothing for (arch)diocesan schools. Our diocesan presidents, we suggest, could learn from our order schools and become better versions of themselves.

So Jim and I have put together just this type of conference July 15-17. The “Nashville Exchange” is designed to be an intimate gathering where best practices will be exchanged and relationships will be established. Our objectives are to build a network of Catholic school presidents and highlight best practices established by successful heads of school all within the context of a collaborative that promotes safe and secure communication.

The Nashville Exchange does not have multiple tracks and lots of sitting and listening. Rather we have designed an “unconference” that is based around listening to a fantastic keynote and then attending (and participating) in five guided discussions led by established leaders. The Nashville Exchange will begin at 5 pm on Wednesday, July 15 and will conclude by lunch on Friday, July 17.

The keynote speaker will be Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, CM, the president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) and the former president of DePaul University from 2004-17. He will discuss leading for mission and share his experiences of leading Catholic institutions. The guided discussions will be led by: 

  • Tom Mengler, president of St. Mary’s University (TX), who will discuss successful fundraising.
  • Tom Long, FMS, a long-time Marist head of school, will lead the discussion on strategic planning.
  • Jack Peterson, current president of Managing for Mission and former president of Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, will discuss spiritual leadership.
  • Melodie Wyttenbach, the Executive Director of the Roche Center at Boston College, who will speak about building positive board relationships.
  • Jim McIntyre, the president of Father Ryan HS in Nashville, and me will help put all the ideas together on the last day.

The Greeley Center of Loyola-Chicago has been kind enough to underwrite many of our expenses, and the Meitler Group and FACTS Education have signed on as partners. Here is a link to the Nashville Exchange flyer. Please go to this link for more information and to register.

Top 5

In this week’s newsletter, I discuss the new conference for diocesan high school presidents called “The Nashville Exchange.” It’s February and not too early to think about your summer professional development. It’s also the doldrums of the school year and we need to keep reading and learning in order to lead our staff members through this period of the school year. The Top 5 articles:

  1. In the American Catholic News section, Kathleen Porter-Magee brings it with another great article about the purpose and value of Catholic schools entitled “An ‘Alienated America’ Needs Community-Building Schools—Something Catholic Schools Have Been Doing for Generations.” The article reminded me of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone which explored the death of bowling leagues as a symptom that Americans are just not joining clubs any more—but they report feeling lonelier and more isolated.
  2. The next article highlights the efforts of the Big Shoulders Fund in Chicago to support Catholic schools. Coming off the announcement that at least seven more Catholic schools will close in Chicago, notice that the Fund is not only providing money but also demanding a voice in governance.
  3. In the Leadership section, the first article “Why Self-Awareness is the Key to More Effective Team Discussions” is a great article exploring why some board meeting discussions work well and why others sputter. Not every opinion is created equally and listening means more than waiting for someone to stop speaking!
  4. The next link is to a great little blog post by Tom Barrett entitled “3 Steps to Improve Your Next Workshop” It’s remarkable insightful, calling for leaders to give time for reflection, creating the conditions for dialogue, and responding to the people in front of you. Simple and powerful.
  5. In the Miscellany section, “Most People are bad at arguing. These 2 techniques will make you better” is a great article about truth, morals, and listening. Definitely worth a read!

Have a great week!


This week on the Catholic School Matters podcast, I welcome two interesting guests. The first is my old friend Jim McIntyre. We talk about our new venture, The Nashville Exchange, which we designed for presidents/heads of schools in diocesan/archdiocesan high schools. We talk about why the conference is important and how it will work. Then, I’m joined by one of the presenters at the conference, Dr. Melodie Wyttenbach, the newly-appointed Executive Director of the Roche Center at Boston College. We discuss her pathway to leadership and lessons learned from her time leading a school in Milwaukee, teaching at Notre Dame, and everywhere in between.

Catholic School Matters Radio Hour

Today’s Catholic School Matters podcast features two young Catholic school leaders in celebration of #CSW20!

Emily Lazor, a 4th year staff member at Dallas Cristo Rey College Prep HS, joined the podcast to explain her vocation as a Catholic school teacher. She explained her path to Dallas Cristo Rey and the culture of the school.

