Catholic School Matters

January 14, 2018

What's Brewing in Milwaukee

Last month I was able to visit Seton Catholic Schools in Milwaukee. Their new Catholic school system is impressive on many levels—most importantly their laser-focus on improving teacher effectiveness and the instructional culture.

First, some background. Seton Catholic Schools was founded in 2016 and is in its second year of operation. The network opened with 9 former parish/inter-parish Catholic elementary schools serving approximately 2,000 students. This year, they are serving 12 schools and 3,000 students. The Archdiocese has identified 26 possible schools and the network has also suggested they might re-open previously closed schools or open entirely new schools in the future.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s long-time superintendent, Dr. Kathleen Cepelka, was behind the move and serves on Seton’s Board of Directors. The idea was to give the schools flexibility, a new identity, and a clear mission. The schools have stopped acting like individual entities and can work together. Seton Catholic can recruit talented teachers and principals and place them where they are most needed. They have developed master and residency teaching programs to mentor young teachers.

In a city with school vouchers for poor students, Seton Catholic Schools was designed to embrace the flexibility of a charter school network. The network has captured cost savings through economies of scale (sharing art teachers, for example) and passed the savings on to the schools. The network has been able to raise additional funds through its mission focus. And the additional money has been spent on coaching for school leaders and teachers.

Principal job descriptions have changed. They are now primarily the instructional leaders of their buildings called to coach their teachers in order to improve instruction. They are challenged to be coached themselves in order to develop their own toolbox. The principals are no longer the coordinators of school fundraisers, the business manager, the personnel department, or the facility department. All of these functions have been absorbed by the central office of the network which puts effective instruction as its heart.

As the network scales up its innovative model, it will be interesting to measure its success: academic gains of the students, total enrollment across the network, not to mention the retention of teachers and leaders. Right now, however, the model is worth replicating. It is displaying the focus on innovative governance outlined by FADICA a few years ago.

Here is a sample of articles by and about Seton Catholic Schools:

· Dr. Bill Hughes (the Chief Academic Officer) published three Guest Ed Week blogs last fall “Transforming Catholic Education in Milwaukee” “Talent Wins at Seton Catholic Schools” “The Era of the Textbook is Over” and “Guiding Questions for Successful School Transformation”

· Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 2017 column “New Developments at 3 of Milwaukee’s More Interesting ‘Mini-districts’” and 2016 article “Seton Bolsters Catholic Voucher Schools

· “The Catholic Schools Saved by Vouchers” in The Atlantic (Feb 2017)

· Listen to my podcast interview with Dr. Bill Hughes where he explains his educational philosophy

The Seton Catholic Schools network is but one example of an innovative model. These models are percolating across the country. