Category Archives: Catholic School Matters

Catholic School Matters Top 5

I’ve collected the most popular articles from each of the ten editions of Catholic School Matters this fall. This fall’s “Best Of” edition is earlier than usual because I’ve come to the conclusion (based on clicks) that people don’t have time to read during December. Christmas programs, holiday parties, and movie sequels will be taking up too much of our time!

Here’s the top 10:

  1. From the September 8th newsletter: In the Teaching & Learning section, the first article about how learning is supposed to feel uncomfortable is timely and insightful. Like our students, we often believe we should be able to to pick up and master new skills without any problems.
  2. From the September 15th newsletter: In the American Catholic News section, there’s a great 7-minute video about a dual language school in Texas. The principal, Bill Daily, casually mentions that the school’s enrollment had dipped to 98 students and now it was around 450. Why are we not paying more attention to this?!? He talks about the risk of adopting a dual language model, the “messiness” of the church at times, and the need for innovation.
  3. From the September 22nd newsletter: From the New York Times, the first article in the Leadership section discusses our tendency toward perfectionism and the need to accept good enough when we can.
  4. From the September 29th newsletter: In the American Catholic News section, “When Professional Catholics Burn Out” is a great piece exploring how lay Catholics struggle with their vocations in the church as well as their faith.
  5. From the October 6th newsletter: In the Teaching & Learning section, “Class Size Matters” explores the current research and misconceptions about class size. It seems this comes up every year as schools struggle to find the right balance between classrooms of vitality and individual attention.
  6. From the October 13th newsletter: In the Leadership section, the first article from Daniel Pink in Education Week focuses on how schools use time. How we organize the school day usually has more to do with institutional traditions or factors other than what are the most optimal conditions for children to learn. It’s interesting to hear Pink’s take on the school day.
  7. From the October 20th newsletter: In the Teaching & Learning section, Mind/Shift offer suggestions to teachers for creating community in your classroom and Edutopia offers strategies for turning classrooms into communities.
  8. From the October 27th newsletter: Ashley Berner, a former podcast guest, has a great argument for pluralism in American schools that should be read by everyone. Here’s a short argument in the Hill, and here’s a longer read with much more detail.
  9. From the November 3rd newsletter: Following the theme of financial best practices in the blog, I present three articles in the American Catholic News section which touch on the same subject: “Twelve Lessons about the Future of Catholic Schools” in the Homiletic & Pastoral Review, “Ten Essentials for Sustaining Catholic Education” from the Healey Education Foundation, and “The Era of the Parochial School is Over” from America magazine. These articles provide further context for the discussion about the need for better financial practices in our Catholic schools.
  10. In the November 17th newsletter: I recommend “Synodality Isn’t Just an Option” as a way to understand the current reality.

I’ll be back in January after a six week hiatus! Have a great Thanksgiving and a blessed Advent!

Top 5

Here is the link to this week’s newsletter. Since I’m selecting a Top 5 of a Top 10, this feels like March Madness! Here are my favorites from the Top 10 celebrating a great fall season of Catholic School Matters.

  1. From the September 15th newsletter: In the American Catholic News section, there’s a great 7-minute video about a dual language school in Texas.  The principal, Bill Daily, casually mentions that the school’s enrollment had dipped to 98 students and now it was around 450.  Why are we not paying more attention to this?!? He talks about the risk of adopting a dual language model, the “messiness” of the church at times, and the need for innovation.
  2. From the September 22nd newsletter: From the New York Times, the first article in the Leadership section discusses our tendency toward perfectionism and the need to accept good enough when we can.
  3. From the September 29th newsletter: In the American Catholic News section, “When Professional Catholics Burn Out” is a great piece exploring how lay Catholics struggle with their vocations in the church as well as their faith.
  4. From the November 3rd newsletter: Following the theme of financial best practices in the blog, I present three articles in the American Catholic News section which touch on the same subject: “Twelve Lessons about the Future of Catholic Schools” in the Homiletic & Pastoral Review, “Ten Essentials for Sustaining Catholic Education” from the Healey Education Foundation, and “The Era of the Parochial School is Over” from America magazine. These articles provide further context for the discussion about the need for better financial practices in our Catholic schools.
  5. In the November 17th newsletter: I recommend “Synodality Isn’t Just an Option” as a way to understand the current reality.

