Change is in the air as school begins Print
Our Catholic Schools
Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010 -- 12:00 AM

Our Catholic Schools by Michael Lancaster

It's late August. The days are growing shorter, the nights are growing cooler, and children are preparing to go back to school.

One can't help but notice that change is definitely in the air. Yes, change. It's one of the great things about being a Catholic school teacher or principal (and there are many!).

Every year we welcome students back to school after a summer filled with the excitement of individual growth and change. Teachers witness dramatic changes, not only in students' appearances, but in their maturity and character as well. One may have grown taller, while another grew stronger. One may have lost a few teeth while another finally grew permanent ones.

Yes, every August some students are hard to recognize because over the summer they've grown so tall, and others are hard to recognize because all of sudden, they're so grown-up. Whether the difference is slight or drastic, after the long days of summer, every student returns different than they were in spring. Everyone returns changed.

The business of 'change'

Change is definitely in the air, and that's exactly the way it should be because know it or not, teachers and principals are in the "change" business. Each day they strive to change each and every child in their care, to expand their knowledge, challenge and refine their abilities, sharpen their intellect, increase their wisdom, strengthen their bodies, and, with parents' help, form their character in virtue and faith. Yes indeed, our teachers are agents of great and drastic change.

Just as our students have changed over the summer, so have we.

One important change is that we have a new assistant superintendent, Dr. Ria Schmidt. Dr. Schmidt is a former Catholic school teacher and principal in Wisconsin and Iowa. Most recently she served as the director of curriculum for the Diocese of Des Moines. Dr. Schmidt will be working with teachers and principals to review and revise diocesan academic standards and improve student achievement through curriculum, instruction, assessment, and ongoing professional development for teachers and principals.

Dr. Schmidt has a full schedule as she plans to visit every school in the diocese as she collaborates with teachers, students, and principals to constantly improve student learning.

Another big change is the implementation of Catholic Schools: Our Faith, Our Future. This new strategic plan for Catholic schools will direct a great deal of our work at several levels including the diocesan level, the cluster level, and the school level.

The plan lays out a clear direction and vision for Catholic schools and prescribes specific actions that will lay the foundations for strong, vibrant Catholic schools throughout the diocese now and well into the future. This plan challenges us to change our thinking, to view our schools from new perspectives, and to work together in new ways to ensure the future of all our schools.

One of the first changes is that every cluster will form an Enrollment Marketing and Development Team (EMDT) to work with the Catholic schools in the cluster, or, if there are no Catholic schools in the cluster they will work with the teams in neighboring clusters. These teams will tackle the critical tasks of improving marketing and increasing enrollment. They will ask vital questions regarding why people do or do not send their children to Catholic schools and what schools could be doing better to attract more students and financial support. They will take a serious look at demographic information and financial information.

Throughout the process, the Office of Catholic Schools will be offering a series of workshops to help train these teams, answer their questions, and give them the tools they need to make positive changes.

While this is only one aspect of the strategic plan, it's a big one and one that people will begin to see this fall. If you'd like to review the entire plan and the specific directives for clusters, simply click here

This important work promises to bring many changes to our schools and parishes. But we know that change is good, important, and necessary. Our students and teachers do it all the time. Just think of your children as they were last year, then look at them now. You won't need to look far to see the change.

As always, thank you for reading this column, and may God continue to bless you and your families.

Michael Lancaster is the superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Madison.