As schools across the nation celebrated their accomplishments, communities and faith during Catholic Schools Week, the Diocese of Charleston had a special reason to cheer: the strategic growth plan to revitalize and strengthen schools was approved by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, and work to implement first-year strategies will begin immediately.
Sandra Leatherwood, diocesan director for Catholic education, said the implementation task force — which includes members of the original planning committee — will be in charge of reaching first-year goals and ensuring the initial success of the plan. Among their first orders of business is to create a Diocesan Schools Advisory Board, which will then be in charge of enacting the goals for years 2-5.
The comprehensive plan has been over a year in the making, with input from pastors, principals, teachers, parents and anyone else with a vested interest in Catholic education.
Leatherwood said Bishop Guglielmone made some minor adjustments to the first-year plans before approving it.
One issue that always arises during a comprehensive study is the economic viability of smaller, struggling schools. The bishop was very clear that the five-year plan is to strengthen all the schools and does not include consolidation or closure at this time, she said.
“We can’t think about merging schools or closing schools until we’ve done this,” she said, “we have to put every effort into it.”
Goals for the entire five years are broken down into five categories: mission and Catholic identity, operational vitality for finances, operational vitality for marketing, academic excellence, and government/leadership.
One aspect that all areas have in common is the need for everyone involved to work together. The plan notes that schools and parishes must be more integral in order to promote faith identity. Also, entities must work together to address cutting costs by developing diocesan-wide purchasing and marketing, help with the accommodation of special-needs students, and train personnel so all schools are effectively led.
Leatherwood said an additional $200,000 in funding from the Bishops Annual Appeal will help successfully implement the strategic growth plan. The monies will be used to address three specific areas:
The acceptance of special-needs students into the schools has been bolstered by the St. Thomas Aquinas Scholarship Funding Organization, but Leatherwood said not all of the schools have an experienced resource teacher to serve the children and the programs they require for success. The additional funding will allow the diocese to help all schools meet this need.
Marketing and development
The Office of Education will oversee this area to ensure that all schools are adequately served from a marketing perspective. To this end, they will provide training to already-established development directors and school board members that serve in this capacity, and will serve as the marketing agent for smaller schools that have neither. Leatherwood said the details are still being worked out, but they may use a consultant in this role.
The diocese is currently in its third year following the Notre Dame ACE Collaborative Curriculum Development Process, and would like to have a person in charge of this program for future subject areas.
Overall, educators said the coming years promise to be a rewarding adventure as goals and challenges are addressed.