Catholic School Matters
March 1, 2020
Building a Strong Community
The late Thomas Sergiovanni once wrote that if we were to change the metaphor of schools from organization to community it would change how schools are run, how we motivate teachers and students, and it would change our understanding of leadership and authority. It’s worth recognizing that many of our Catholic schools claim to be communities or families—yet a hierarchical system of authority undergirds that metaphor. Also, many leaders fall short of community principles with their leadership styles. When we enforce policy at all costs, for instance, we send the message that policies outweigh relationships.
Sergiovanni’s article came to mind when I visited Bishop Manogue High School last month. When I visited two years ago, the school was in transition. The school had seen continuous leadership and staff turnover. Their new principal, Bri Thoreson, sought ways to build morale and build community after she recognized that the turnover had led to trust issues, which was clear to me as an accreditation team member.
She attended a school culture workshop with a few teachers and tried two initiatives which both failed. This story has a happy ending but it’s important to recognize that Thoreson’s first two initiatives failed. Success doesn’t always come immediately. She kept trying. When the school decided to become a 1:1 school, she realized that the faculty needed professional development and support. They created a popular Google classroom for teachers and Thoreson began to recognize that teachers were chatting and hanging out more—first online, then face-to-face. A new president, Matt Schiambari, was appointed and Thoreson mentioned that she wanted to start a spirit-building competition. Schiambari encouraged her to try. He gave her the freedom to try another program and promised to participate.
Thoreson launched the “House Cup” competition last fall. Staff members were randomly assigned to four houses (named for the four Harry Potter houses) and were given points for attending school events, competing in spirit competitions, and completing service projects. The Houses are given a meeting time once per month (although they meet more frequently) and the House members dress in their House colors on certain days. This is only for staff members and the winning house each semester is given $100 a piece. (This is Nevada, after all. Money has to be involved!).
On my return visit last month, every person mentioned the benefit of the House Cup. Staff members raved about the connections they have made with people from other departments. Students talked about how jealous they were that staff members can compete. They noticed that staff members are happy and friendly with one another. Everyone seemed to recognize that the House Cup competition has become contagious. School spirit is up and it looks like staff retention for next year will be lower, too.
I met Thoreson through Tony Sabatino, the late Loyola Marymount professor who impacted so many in Catholic education. Tony would have been so proud of Thoreson for her excellent leadership! Congrats to Schiambari for leading in an empowering way and for the staff of Bishop Manogue for building a community built on relationships, instead of an organization based solely on rules and hierarchy.
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Dr. Tim Uhl
Case Studies Ripped from the Headlines
A controversy erupted at Kennedy High School in Seattle over the past couple of weeks. Take a look at the highlights and try to reflect on how the situation could have been handled better. On Friday, February 21st, the high school announced that two teachers had voluntarily resigned. Protests and frustration boiled over. The president released a statement which gave details to the public about the resignations. The attorney for the two teachers spoke out. Last week, Archbishop Etienne announced that the president was placed on leave and an interim president was appointed.
