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Dan Ryan reflects on work with Catholic schools

By RENEE WEBB
rwebb@catholicglobe.org

As Dan Ryan, Ed.D., wraps up his final days in the Diocese of Sioux City, he reflected on his time as diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools.

Ryan, who came to the diocese in 2009, acknowledged there are many skills and philosophies he learned here that will assist him in his new position as president of Dowling High School in Des Moines.

“Having experienced so many different school settings, cultures and histories definitely has opened my perspective a lot wider,” he said. “That range of knowledge and examples will be helpful.”

His time in the diocese helped him put into clearer focus the mission of Catholic education – to perpetuate the faith for the next generation and develop concrete tools to do so.

“That will be something I will utilize and it will help guide my decisions at Dowling,” Ryan said.

Working at the diocesan level, he added also gave him a stronger understanding of big-picture finances.

Thankful

Ryan extended gratitude to Bishop Walker Nickless, the chancery staff – particularly those in the Office of Education – as well as principals, presidents and pastors in the diocesan schools who have been a great support and great teammates in this work.

Upon his arrival in the diocese eight years ago, Ryan felt there was already a strong academic foundation in place and he wanted to explore ways to enhance and push it to higher levels. The superintendent also wanted to strengthen the financial position of the Catholic schools, grow in Catholic identity and enrollment.

There was a lot of focus on relationships in the beginning and taking the time to get out to meet with the administrators one-on-one as well as pastors and form those relationships.

“A big part that really enhanced those conversations was the strategic planning that we did both here for the Catholic schools at the diocesan level and at the local level,” Ryan said. “When you do that, you spend a lot of time working together and get a much better in-depth idea of what is happening at particular sites. I think a lot of trust grew out of that.”

There was much growth, he noted, through a multi-tier system of supports when all schools adopted one major academic imitative.

“That was a positive surprise. It’s difficult to get 16 systems to understand and work on the same project and be able to differentiate it so it works for each of them,” said Ryan. “It helps us use student achievement data to push every student to be the best that they can, so I think that has been a big area of excitement.”

One area he didn’t anticipate becoming as involved in was the “school choice arena” and in lobbying efforts to benefit Catholic schools.

“We’ve seen several significant increases in the tax credit program and we’ve brought the education savings account to the table – where now people are talking about it and considering it.”

In reflecting on his work in Catholic education, it makes him proud “that we are really a Catholic school – we are universal and are there for everyone.”

Long-range planning

Through work with the long-range planning, Ryan noted schools completed a SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – analysis. The schools recently completed their second go-round in that area.

“I think their own ability to identify each one of those categories has gone up tremendously,” he said. “The boards have become a lot stronger in their content knowledge of Catholic schools and in understanding their roles and the work they are supposed to do. It has culminated into they are much stronger, independent units that want to work together.”

Development in the area of Catholic identity, Ryan noted, is an area that has had not only much growth in the schools but for him personally.

Given that the strategic plans were recently completed with clear and concrete individual schools goals as well as common diocesan goals, he said the schools have the ability to continue that work.

In particular with Catholic identity, he noted in the first strategic plan it highlighted the importance of the relationship between the parish and school.

“We saw a lot of that take place and now we are talking about how we can help the parents fulfill their role as the primary faith educator of their child. One thing research shows us is that maybe not all parents realize how significantly their example influences their child,” said Ryan.

With enrollment, he said there has been a five-year trend in 14 of the 16 schools where enrollment has made positive movement – no decline.

“We think we can even grow on that by helping people fill in the gaps with their knowledge of enrollment knowledge and management. That will be a good area of growth,” Ryan said.

The diocese

“I’ve always been very impressed with the people in our schools and those who support our schools. Our pastors have role-modeled that for decades,” stressed Ryan. “They have a strong commitment to Catholic schools and that is also reflected in the teachers, principals, families and board members.”

Along with relationships with diocesan schools, Ryan worked to form relationships with universities – from Notre Dame and Creighton to Briar Cliff – as well as with other dioceses.

He found 5th grade Masses to be a very positive gathering and found Catholic Schools Week visits to be very entertaining.

“The administrators’ retreats were special. We have a group of administrators who are very close and help each other out immensely,” Ryan said. “Having time to get to know each other is very positive.”

With the move to President of Dowling High School, he looks forward to being in one location with less time on the road.

“It will make it a lot easier making it to family events,” he said.

Ryan and his wife, Michelle, have four children – two who have graduated high school and two children that haven’t entered high school.

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