I’ll be back in January after a six week hiatus!  Have a great Thanksgiving and a blessed Advent!

Podcast

This week on the Catholic School Matters podcast, I welcome three guests to the podcast whom I saw at the this fall’s Mustard Seed Project. First, Dr. Michelle Lia from Loyola-Chicago and the Greeley Center, joins me to discuss her work with Catholic school teachers specifically in the area of literacy. Then, Helen Dahlman from the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence in Minnesota, returns to the podcast to discuss the great work of CSCOE supporting Catholic education. Finally, Dr. Gail Donahue from Notre Dame of Maryland joins me to discuss her work supporting teachers through coaching and the other aspects of her work supporting Catholic education. It’s a great episode with three great thought leaders in Catholic education.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

Last week’s USCCB meetings surfaced a few fault lines in US Catholicism which shed light on best practices in Catholic schools. To start the week, Archbishop Pierre, the Papal Nuncio, exhorted the US Bishops to embrace their communion with Papal teachings and examine the “magisterial imperative.” This is especially true related to Laudato Si as well as Amoris Laetitia. Both of these documents are often (incorrectly) derided as Pope Francis’s private thoughts but not magisterial (i.e. infallible) teachings. It’s important to note that Archbishop Pierre begs to differ and exhorts the bishops to accompany people in the spirit of Amoris Laetitia and care for our common home in the spirit of Laudato Si and recognize that those are magisterial teachings of the church.

The common themes of Francis’ papacy emerge from this letter: collegiality, collaboration, evangelization, missionary impulse, mercy, and dialogue. These are all worth considering in our schools and the best Catholic schools have embraced these imperatives. The Nuncio is reminding us all to be attentive to the message of Pope Francis.

Bishop McElroy of San Diego underscored the concept of “synodality” which has become a buzzword in Catholic circles. The meaning of synodality extends beyond meetings of bishops to recognize the voices of all baptized Catholics in areas of decision-making and governance. The Church is not a democracy, but it’s not a hierarchy either. McElroy calls it a “hierarchical communion” and I believe this understanding of church is applicable to Catholic schools who have perhaps embraced synodality better than the wider American church. After all, we see a lot of adaptation to local needs in our Catholic schools. This fall’s controversy over adopting new practices in the Amazon region point to Church leaders’ discomfort with diversity and need for standardization. But our most effective Catholic schools adopt different practices and engage in collaborative efforts with all stakeholders thereby illustrating synodality.

McElroy identified four characteristics of synodality: a missionary church, a participatory church, a welcoming church, and a church of harmony and dialogue. It’s worth quoting him on the issue of welcoming which is an issue that Catholic schools face almost every day:

“If we are to build a more welcoming church in the United State, the searing issue of judgmentalism must be faced. There is no sin that Jesus condemns in the gospels more often than that of judgmentalism. Probably, this results from Jesus’ recognition that this is a sin that virtually all of us fall into easily and frequently. It is a mystery of the human soul why men so often find satisfaction in pointing to the sins, rather than the goodness in others. It is a mystery of the human soul why we feel better about ourselves because someone else has failed.”

The sense of eliminating judgment is also rooted in McElroy’s understanding of church which originates in Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium. This is the constitution which articulated the call to universal holiness and spells out the valued roles of all members of the Church. The fault lines and conflicts during the USCCB meeting serve as a great reminder about our own mission as Catholic school leaders and the need to establish Pope Francis’ priorities in our school communities.