American Catholic School News
Catholic Schools Opening & Closing
- New Chesterton Academy HS will open this fall in Detroit
- Lower Delaware Catholic high school to close
- 4 Staten Island Catholic schools to merge into two academies
- Diocese of Sacramento spelled out requirements to keep a Catholic high school open
- Meriden (CT) Catholic school to close
- Two NYC Catholic schools to merge into one academy
- From earlier this school year:
- New Catholic Schools Opening Soon: A new Catholic school opening this fall in Henderson, NV; a new independent Catholic high school opening this fall in northern Colorado; Catholic high school for Pensacola special needs teens opening this fall; Plans are underway for new Stillwater (MN) Catholic high school
- Connecticut: 3 Connecticut Catholic schools to consolidate
- Illinois: The Archdiocese of Chicago announced 5 more Catholic schools will close; Elgin (IL) Catholic School Consolidation plan announced; Rolling Meadows (IL) Catholic school evaluated for closing; Archdiocese of Chicago announces consolidation of 3 Catholic schools on northwest side
- Kentucky: Louisville (KY) Catholic school to close
- Louisiana: Christ the King in Terrytown (LA) will close at end of year; Houma (LA) Catholic school to close; Youngsville (LA) new school on hold
- Maine: Small Maine Catholic school to close at end of year
- Massachusetts: Two Massachusetts Catholic schools to close; Massachusetts Catholic high school to privatize; Diocese of Worchester to merge two Catholic high schools;
- Michigan: Flint's St. Pius X Catholic school to close
- New Jersey: Two Diocese of Trenton schools scheduled to close
- New York: Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School on Long Island will close at the end of the year; Marist HS (Bayonne, NY) to close at end of year; Canton (NY) Catholic school to close; Rochester (NY) Catholic school to close at end of year
- Ohio: Diocese of Cleveland to close a Catholic school in Akron
- Pennsylvania: 2 Pittsburgh Catholic schools will close and another 4 Catholic schools will merge into one school; Small Erie Catholic school open since 1885 to close & two more to merge in regionalization plan
- Virginia: Diocese of Richmond HS scheduled to close at the end of the year
Teaching & Learning
What I'm Up To
This week I'll be in the office working on some projects--namely, the research paper on the Discerning Catholic Worldviews survey instrument and the Archbishop Murphy accreditation. On Tuesday, we'll have the March Virtual Admin meetings and on Wednesday I'll travel to Billings for the School Board meeting.
On this week's Catholic School Matters Radio Hour, I welcome two fascinating guests. The founding principal of Juan Diego High School in Salt Lake City, Dr. Galey Colosimo, joins the podcast to tell the story of the origins of the school which began in 1999. The project began in 1995 and Colosimo tells the on-again, off-again story of the newest Catholic high school in Salt Lake City. Then the Diocese of Sacramento’s Executive Director of Schools, Lincoln Snyder, joins the podcast to discuss new governance models in his diocese. Taking a unique path to the superintendency, Snyder’s business experience and work on school boards prepared him for the challenges of his current experience. He is also the first naturalized Polish citizen to join the podcast.
In case you missed it, on last week's Catholic School Matters podcast I welcomed two outstanding guests. Kathleen Porter-Magee of the Partnership Schools in NYC joins the podcast to describe her recent writings on Catholic school culture. Then long-time principal Kathy House of Little Rock joins me to discuss the secrets to her success!
- Monday: Office (Helena)
- Tuesday: Virtual Admin meetings at 9 am and 1 pm
- Wednesday: Billings Catholic Schools board meeting
- Thursday: Office (Helena)
- Friday: Office (Helena)
Miles this week: 585 road miles
Miles travelled in 2019-20: 22,418 road miles; 31,903 air miles
What I'm Reading
The Last 5 Books:
- Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership (2011) by Howard Gardner
The Great Commission: Models of Evangelization in American Catholicism (2008) by Timothy Byerley
True Self, False Self by Richard Rohr
Catholic Identity or Identities: Refounding Ministries in Chaotic Times (2013) by Gerald A. Arbuckle
A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America (2003) by Peter Steinfels
Click this link for a full list of my professional reading
For Montana Administrators & Teachers
- Here is a link for the March 3rd meeting, school leaders are challenged to come up with a 1-minute story about a parent who went from oppositional to supportive
- Here is a link for the Letter of Intent for Administrators due February 28th. Schools should be administering their own letters of intent for school personnel.
Past Issues of Catholic School Matters
Feb 16, 2020 "Catholic but not Christian"
Feb 9, 2020 R.I.P. Archbishop Brunett
Feb 2, 2020 "The Nashville Exchange"
Jan 26, 2020 "Learning from our Elders"
Jan 12, 2020 "Shaping School Culture"
Jan 5, 2020 "Timelessness"
Nov 24, 2019 "Best of the Fall"
Nov 17, 2019 "Synodality"
Nov 3, 2019 "Finance Best Practices"
Oct 27, 2019 "Blaine Amendments"
Oct 20, 2019 "Community & Belongingness"
Oct 13, 2019 Sr. Angie's Lawlapalooza
Oct 6, 2019 "River of Fire"
Sep 29, 2019 "Male and Female He Created Them"
Sep 22, 2019 "Surveying Catholic Culture"
Sep 15, 2019 "New Catholic Schools"
Sep 8, 2019 "The Mustard Seed Project"