A fascinating part of the conversation was her description of the day-long application process where applicants had to spend a day at the school and the day included meetings with parents, teaching and supervising students, and finding out if he/she is a good fit. “School culture is potent,” says Lazor. She points to the family nature of the school, celebrating each other’s success and struggling together, the importance of self-advocacy, and the teaching is excellent across the board and the learning is student-centered. She also pointed out that students are quick to point out when something doesn’t fit the culture.

Lazor then explains the innovative approach to the AP Seminar and AP Research programs as part of the AP capstone programs. She has integrated the theology curriculum underneath the AP capstone programs. Like other Cristo Rey high schools, they have developed these innovative curricular options serving this overwhelmingly Catholic school.

She discusses how communication happens with students and parents and how they track and celebrate parent involvement. One of the unique ways that parents are involved is the parent rosary.

Lazor brings up an exercise that she uses with her students—the Fr. Michael Heintz three questions for discernment: What brings you joy? What has brought out your gifts? Is there an actual need for that?

It’s a fun conversation with someone on fire with her Catholic school vocation.

Matt Hauptly, the principal of Holy Family HS outside Denver joins the podcast to discuss the successful capital campaign.  Matt Hauptly first discusses his pathway to leadership and his decision to enroll in the Remick Leadership program at Notre Dame.

In order to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the school in 2022, the school decided to launch a capital campaign to build a new gym, classrooms, and other facilities for approximately $6 million.  Despite his varied experience, Hauptly did not have extensive fundraising or capital campaign experience.

Hauptly described the use of a development firm who conducted a feasibility study showing that the potential was up to $4 million.  The school had previously been unsuccessful in a capital campaign–trying to raise $10 million but only raising about $1 million.  However, this campaign surpassed their goal and raised over $7 million.

The construction has finally finished and the growing Holy Family High School is celebrating its success!

Here’s another link to today’s great episode!

Catholic School Matters Top 5

Have you ever taught with a veteran, popular teacher who talked about working on a book for years? Usually nothing comes of it. But Mr. Mike Quillin has (finally!) published his book, The Way of Fuzzy Faith, after a lifetime of teaching English and theology in Catholic schools. I’m so happy for him but I’m also happy for all of us because learning from our elders could benefit all our schools.

In last week’s blog, I talked about Deal & Peterson’s Shaping School Culture.  They certainly encourage learning from our heroes and elders. “A learning organization is one that mines past and present experiences for important lessons and principles, for stories and legends that can energize current efforts,” they write on page 57. Quillin has a lifetime of important lessons, principles, and stories.

In chapter 40, for example, Quillin relates his “Test Prayer,” where he goes up and down the rows of students while they furiously complete their tests and prays for each one individually. “It is a great way for me to see each student as she is, a unique wonderful individual, not simply a member of the class. Teaching each day one is struck by individual students for good or bad reasons, but there isn’t the time to savor each student as a person,” he writes.

Quillin believes that faith is fuzzy and there are no clear answers. The book is a collection of essays, some of them discussing theological controversies, some of them about books of the bible, some of them about teaching, others about religious practice, with the common thread his faith. You might not agree with all his conclusions but following his arguments is worth your time.

Speaking of time, Quillin has a motto about life that serves as the simplest of his prayers: “This is it.  Right now.  Right here.” It serves as a centering prayer and a reminder that this is who we are, where we are, and when we are. We often want to be somewhere or someone else, but Quillin reminds us that this is it. He delivers elder wisdom.

After all, we often hear from teachers and administrators in Catholic schools wishing their situations were different—more students, perhaps, or better attendance at Mass, or a better financial situation. Quillin reminds us this is our life, this is our calling.  Quillin stayed. He kept teaching in Catholic schools, he kept going to Mass every Sunday. Why? The book is his testimony.

It’s a short (157 pages) and cheap ($10) investment that will yield insight and appreciation into our Catholic school culture.