Top 5

I’m back at it this week with a newsletter after spending last weekend chaperoning a field trip to Boise. Trust me, I’d rather be writing! I plan to put together a “Best Of” edition for next Sunday so I can spend December working on the book project. The Top links for this week:

  1. The first article in the American Catholic News section is about churches but is just as relevant for Catholic schools. “There is No Such Thing as Church Revitalization” from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership describes how church communities who are suffering from losses in membership need to look to their mission, not simply recreating their past practices. This conflict between tradition and innovation is playing out in countless Catholic schools right now.
  2. The next article, “It’s Not Easy When One’s School is Closed” is a well-written piece about seeing one’s alma mater closed as well as a reflection about poor planning which doomed a diocesan Catholic school system. This week I brought back the “Catholic Schools Opening and Closing” section–not for self-flagellation or to promote despair but to learn from the experiences of others. Over the next few months we’ll see these announcements become more frequent.
  3. The next three articles are all referred to in the blog but I recommend “Synodality Isn’t Just an Option” as a way to understand the current reality.
  4. The last link in the section “Language Immersion Program” details an innovative program offered by the Archdiocese of Boston giving Catholic school faculty and staff (and administrators!) full scholarships to enroll in an intensive summer language institute. Couple this article with this video about the Latino Enrollment Institute at ND (which is now accepting applications for next summer).  We can’t lose sight of the fact that ministering to Latino Catholic families is the largest opportunity for growth in our schools and will keep the V Encuentro momentum rolling.
  5. In the Leadership Section, “5 Mental Mistakes That Kill Your Productivity” from HBR is a great little reminder about productivity.
  6. In the Teaching & Learning section, “The Right Way to Lead Teacher Learning” is a great piece on effective professional development and facilitation.

Have a great week!

Podcast

This week I welcome two guests to the Catholic School Matters Radio Hour podcast. First, the incomparable Dr. Frank O’Linn, the Superintendent of the Diocese of Cleveland, discusses leadership and the priorities of his Catholic schools. How to make them more irresistibly Catholic, academically excellent, and accessible to all are the three issues which are front and center. Frank’s perspective is refreshing and the conversation is rich. Then I welcome Dr. Tiffany Boury from Franciscan University who updates the progress of their new Master’s in Catholic Leadership program.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

As schools begin to get a handle on this year’s budget realities, they must begin planning for next year. It occurs to me that many of our schools are being led by educationally-trained leaders who need help understanding the function of their finance offices, their role as supervisor, and the role of their Finance Councils. In addition, some finance officers don’t necessarily understand the best practices of schools and members of the Finance Councils don’t understand their roles. It’s a simple but elusive question—what are the best financial practices of effective Catholic schools?

So I set out to explore this idea with the National Standards and Benchmarks Guru, Tom Kiely of Marquette University. We set out to establish the best practices of the three levels of financial operations (finance officers, school leaders, and finance councils) as well as the budgeting process. And then we set out to develop a FAQ of financial questions that swirl around most Catholic schools. We’ve put this together into an article which will be published this year in Momentum.

Then we realized that we should talk about these issues in a podcast so Tom and I are talking about financial best practices this week on the Catholic School Matters podcast.

As a preview of both the article and the podcast, here are the five reports we recommend that every school generate every month:

  1. Calculated ACE (Actual Cost of Education) based on expenses divided by enrollment. The ACE number will change based on enrollment and expenses.
  2. Monthly profit and loss reports based on the annual budget.
  3. Monthly balance sheet.
  4. Monthly cash flow reports. The school’s performance measured against the projected cash flow should be maintained. By cash flow, we mean that a monthly expense and income forecast should be constructed at the beginning of the fiscal year projecting the income and expenses. Every month, actual income and receipts should be measured against that cash flow projection.
  5. Monthly income reports including tuition collected and billed as well as fundraising reports.

These reports may seem onerous but are necessary to best operational practices and they need to be generated by the finance office. A high functioning finance office pays attention to the daily tasks, the controls and processes, and the monthly reports necessary for the principal and finance council to carry out their oversight.

Our hope is that this brief blog, the podcast, and the ensuing Momentum article will provide school leaders with resources to improve your understanding and management of your school finances.

Top 5

This week’s newsletter focuses on financial best practices in Catholic schools. First, let me ask that you take a moment to pray for Jeff Behrends and the Kennedy Catholic HS community. A veteran teacher, Jeff passed away last week while teaching at Kennedy Catholic. The shock to students, staff, and alums is almost beyond imaginable. It took me back 10 years when we discovered that one of our teachers, Pat Bouillon, had suddenly passed away. Please consier sending Kennedy’s fine principal, Nancy Bradish, a note: bradishn@kennedyhs.org or a note to the faculty/students: 140 S. 140th St. Burien WA 98168.

