8/8/12 | 1122 views
Pilot Elementary Schools Ready to Regionalize
When the parish school bells ring across the archdiocese in September, reading, writing and arithmetic will be buttressed by a new buzzword: regionalization.
The word—in the context of the archdiocese’s new approach to the governance and finance of parochial schools—is winding, in a welcoming way, through the vernacular of administrators, teachers, staff, parents and students alike. And it’s still summertime.
“People should pay very close attention to us because we’ve got some great changes coming and they’re going to love what they see,” said Dr. Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese.
Cardinal Dolan has directed that all parishes of the archdiocese—regardless of whether each has a school—are to be responsible for, contribute to and have a voice in Catholic education throughout the archdiocese’s 10-county region.
Regionalization is the realignment of Catholic elementary schools into nine separate sectors. Each Catholic school region is a separate, nonprofit educational corporation chartered by the New York State Department of Education.
The process will be administered in two phases: a pilot program in September for three regions: Northwest/South Bronx, Rockland and Staten Island; the remaining regions will follow next year.
A two-tiered membership corporation governs the schools in a region: the cardinal, vicar general and chancellor are above the line. Directly below is the board of trustees, which includes clergy and laity. All regional board members are supported by a regional office, through the Office of the Superintendent and Office of Parish Finance. A business manager/corporate secretary is entrusted with the day-to-day operations of the region, with oversight provided by the board.
A 10th region, which would include six inner-city elementary schools, is also expected to begin operations at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
The strength, Dr. McNiff said, “is that we’re going to continue to have the necessary pastor participation on these boards” and, at the same time, “we’re inviting talented and dedicated lay people to now serve not just in an advisory capacity, but in an ownership role.”
Parishes with financially stable schools are allowed, annually, to apply to remain parish-based, meaning the governance would stay the same as the present parish school model.
Currently, 42 schools throughout the archdiocese have been approved to remain parish-based for the pilot year 2012-13 and the subsequent school year.
To remain parish-based, a school needs to operate without the financial support of the archdiocese. An annual financial review of the parish and school is administered to determine whether it remains parish-based for the following academic year.
Parish-based schools are entitled to regional scholarships and, in that capacity, may utilize the resources of the regional office. Clergy and laity of the parish may serve on the regional board, if appointed.
Board training for the pilot board of directors began in March and will continue throughout the first half of the upcoming academic year. Cardinal Dolan approved the appointments of the pastors and lay members to serve within their respective regions.
The Archdiocese of New York is getting “out of that business of closing schools,” the superintendent said.
That alone is reason to cheer. Additionally, the preservation of the school system’s historical successes provides cause for applause. The common denominator in all the plans, though, is the building up of the schools on behalf of their most precious cargo—the school children.
This fall, the archdiocese will commence the final round of the school closure process, the superintendent said. He concedes it may be difficult to reconcile the dichotomy that one more round of closures is necessary to stabilize the structure.
“Prior to our strategic plan, the collective school deficits were $23 million,” McNiff said.
Although the first round of closures, in 2010-2011, eradicated a significant portion of the deficit, “we still need one more round and then after that, because of all these other enhancements to our plan, we have a very stable school system, not just for today but for our future.”
Regionalization is part of a multi-faceted plan to bolster Catholic education in the archdiocese.
Also on the syllabus for the upcoming school year is the implementation of the common core curriculum. A major component of the common core is addressing student literacy, or any lack thereof. No matter what subject matter a teacher is entrusted to instruct, student literacy is honed before the core subject is highlighted.
Adhering to Catholic identity is also a top priority in schools across the archdiocese.
In assessing the impact of Catholic identity, certain questions must be asked, the superintendent said. Among them: Are the students actually developing an appreciation for how important Jesus Christ is in their life? Are the students being taught the significance of the faith journey? Are they embracing what that means?”
Also in place are a process and an instrument that schools must engage in every year to help assess where the children are relative to understanding Christ and the faith journey. Once such an assessment is completed, a conversation begins with the principal and the Catholic identity subcommittee of the newly formed regional board.
“I really think we have, in a very tangible way, upped our game in terms of how Catholic identity is being played out in our schools,” Dr. McNiff said.
How would the superintendent answer the question, “Why should parents send their child to a Catholic school in the archdiocese?”
“You will have an assurance that the child is going to have a terrific academic experience—and test scores and other empirical data will back that up,” Dr. McNiff said.
“Your child will also have an opportunity to have a reinforcement of what we believe is happening at home in terms of learning the child’s faith and having an appreciation for how Jesus Christ is instrumental in their life.
“By the time your child leaves us—whether it’s eighth grade or 12th grade—we’ve got a track record” that says they’ll be well prepared to succeed.
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