Top 5

Happy Catholic Schools Week!  It’s time to celebrate and build community. I have a great blog in this week’s newsletter about a book written by a former Catholic school teacher, The Way of Fuzzy Faith, and a collection of interesting articles for your reading enjoyment. Notice that this is the (unfortunate) season for school closing announcements. In the past two weeks, I have come across announcements for 16 school closings. Don’t ignore this news. Read the stories and vow to take action in your own school to build a brighter future.  The Top 5:

  1. The first article in the American Catholic News section is about the Espinoza case which was heard by the US Supreme Court last week. The decision should be announced in June, but we want to stay on top of the issues and be prepared to talk about the facts.
  2. In the Leadership section, the first article about the 70-20-10 rule for Leadership is very thought-provoking. How much of your leadership expertise is due to education?  Or experience?  This article will challenge your thinking.
  3. The second and third articles in that section are about time. “How busyness leads to bad decisions” is a good reminder to leaders about how to tackle the challenges amid a busy schedule and “Why Americans are always running out of time” is a great reflection on how technology is not making our lives easier, just more complex.
  4. In the Teaching & Learning section, “The New Reading Environment” explores the challenges of reading amid all the different formats and technologies.
  5. The video at the end of that section is from AVLI (Arrupe Virtual Learning Institute) and explores the ways that AVLI is building and supporting instructional capacity in Catholic schools. It’s worth a look!

Have a great Catholic Schools Week!


This week on the Catholic School Matters podcast I welcome two great guests to the podcast who explain and celebrate their Catholic school vocations. Emily Lazor, a 4th year staff member at Dallas Cristo Rey College Prep HS, joins the podcast to explain her vocation as a Catholic school teacher. She explained her path to Dallas Cristo Rey and the culture of the school. The principal of Holy Family HS outside Denver joins the podcast to discuss the successful capital campaign. Matt Hauptly first discusses his pathway to leadership and his decision to enroll in the Remick Leadership program at Notre Dame.

Catholic School Matters Radio Hour

Here is a link to this week’s Catholic School Matters podcast featuring three great guests. First, the focus is on the border as two Catholic school leaders discuss how the immigration crisis has impacted their school communities. Then, educational reformer Stephanie Saroki de Garcia joins the podcast to discuss the work of Seton Education partners, including a new initiative in the Rio Grande Valley.

Dr. Guadalupe Perez

I spoke to Dr. Guadalupe Perez, the second-year superintendent of the Diocese of Laredo, in order to get a sense of the reality of the border Catholic schools. She shared that the immigration has dropped but they’ve had to close two Catholic schools due to low enrollment. Laredo is safe but their sister city (Nuevo Laredo) has been experiencing instability and high crime rates.

We discussed why enrollment is so difficult in Laredo with so many Catholic children. Dr. Perez mentioned that Catholic education isn’t a financial priority since the public schools are free. She mentions that the reason is financial—with very little subsidy money coming from parishes or the diocese, most of the operating budget must come from tuition.

Dr. Perez explains why she enjoys her job. The differences with the public school system, of which she knew very little. She has very little bureaucracy to deal with and has a lot of work to do to bring the schools together.

Sylvia Benning

The principal of St. Charles Catholic School in San Diego, Sylvia Benning, joins the podcast to discuss the changes which have impacted the school. The school is six miles from the border and is a working- and middle-class demographic with a high percentage of military families and a quarter of the student population crosses the border from Tijuana every day.

She explains how the 40 students cross the border every day and what their commute looks like—what time they wake, what the border crossing looks like, and how changes to immigration policies impact their commute. Benning discussed how many students cross the border to attend San Diego Catholic schools.

Benning discussed how the “negative emotions” associated with people coming from Mexico has impacted their school and her belief that social justice teachings of the Church inspire her to care for all Catholics.

She then discussed how the opening of a shelter for asylum seekers across the street from the school impacted the school. This presented some new challenges and certainly brought the border crisis to their front door. It also presented Benning with a conundrum—the Diocese asked her to keep the shelter under wraps while her desire for transparency demanded that she communicate with her parents.

Benning also shared that there is an alarming fear about the closure of the border and how the fearful rhetoric has impacted the students, who shared their fears and concerns. She also shares her experience with the undocumented: workers, school parents, and the community at large.

Stephanie Saroki de Garcia

The co-founder of Seton Partners, Stephanie Saroki de Garcia is a return guest to the podcast. She discusses their Brilla charter school initiative, the blending learning programs, and their new Catholic school in Cincinnati, Resurrection Catholic Academy.

Brilla is a charter program in New York City which offers after-school faith formation. Stephanie revealed that they are hoping to expand to a diocese in Texas. Brilla is controversial which even Stephanie admits. Last year, we recorded a podcast which she asked to hold due to their desire NOT to upset their charter school position.