Selecting the top 5 articles was very, very difficult.

  1. Following the theme of financial best practices in the blog, I present three articles in the American Catholic News section which touch on the same subject: “Twelve Lessons about the Future of Catholic Schools” in the Homiletic & Pastoral Review, “Ten Essentials for Sustaining Catholic Education” from the Healey Education Foundation, and “The Era of the Parochial School is Over” from America magazine. These articles provide further context for the discussion about the need for better financial practices in our Catholic schools.
  2. In the Teaching & Learning section, the first link is to MSU’s extension magazine. On page 10, there’s a great article about the efforts to establish a STEM program at one of our reservation schools, Pretty Eagle.  Their fantastic teacher, Jack Joyce, and principal Garla Williamson are featured—as well as their incredible folding bridge project.
  3. The second link is a blog post from Z-Winning Mindset entitled “The Big 6 Mindset Red Flags for Schools” and serves as a reminder of the warning signs for a flagging school culture.
  4. In the Miscellany section, this great article from Reader’s Digest describes the efforts to eradicate anti-Semitism from Billings in the early 1990s. There’s a great little piece on the role that Billings Central Catholic HS played about half way through. Most of us don’t see anti-Semitism as part of our world or even our role in eradicating this prejudice. This article provides an example for all Catholic schools to follow.
  5. The second article in that section is a great story of a hearing-impaired student at Loyola Sacred Heart High School (Missoula) who has found a home at the Catholic school.

Have a great week! After 10 straight weeks of newsletters, I’ll be taking next week off.

Podcast

This week on the Catholic School Matters podcast, I have a long-form conversation with Tom Kiely of Marquette University about financial best practices in our Catholic schools. We discuss the need for understanding the roles and functions of the finance office, the role of the school leader, and the function of the Finance Council as well as the need to develop good reports to feed the budgeting process.

Catholic School Matters Radio Hour

I explore the landmark Espinoza case on the Catholic School Matters podcast. This case originated in Montana and will be heard at the US Supreme Court in January. It holds the possibility to overturn the dreaded Blaine Amendments and change state funding across the country. The origin was a student scholarship program passed (and surprisingly allowed to become law by the governor) but was challenged by the Department of Revenue. A district court overruled the Department and then the Montana Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional based on the Montana Blaine Amendment separating church and state.

The case has the potential to overthrow all state Blaine amendments and change funding of religious schools across the country. It’s worth your time to learn about the case and implications for the future.

I am joined by Matthew Brower, the Executive Director of the Montana Catholic Conference to give us the facts of the case. These cases don’t originate out of a vacuum and Brower provides the historical context of the case which could be studied for many years. He discusses the political landscape and the surprising nature that a case like this could originate in Montana.

Then I’m joined by attorney Erica Smith of the Institute for Justice, co-counsel on the case, who is preparing the briefs and has been instrumental in the case since 2015. She makes the argument that the state should be neutral in matters of religion, not hostile like in this case. She believes their case is strong and they will win.

This case has raised a flurry of amicus briefs and so I interview one of the authors, Andrea Picciotti-Bayer from the Catholic Foundation. She and I discuss the constitutional implications of the separation of church and state and explains why she and organizations such as the Catholic Foundation are supporting the effort.

It is important for school leaders to prepare for a new reality. As lawmakers and education departments begin to decipher a new educational funding landscape, it’s important for school leaders to consider the implications. In this week’s newsletter, I present some great articles which examine the origins of Blaine Amendments, the arguments for and against overthrowing these amendments, and a look at creating a more just funding environment.

Here is another link to the podcast.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

This week’s newsletter is focused on the landmark Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case which will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in January. Many people believe the case will overturn Blaine amendments which are present in 37 states and are used to prevent the state from funding religious schools in any way. This case will be talked about for many years and could potentially open up new ways to fund religious and private schools.

The case originated with a student scholarship program which passed the Montana legislature in 2015 but was found unconstitutional by the Montana Supreme Court based on the Blaine amendment in the Montana constitution. The US Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal and many believe that the Court will expand the Trinity Lutheran case to overthrow all Blaine amendments, which originated in the early 19th century in anti-Catholic sentiment.

