Plan seeks ‘renaissance’ of Catholic education in the city

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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The Archdiocesan School Oversight Committee has developed a plan to address issues affecting Catholic elementary schools in the City of St. Louis.

Under the plan for a "renaissance in education," the archdiocese will partner with parishes and schools as a strong stakeholder to make sure the schools are available, affordable and in the right locations. The partnership will include leadership — a position within the Catholic Education Office focused on these schools — and funding to ensure educational and religious educational programs are of similar quality in all of the schools.

"We are really stressing similar quality," said Maureen DePriest, associate superintendent for elementary school administration. "One of the things that has been a detriment to Catholic education is the competition between schools. Schools are more and more becoming regional schools located at parishes because people are going beyond parish boundaries in picking and choosing schools, based on programs being offered and types of equipment being used."

The Catholic population has dropped by as much as 50 percent in some city neighborhoods. Families are having fewer children than they did 40 or 50 years ago. Fewer Catholics send their children to Catholic schools.

In a letter sent to families of students in south city schools, Msgr. Mark S. Rivituso, vicar general of the archdiocese, stated that the plan will focus on "the changes confronting us, answer the challenges ahead of us, and offer new choices for families as we move forward."

Msgr. Rivituso oversees the School Oversight Committee, established by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson to assist deaneries and parishes in sustaining Catholic education in the archdiocese to foster the faith of students and inspire them to participate in the life and mission of the Church.

DePriest, the associate superintendent, added that "there's been a desire for change, however the planning initiatives over the past several years in south city haven't quite achieved their purpose. Knowing that schools are struggling, we don't want the desire for Catholic education to be stripped because of the inability to maintain Catholic education."

While the archdiocese has provided direct financial assistance for some parishes to meet the increasing operating costs, pastors, principals and parents have sought long-term solutions to the challenges.

All schools in south St. Louis will stress academic excellence and strong Catholic formation for children; affordability for families and parishes; in locations accessible to and meeting needs of families in neighborhoods; and the efficient and effective use of limited resources.

Change is needed in part because of the challenge presented by decreased enrollment due to population decreases and families' inability to afford tuition.

"We want to take those challenges head on, we want to make sure we are choosing spots and locations where we can meet the needs of the population," DePriest said. "We are looking at the demographics and making sure we have schools in areas to serve our Catholic children; schools in areas to serve children who have no other educational alternatives; and we want to challenge the students" by providing the best leadership, teachers and programs.

Parents in the city have choices that they didn't have in the past. Charter schools and other private schools are among those choices. But the Catholic schools offer a high-quality, faith-based alternative. The plan will create a stable situation for many years so people can count on a Catholic school presence.

The Archdiocesan School Oversight Committee is involved in planning in other deaneries of the archdiocese as well. 

Planning

Planning efforts have sought to address challenges in St. Louis since as long ago as 2006.

The City Catholic Collaborative engaged in a planning process that, it explained, shares hopes and dreams — "the biggest of which is for the change of attitude needed to become strong and excellent Catholic elementary and middle schools in the City of St. Louis that can work together and make sure that Catholic education will be around for a much longer time."

The South City Planning Committee was comprised of pastors and principals from the nine south city schools. This group discussed the challenges facing each school in the region and to consider various models for collaboration to sustain quality Catholic education for the long-term.

The planning is consistent with the direction of Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Alive In Christ mission advancement initiative. One of the goals of this initiative is to facilitate proactive planning that encourages the development of strategic plans and collaboration among parishes and schools. This planning will assist in creating Catholic schools that are consistent with the archbishop's vision of schools that are "centers of faith, learning and service ... vibrant in their Catholic identity, growing, financially healthy, and able to assist those in need." 

>> New structure

A new structure for leadership, shared governance and new resources will ensure quality schools with strong Catholic values.

With the new corporate school model, the Catholic Education Office will oversee decisions regarding curriculum, programs and personnel. This model is in addition to the current parish school model and archdiocesan elementary school model.

By providing the resources, personnel and funding to ensure that all educational and religious education programs in all the schools throughout the city are of similar quality, the archdiocese will enhance programs and provide direction for the elementary schools. 

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