Their blended learning network began at Mission Dolores in San Francisco and has grown to thirteen schools.

The Resurrection Catholic Academy is a takeover of a Catholic school which was struggling. They now have management of a Catholic school in cooperation with a voucher program. This is a radical new innovation with potential to impact Catholic schools nationwide. They will also use their Seton Teaching Fellows here—a one-year volunteer teaching program.

We then discuss the biggest blind spots in management changes—namely, Catholic identity and operating systems of different dioceses and how Seton Education Partners is poised to meet those challenges.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

Over Christmas break, I finally read Terrence Deal and Kent Peterson’s Shaping School Culture. I say “finally” because I’ve seen references to the work for years and it’s probably been on my book queue longer than any other book. The first edition came out 20 years ago and it’s easy to see how its influence on the latest generation of school culture books, notably Tim Cook’s Architects of Catholic Culture.

Perhaps the greatest insight was the “bifocal principal” which they define as someone who “thinks structurally and symbolically.” I find their emphasis on structure and symbol much more engaging than what is traditionally defined as management/leadership. How we create meaning for our school communities is symbolic leadership and encompasses the history, rituals, ceremonies, heroes, and stories we tell. Inspired by this insight, I am challenging the Montana Catholic school leaders to come up with a story every month for our meetings. This month, they were challenged to come up with a two minute story about an inspirational teacher.

As Deal and Peterson say, “In this book we examine the varied ways symbolic leaders shape culture to create a cohesive, meaningful, nurturing, social milieu for teachers to teach and students to learn” (17). How many times have you heard Catholic school teachers say, “I teach here because I am happier even though I make less money?” This is perhaps where we could double down and look for improvement—by strengthening and articulating our symbolic leadership.

The bifocal principal must remain focused on both on day-to-day structural tasks as well as the symbolic leadership tasks. In addition, Deal and Peterson challenge school leaders to enter into paradox. “Very few issues in education are either-or, and principals who deal with paradox will find their jobs much less stressful and more rewarding.” (xiii).

The other insight which really stood out was their take on the traditional complaint about schools: “if only they run like businesses.” How many times have you heard this? Deal and Peterson turn this on its head and encourage schools to act more like successful mission-driven businesses, infusing their work with meaning, passion and purpose.

Take a look at this article about the Top 20 business transformations of the last decade and you’ll see plenty of examples of symbolic leadership. Or read this article from The Atlantic about the breakaway Catholic sect that has created a withdrawal experiment in Kansas. They have used symbolic leadership to shape the meaning of their world. Another great culture article I saw lately was about creating strong rules to build a strong culture.

Perhaps the best example of a culture article is Kathleen Porter-Magee’s essay “Catholic on the Inside” from the Manhattan Institute. Porter-Magee focuses on the values which shape Catholic schools—objective truth, every person created in God’s image, the habits of virtue, and the foundation in something larger than individual achievement. It’s an amazing essay and deserves your attention.

Shaping School Culture is full of examples of school leaders who have defined, built, and strengthened their school cultures.

Top 5

In this week’s newsletter, I blog about forming school culture, inspired by Deal & Peterson’s great book, Shaping School Culture. I’ve also collected some great articles. The Top 5:

  1. The absolute must read is Kathleen Porter-Magee’s “Catholic on the Inside.” Stop everything and read this now. Her point is that often charter schools are called “Catholic on the Outside” because they adopt many traditional Catholic school practices. But she traces the true success of Catholic schools—namely, the values on the inside! I recorded a podcast conversation with her which will air next month.
  2. Former Catholic school teacher and administrator Sister Ann Durst is the focus on the US Catholic article “The Nun Working to Bring Justice to Immigrants at the Border.” It’s a great story about how someone set out to make a difference. This week’s podcast highlights two Catholic school leaders on the border.
  3. In the Leadership section, the first two articles focus on decision-making: “Algorithms and Decision-Making” and “Trade-offs and Decision Making” are both great articles illuminating different aspects of decision making.
  4. In the Teaching & Learning section, the first article describes what an autism-friendly classroom would look like. It’s fascinating and de-mystifies many misconceptions about autistic children.
  5. In the Miscellany section, I found the article about the Society of St. Pius X group in St. Marys, Kansas, to be fascinating. They have purchased an old Jesuit novitiate and built a community of breakaway Catholics. The tension between living in the world and trying to transform it and withdrawing from it completely plays out in the article. It raises the question of what is the purpose of church—to serve its own or transform society?