It is important for school leaders to prepare for a new reality. As lawmakers and education departments begin to decipher a new educational funding landscape, it’s important for school leaders to consider the implications.  In the newsletter below, I present some great articles which examine the origins of Blaine Amendments, the arguments for and against overthrowing these amendments and a look at creating a more just funding environment.

In addition, I explore these issues this week in the Catholic School Matters podcast by interviewing a policy advocate from Montana, one of the co-counsels of the case, and a fierce advocate for school choice. It’s a great way to explore the ideas through conversation and establishes the argument that state governments cannot show hostility toward religion.

School leaders are often busy (especially this time of year!) and we often leave policy arguments and school choice to others. But it would benefit to study this particular case and consider how our environment could soon change.

Top 5

In the newsletter blog, I explore the potentially landmark school choice, Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue which might overturn all Blaine amendments and change the educational funding landscape. Here are the Top 5:

  1. The Atlantic has a great article (“Your Neighbor’s Christian Education , Courtesy of Your Tax Dollars”) exploring the implications of the case. It’s a great way to see how opponents of school choice are viewing this case.
  2. The Catholic Herald has a great article arguing for the overthrow, “A Chance to End Discrimination Against Catholic Schools.”
  3. Ashley Berner, a former podcast guest, has a great argument for pluralism in American schools that should be read by everyone.  Here’s a short argument in the Hill, and here’s a longer read with much more detail.
  4. George Will’s op-ed about ending the Blaine amendments is a great read.

Have a great week!

Podcast

I explore the landmark Espinoza case on the Catholic School Matters podcast. This case originated in Montana and will be heard at the US Supreme Court in January. It holds the possibility to overturn the dreaded Blaine Amendments and change state funding across the country. I am joined by Matthew Brower, the Executive Director of the Montana Catholic Conference to give us the facts of the case, attorney Erica Smith of the Institute for Justice, co-counsel on the case, and Andrea Picciotti-Bayer from the Catholic Foundation who is supporting the effort.

Catholic School Matters Radio Hour

This week’s Catholic School Matters podcast includes two great conversations with two thought leaders in Catholic schools. First, I speak with Fr. Eric Ramirez, SJ from Regis Jesuit High School in Denver. Fr. Ramirez is the director of pastoral ministry for the boys division and we talk about the unique nature of a co-institutional church. We talk about his vocation and the calling to his work.

Fr. Ramirez speaks about the joy of his work and the calling to serve the students of Regis. We explore the value of serving the students at Regis, many of whom are affluent. He speaks about the spiritual poverty of the students and introducing students to Jesus.

We also explore the value of discernment in his life and listening for God’s call and balancing the comfortable with the challenging. He discusses the pressures facing so many students—to succeed, to get perfect grades, to get into the best college, etc. All the anxiety (which he calls the “sour fruit” of the anxiety) that students are feeling and how he can lead students to the truth of God’s love for them. He discusses the “cultivated self” and the meta-narratives which tend to shape our student’s lives.

We talk about the trap of self-refection which puts up a barrier to love. Fr. Ramirez talks about how the retreat program (which he describes in detail) are designed to give students space to feel God’s love in an authentic encounter.

He also discussed the challenges of his vocation under the current climate.  He mentions how the scandals serve as barriers to evangelization and his own personal disappointment to the loss of integrity in the church leadership.

My next guest is Tony Ferraro from Floyd Consulting. He’s a coach and presenter for Floyd Consulting, an arm of Dynamic Catholic. He presents on Dream Manager and discusses the value of dreaming and imagining a better future for all of us. The theory behind it is that if you want employees to be more engaged at work, you need to get them engaged in their own lives first.

What are your dreams?  Identifying and articulating those dreams will fuel engagement. We discuss how the reality of adulthood is that many people have ceded the control of their lives and lost touch with their dreams.  Schools are challenged to develop their own mission statements, what I call institutional mission work. Ferraro helps teachers get in touch with their own individual mission statements and finding their own purposes.

We discuss how this effort is part of shaping a school’s culture.

