By RENEE WEBB, Globe senior reporter
When the Office of Education in the Diocese of Sioux City presented its long-range plan for Catholic schools in the fall of 2011, five key areas were identified that pertained to current challenges facing the schools.
The plan not only identified the five areas - Catholic identity, academics, enrollment and marketing, leadership and governance, and funding – but presented goals and strategies for implementation.
According to Dan Ryan, Ed.D., diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, after the plan was created, it didn’t just sit on a shelf. They set about finding ways to reach the goals.
Since that time several steps have been taken in each of the categories and Ryan shared some examples for each area.
“We have started a communication piece to go out to our clergy and within that we are sharing a lot of the things that we do in our schools – some of the facts and figures around school choice. We are also trying to send out bulletin points and things we can send out to churches on a regular basis,” Ryan said.
In the last 18 months, the Office of Education has enacted the catechist certification program. Half were certified last year and now the second half are being certified this year. Related to that, Ryan said they are looking at providing a couple of prepared options for the schools to continue with faith formation five to eight hours a year to improve their knowledge of the faith.
The relationship between parishes and schools continue to be emphasized. For instance, the parish may provide notices of Mass times in the school to encourage participation in weekend liturgies and thus strengthen Catholic identity.
Ryan mentioned they were very pleased with last year’s Diocesan Faith and Ministries Conference, which is sponsored by the diocese every other year to offer ongoing faith education to those who work in the school and parish.
He pointed out that the diocese’s assistant superintendent, Sharon Dentlinger, spends a great deal of time working with the principals and building leadership teams to ensure professional development time is used well.
“The quality of professional development across the diocese is making great strides,” Ryan said. “How we use our academic assessment data has improved - how we communicate with our boards, teachers and parents.”
Through collaboration with Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, he said diocesan high schools were able to offer additional college credit offerings.
“We continue to look at our ACRE test results and encourage our administrators and school improvement committees to review those and see where our strengths are and what areas we need to grow in,” Ryan said.
Enrollment and marketing
“We have been working on establishing an enrollment committee at every school,” the superintendent said. “We have been successful for a large part with that.”
He acknowledged some schools are working with professionals in that area and others are borrowing ideas.
“One of the things we have done is to gather resources from other dioceses and companies. The schools have appreciated having different ideas on how to approach this,” Ryan said.
To help accomplish goals in this area, he mentioned some schools have hired marketing professionals for the first time.
“We are working on our communications as well. We have done a social media training with our principals about using Facebook and Twitter to get information out quickly,” said Ryan, adding that they have seen some results but would like to see use of social media expand even more.
They are in the beginning stages of seeking ideas for Latino student recruitment, gaining input from Hispanic parents through informal focus groups.
Leadership and governance
He pointed out that the Office of Education initiated the use of webinars for leadership training.
“This year we did a training first with our principals on having effective committee meetings to keep them on track. Then this month we will have a webinar for our school board presidents and the administrators to give them concrete steps of what these committees should be doing,” Ryan said.
“We have talked about assistance for families and school choice issues. Educational Saving Accounts is something we really have been working on in the last 12 months,” he noted.
In addition, Ryan noted this is the first year they have been able to give out scholarships from the Bishop’s Education Fund. This fund is designed to assist families whose income falls in the 300 to 400 percent of poverty index – assisting many middle income families. Approximately $150,000 was given out in awards - about $250 per qualifying student.
Benefits of plan
“The long-range plan has been important to have a common vision,” he said. “It’s not my vision, it’s our vision – both here in the chancery and out in the schools.”
Besides the benefits of finding ways to work on the identified challenges, Ryan said that in working on the plan, school personnel have gotten to know each other better and communication has opened up.
“We are doing a good job of staying on task and staying on time,” he said. “When this plan is done (in 2016), I am sure there will be some things that are not done but we will know they need to go onto the next plan.”
In other areas, Ryan added, work done to meet challenges will far exceed expectations.
Along with the diocesan long-rang plan, each school developed a plan and began implementing it last year. Oftentimes there are some correlations between the diocesan plans and local school plans.
“We try to support their efforts by giving them resources but they enact them,” Ryan said.
You can check out the diocesan long-range plan for Catholic schools at www.scdioceseschools.org/LONGRANGEPLAN.
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