In two days, I am taking the family to Ireland to celebrate my birthday. We’ll be over there for a week, so I don’t plan to publish a newsletter or podcast next week. The newsletter will return on Sunday, January 26th to kick off Catholic Schools Week!


This week on the Catholic School Matters podcast I welcome three guests to the podcast. I first welcome two Catholic school leaders from the border who discuss changes to the climate of their schools and how the new political reality has changed the life of their schools. Dr. Guadalupe Perez, the superintendent of the Diocese of Laredo, and Sylvia Benning, the principal of St. Charles Catholic School in San Diego, discuss Catholic schools on the border. Then, the dynamic Stephanie Saroki de Garcia returns to the podcast to discuss the initiatives of Seton Education Partners—including their first Catholic turnaround school!

Catholic School Matters Radio Hour

This week’s Catholic School Matters podcast welcomes two great guests. First, Maureen Dowling, who has served for nearly 20 years in the U.S. Department of Education Office of Non-Public Education (ONPE), joins the podcast to discuss her interaction with Catholic schools. Her office is housed in the Secretary’s office and the purpose of the office is to try to promote maximum participation in U.S. Department of Education efforts.

With a background in Catholic schools, Dowling speaks to the importance of unique missions and the contributions of non-public schools. She speaks to two major programs: Title I, which can provide supplemental educational services to students who need additional support; and Title IIa, which provides professional development for teachers. She clarifies the history of these programs and clarifies how the local administration of federal funds can lead to confusion.

The funds flow from the Department of Education to LEAs and cannot flow directly to private schools. The LEA is the fiduciary agent and there is confusion around the process. It takes time to understand the process.

Dowling also discusses programs such as IDEA, Blue Ribbon Schools and Green Ribbon Schools. She offers help to schools and support for the programs. But she also clarified what she can’t do—controlling curriculum, accrediting schools, or passing regulations for private or home schools. Those types of regulations occur on the state or local level.

We discuss the confusion over the Common Core standards and how some people perceive that the federal government is pushing the standards. She discusses how she interacts and responds to inquiries and supports non-public schools and then she explains the Education Freedom Scholarships and the new frontiers of school choice.

Dr. Kevin Baxter, now the Chief Innovation Officer at NCEA, joins the podcast to discuss his efforts to push innovation out from NCEA. He wants to set up a mechanism to think through the big challenges and try to scale out innovations.

We started by discussing why the superintendent role (which he filled for 10 years) is so demanding. In the midst of the day to day, Baxter says it was difficult to measure progress. He also pointed out the intensity of the position was draining, although it started out as wonderful. Working for the Church is demanding because it is “our” Church where we celebrate our faith but now we are part of the institution, too.

Baxter also spoke about the challenges of responding to the controversies and crises inherent in the nation’s largest Catholic school system. The frequency and the fact that his phone could always ring never allowed him to take time away from his phone. We talk about how as superintendent you can prioritize your time and focus on your priorities.

Baxter then discussed new initiatives:

  1. Micro-schools. He wants to develop a model for small schools (enrollment of 150 students or less). The initial focus is on the 1500 elementary schools across the country which have 150 students or less. How can we support them with best practices? Baxter assumes that most of the schools don’t have a plan for their enrollment because they aren’t small on purpose. He has surveyed schools, set up a Professional Learning Network with the goal to set up strong Catholic identity, strong academic outcomes, and financial sustainability. They are focused on technology, teacher training, principal training, and assessment tools.
  2. Leadership Succession. Many schools and dioceses are creating programs for future leaders. We discuss why many schools do not hire internal candidates, the challenges to developing a bench of available candidates, and the role that governance plays in these decisions.
  3. Finance. How do we get to a funding mechanism that isn’t relying on tuition or philanthropy? Baxter wonders if we can use surplus property to provide stable funding. He points out that real estate is what many dioceses possess. The Archdiocese of New York is the largest landowner on the island of Manhattan, for example. He is trying to prompt schools to be creative.
  4. Recognizing that the parish-based model is facing challenges in many areas. How can we help develop and train leaders on new models? He mentions the new FADICA report coming out in January that will measure the prevalence of new leadership models which should lead to research on effectiveness.
  5. Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). Baxter is trying to build new PLNs. Every Catholic educator feels alone at some point. He is trying to build new structures and scale them out to support best practices and build community. 