Here is another link to the podcast.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

This past week I spent a great deal of time with Jodee Blanco, the anti-bullying speaker. She came to Montana to present at 5 of our schools and to all of our teachers as part of our Catholic Teacher Days. I served as her chaperone driving her around our great state. She gives a powerful testimony and she shared with me the feedback she received from one of the students last week: “I just wanted to say that your speech spoke to me and probably saved my life, thank you.” She’s doing important work and I highly recommend bringing her in.

In the process of listening to her presentations and conversing with her, I found myself reflecting on community and belongingness. I’ve included a lot of articles below dealing with belongingness and community:

Community is something Catholic schools do well. As we search for ways to improve and to increase enrollment, it’s worth considering doubling down on what we do well. Our mission should be to create a community where every person is known and loved. This echoes what the Vatican established in 1977’s The Catholic School, that the Catholic school is a “community whose values are communicated through relationships.” (32)  This idea was echoed in the Vatican document Educating to Fraternal Humanism: “Humanizing education [17] means putting the person at the centre [sic] of education, in a framework of relationships that make up a living community, which is interdependent and bound to a common destiny. This is fraternal humanism.” (8)

This emphasis on belonging should shape your programming, your schedule, your hiring, as well as your marketing.  Here’s an example from Providence High in LA.

The paradigm of a Catholic school as a faith community rather than an institution originated in Vatican II’s emphasis on engagement with the world. We have embraced community as the model of a great school and the relationships between students and teachers as fundamental to community development. Innovations such as inclusion (two articles included below) and house systems (read more here) are recent emphases that support community. Certainly Jodee’s message of kindness and bullying prevention serve as bulwarks as well.

Here’s an example of a student who found community at a Catholic school. Notice she was not known at her larger school and turned to the community of a Catholic school and found that she could flourish. Or consider CrossFit which believes its power lies in building community.  They don’t view themselves as gyms, health clubs, but a movement toward creating community where people are known and loved.

I explore these issues this week in the Catholic School Matters podcast. Fr. Eric Ramirez, SJ, the director of Pastoral Ministry for the boys division at Regis Jesuit HS, discusses what students need and how he believes his calling is meeting their needs. Tony Ferraro from Dynamic Catholic and Floyd Consulting, discusses their Dream Manager program which challenges teachers to get in touch with their personal hopes and dreams in hopes of creating a more engaged school. Here’s an article about how difficult it is for adults to find and cultivate their passions.

Top 5

In the newsletter blog, I discuss the importance of belongingness in our Catholic schools. The Top 5 all center on this theme:

  1. In the blog, I share an article about a bullied student in Billings who found a new home at Billings Central Catholic HS.
  2. When discussing the podcast with Fr. Eric Ramirez, SJ of Regis Jesuit in Denver and Tony Ferraro from Dynamic Catholic, I share an article about how difficult it is for adults to find and cultivate their passions.
  3. In the American Catholic News section, there are two articles about inclusion, one about the SPICE program in Columbus and another about the FIRE Foundation in Kansas City. Inclusion is about creating a space of belongingness for all students.
  4. In the Teaching & Learning section, Mind/Shift offer suggestions to teachers for creating community in your classroom and Edutopia offers strategies for turning classrooms into communities.
  5. In the Miscellany section, the first article from Quartz offers suggestions on how to make friends, build a community, and create the life you want. I’m not sure we’re teaching adults how to build community.

Have a great week!

Podcast

I explore belongingness and community this week in the Catholic School Matters podcast. Fr. Eric Ramirez, SJ, the director of Pastoral Ministry for the boys division at Regis Jesuit HS, discusses what students need and how he believes his calling is meeting their needs. Tony Ferraro from Dynamic Catholic and Floyd Consulting, discusses their Dream Manager program which challenges teachers to get in touch with their personal hopes and dreams in hopes of creating a more engaged school.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

This week’s Catholic School Matters Radio Hour is a long-form conversation with Sr. Angie Shaughnessy of Loyola Marymount, the “nun lawyer.” This is her fourth time on the podcast and this time, our discussion is focused on hot topics in Catholic schools. I sent Sr. Angie the topics beforehand and we alternate topics we want to discuss. This podcast serves as a conversation starter with school leaders to introduce these topics and give guidance to them about how to proceed.

