By RENEE WEBB, Globe editor
The Catholic school system in the Diocese of Sioux City embarked on a long-range planning process in 2010 in an effort to ensure the long-term stability, strength and growth of the schools.
According to Dan Ryan, Ed.D., the diocese had used Meitler Consulting to lead the diocesan level of the long-range planning process and that plan was finalized about 18 months ago. Then during the 2011-2012 school year, with the guidance of the National Catholic Education Association and Regina Haney, every individual school completed a long-range plan.
The school plans were based on five key areas that had been identified in the Meitler study. Those five areas include: Catholic identity, governance and leadership, enrollment and marketing, academic excellence and finance.
“Those five focus areas were part of every school’s plan. They could have additional ones, but they had to have those,” Ryan explained.
He pointed out that the individual school plans were finalized by the end of last school year and then were approved by the local school boards.
“They all did finish their plans,” Ryan said. “I was very pleased with the results.”
This year the schools are beginning the work of implementing those plans.
Chris Bork, principal of Bishop Heelan High School in Sioux City, said there is always value in looking to the future and trying to make the schools more effective.
“It’s important to me that every day we grow as a system – as a diocesan education system in addition to a school system,” he said. “We are always looking for ways to improve our schools and improve the offerings we give to our students and families.”
Sue Eldridge, principal at Sacred Heart School in Boone, said one of the greatest values in establishing a long-range plan is having a background and a guide to know where they are headed.
“All of the stakeholders involved understand what our goal is and what it is we are trying to accomplish,” she said. “Everybody has a clear vision of where we want to head and where we want to be in five years. We have also laid out some ideas that could determine how we can get there.”
If everyone has all of the background information or has access to someone who has been directly involved, the accurate information will be readily available.
“This year, at the diocesan level, we started to focus on providing training and support for particular areas of the plan. For instance in the area of governance, we have done trainings with them on what we call a committee-driven board. They have a regular board of education and then most of them would have five committees based on the five areas of focus,” Ryan said. “They are charged with making sure that section of the long-range plan is getting enacted.”
Eldridge said they have established the committees and they have begun to pull together ideas that will set the plan in motion and help achieve the goals. All board members from Sacred Heart have been placed on a particular committee. Through these committees they have been able to get a lot of important input from parents, parish and community members.
For Bork, he said he has been impressed with the entire process from start to finish.
“In our schools I am involved in the area that deals with leadership and governance,” he noted. “The people I have worked with are very committed to our schools.”
Bork said he has already been able to see first-hand the impact that the committee has had on the local school board in its effectiveness and mission.
“It’s been really fulfilling,” he added.
The diocese has provided other resources to help the schools implement the long-range process such as providing job descriptions for the committees. They have even provided a webinar training to members of local boards of education.
“We have provided other webinars and hope to offer webinars for each of the main categories that will give them an overview at the beginning of the process of what these areas are and what are some major themes or ideas that they should be aware of,” Ryan said.
The use of technology has enabled the diocese to bring in experts in various fields such as development to lead the training.
Ryan noted that the diocese has worked hard to provide training and resources that will give the schools what they need to not only implement the plans but ensure they are effective.
“We have a few more webinars scheduled this year. Going into next year, we will try to continue the webinar series and try to provide some face-to-face meetings on particular topics,” he said.
One of the plusses of the long-range planning is the involvement of many people. Ryan said not only do members of faculty and staff oftentimes serve on the committees but many parents, former parents, parishioners or even other members of the community make up membership.
In March, the diocese plans to host three regional meetings where the boards of education will have an opportunity to share what parts of their plans have been implemented and what they hope to get done in the following year.
“We greatly appreciate the energy that everyone put into the long-range planning process and how dedicated they were to it,” he said. “They did an excellent job.”
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