Baxter is a busy, busy leader! It’s a great conversation about innovation and change in our Catholic schools. He welcomes input and collaborators and can be reached at Look for NCEA surveys in your inbox from Dr. Baxter.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

When I read Pope Francis’s Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia, I was struck by his desire for Catholic artists to embrace their unique vision of life. I was reminded of Fr. Andrew Greeley’s work on the “Catholic Imagination,” and certainly Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman would qualify as just this type of work. The idea is that Catholic artists should be able to detect and express a sacramental imagination—that is, see the world as more than it is. My mind has been captured by a character in HBO’s The Watchmen and I had to google Damon Lindelof, the showrunner and co-creator of Lost to see if he was, in fact, Catholic. Alas, he is not but the character qualified as inspirational.

Most critics focus on the show’s commentary on race, which is commendable and insightful, but I found the portrayal of Dr. Manhattan the most thought-provoking. He is essentially a god and the most powerful being in the universe. When he meets the protagonist, Angela Abraham, he reveals his ability to see all time at once—the present moment, the past, the future. All time is happening at once for him. That vision of transcendence gives me pause.

As I watched my children opening Christmas gifts, I could see them as infants and remember the joy on the day of their birth. What parent hasn’t had those moments? But don’t we also imagine the day of their high school graduation? Their wedding days? Of course we do, from time to time. When we truly behold our children, we see all time at once.

And isn’t that our calling as educators? When we welcome a new kindergarten student, aren’t we called to see them as graduating 8th graders? When we welcome the senior class, don’t we also see them as scared 9th graders? For all our students, don’t we dream of their futures and hope that the lessons we are imparting make a difference? Dr. Manhattan’s vision of time augments our view of what our teachers can do now, where our students are, what lies ahead, and how far we’ve come.

In his address, Pope Francis quotes Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2012 underscored the need for artistic inspiration: “Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people.”

When we come upon a work like The Watchmen which seems timeless (pun intended) and insightful to the human experience, it is rare. It’s not a niche work designed for a certain segment of the population.

Pope Francis goes on to explore this idea later by raising the issue of time and of reality which is being challenged and re-shaped by social media. “It is no longer merely a question of ‘using’ instruments of communication, but of living in a highly digitalized culture that has had a profound impact on ideas of time and space, on our self-understanding, our understanding of others and the world, and our ability to communicate, learn, be informed and enter into relationship with others. An approach to reality that privileges images over listening and reading has influenced the way people learn and the development of their critical sense.”

Happy New Year!

Top 5

Welcome back to school! I hope you had a great break. After six weeks away from publishing, I’ve been able to collect some great articles and links to share in this week’s newsletter. The Top 5:

  1. The first article in the American Catholic News section highlights the upcoming court case pitting religious freedom against anti-discrimination laws. The second article, courtesy of Superintendent Kevin Kijewski highlights the Supreme Court Blaine Amendment case (oral arguments will be heard on January 22nd) and argues for the wiping out of the amendments.
  2. In the past couple of months, there have been quite a few Catholic school closure announcements. I encourage you to read their stories in the “Catholic Schools Opening & Closing section.”
  3. In the Leadership section, the first link is to Emanuel Harper’s great blog post “Four Principles I Learned as a Teacher and Administrator.”
  4. In the Teaching & Learning section, the first article “4 Strategies to Recharge Your Teaching” is a great reminder of what’s important at this time of year.
  5. In the Miscellany section, the NY Times article on the rising number of mothers in prison and the impact on their children is devastating.

Have a great week!


This week’s Catholic School Matters podcast features two outstanding guests: Dr. Kevin Baxter, the Chief Innovation Officer at NCEA, joins the podcast to describe his work developing innovation. Maureen Dowling from the US Department of Education Department of Non-Public Education (ONPE) then comes on to describe the programs and support for Catholic schools.