We lead off by discussing the firing of gay teachers and Sr. Angie maintains that teachers are not fired for being gay. Rather, they are being fired for a relationship becoming public. She maintains that firing a teacher because of their sexual orientation is not recommended but schools are usually cleared to fire (in most states) if a gay marriage violates a moral standards clause.

The second topic is the firing of a teacher for social media posts which seem to indicate that she was favoring a pro-choice position. The teacher identified herself as a Catholic school teacher. Sr. Angie mentioned that a teacher was fired years ago for signing a pro-choice petition and the courts have upheld the school’s position. We discuss the nuances of Facebook posts, accountability and intention.

Then we discuss the teacher claiming to be fired for being single, the school contended that she was dating a married school parent which became the source of scandal. Sr. Angie made it clear that she didn’t think the teacher had much of a case. Then she discussed the teacher fired for being pregnant and we discussed some of the particulars of the case. She also brought in cases of teachers fired for IV fertilization. She mentions that there is a double standard of how men and women are treated in these cases. We discuss the implications and difficulties of these matters as well as examples of situations we’ve come across. We are hoping to give guidance and direction to Catholic school leaders. The next discussion centered around a newly-hired teacher who was showing support for the LGBTQ community. After signing the contract, the teacher was fired. Sr. Angie discusses how different interpretations impact actions and the course of action she would favor.

Then we discuss last summer’s racist video controversy when a student was allowed to withdraw from school after making racially threatening videos. Parents were upset that more information has not been made public. The balance between transparency and privacy is discussed as well as the balance between public discipline and individual needs. The issue of how seriously the Church takes allegations of racism (compared to other complaints) is explored.

Here is another link to this week’s podcast.

Top 5

This week’s blog focuses on Sr. Angie and her perspective on hot topics in Catholic school law. This will also be the focus on this week’s podcast. The Top 5 links:

  1. In the American Catholic news section, the first article focuses on a Philadelphia Catholic school controversy. When the Archdiocese considered leasing part of a building to a charter school, they received criticism. Read about the divisions, the conceptions of community, and the perception of Catholic school parents.
  2. In the Leadership section, the first article from Daniel Pink in Education Week focuses on how schools use time. How we organize the school day usually has more to do with institutional traditions or factors other than what are the most optimal conditions for children to learn. It’s interesting to hear Pink’s take on the school day.
  3. The next article in the Leadership section highlights Disney’s creative strategy.
  4. In the Teaching & Learning section, the first article from Tom Barrett’s blog explores how to build better relationships with our students. We all talk about how important relationships are with our students but we often don’t talk about HOW. We just assume that teachers can figure out how to reach students. In the same way, we ask new administrators to build relationships with parents but we never really explain how. So this is a great practical article!
  5. The next article in that section focuses on student engagement. Finding ways to make the material relevant to students is the key.

Have a great week!

Podcast

This week’s Catholic School Matters Radio Hour is a long-form conversation with Sr. Angie Shaughnessy of Loyola Marymount, the “nun lawyer.” This is her fourth time on the podcast and this time, our discussion is focused on hot topics in Catholic schools. I sent Sr. Angie the topics beforehand and we alternate topics we want to discuss. This podcast serves as a conversation starter with school leaders to introduce these topics and give guidance to them about how to proceed.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

I recently read Sr. Helen Prejean’s latest book River of Fire and found it relevant and inspiring to our work in Catholic education. The book is worth your time for spiritual inspiration and learning about the changes in the Church over the past 50 years that continue to impact our schools. I think it might be a book that people are still reading 50 years from now.

The book serves as Prejean’s memoir up until she began fighting capital punishment and accompanying prisoners to their deaths. It’s a prequel of sorts which describes her family life, her call to the sisterhood, her novitiate years, her early teaching experience in Catholic schools, her work in parish life and her conversion to one of our country’s most outspoken opponents to the death penalty.

River of Fire addresses common misconceptions in our American Catholic milieu. I often hear Catholics mourning the loss of teaching sisters, wishing we could have more vocations while simultaneously blaming Vatican II for the dearth of religious teaching vocations. But how often do you listen to the stories of sisters like Sr. Helen who entered the convent before Vatican II and subsequently stayed? Prejean’s account is illuminating, educational, moving, and at times, quite funny due to her Cajun knack for telling good stories.

She traces the changes wrought by Vatican II with equal parts excitement and fear. Like all good memoirs, it’s personal. Prejean was not allowed to cultivate “particular” friendships in her order until Vatican II opened up those restrictions as the council called all religious orders to return to their roots. She then is able to develop friendships and the story of losing her friend is moving. River of Fire is also an exploration of the meaning of vocation as she deciphers God’s calling amid all the changes in society and in the Church.

Prejean embraces the Vatican II vision of church and discovers the implication for her life—first, away from the Catholic school classroom, then toward further education, and eventually toward working for social justice. She discovers the impact of racism which had impacted her native Louisiana and began to understand God’s call toward working for change.

Prejean’s discussion of the efforts toward integrating Catholic schools (yes, we need to remember that Catholic schools were segregated in the South) is a particularly enlightening section for Catholic school leaders. While some schools decided to limit their admission of black students (so as not to upset the white parents), her order decided to completely integrate their high school for girls. This decision led to its closing soon after but Prejean expresses admiration for her order’s decision to stand for integration.

River of Fire was interesting, spiritually uplifting and moving. I recommend the book for personal study and reflection as well as faculty/principal book groups. A survey of book reviews of the book:

Top 5

In this week’s newsletter, I explore the impactful new book from Sr. Helen Prejean, River of Fire, and its implications to our work in Catholic schools.  The Top 5 links:

  1. The NPR review and interview of Prejean are worth your time. You can find them near the end of the blog.
  2. In the Leadership section, George Couros’s latest blog post on “Sharing our Story” is practical advice to school leaders to help find the right stories to tell.
  3. The next article “The Wrong Ways to Strengthen Culture” is a good reminder of the importance of working to improve our school cultures.
  4. In the Teaching & Learning section, “Class Size Matters” explores the current research and misconceptions about class size. It seems this comes up every year as schools struggle to find the right balance between classrooms of vitality and individual attention.
  5. In the Miscellany section, the article on how Costco broke the rules of retail by focusing on customers, not shareholders, has implications for how we run our schools.

Have a great week!

Podcast

This week’s podcast features conversations with three new superintendents: Kally Lazzara, the new superintendent of the Diocese of Richmond; Dr. Joseph Vorbach, the new superintendent of the Diocese of Arlington; and Thomas Carroll, the new superintendent of the Archdiocese of Boston. With each new superintendent, we discuss their three unique pathways to leadership and the challenges and lessons they have encountered already. Each of these three dynamic leaders shares a new vision for leadership.

Catholic School Matters Radio Hour

This week, I am airing a conversation with Fr. Bryan Massingale from Fordham. He is a professor of social ethics and theology and is uniquely positioned to assist us in our study of the Congregation for Catholic Education’s recently released “Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education.” It’s a difficult document to read and discuss as we touch on some “third rail” topics such as gender, homosexuality, and transgender students.

The document was written for educators in Catholic schools so this deserves our attention. Unlike other Vatican documents, this one is not signed by Pope Francis. This document is a “thinking out loud” summary of where the Church is at right now, and because it is centered on dialogue, it is by no means the final word on gender theory. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is also working on a document on gender theory as well and will be out in 2020.

Many were hoping that the document would provide more direction for school policies. Instead, it offers church positions on gender theory and calls for more dialogue. For a look at how the document was received, here are articles which show the variety of reactions:

The document explores the anthropology (read human development) of Christian life, the divorce of freedom from truth, the importance of the family, and the tension between science and faith. Not to be missed, however, is the document’s attention to “a way of accompanying that is discrete and confidential, capable of reaching out to those who are experiencing complex and painful situations” (paragraph 56). The document does not make any policy restrictions on Catholic schools (e.g. banishing transgender students), instead calling on educators to carry out a pastoral approach. It’s worth your effort to read and to participate in the dialogue around these thorny issues in our culture, our church, and in our schools. My hope is that the podcast and these resources will help you in your efforts.  Here is another link to the podcast.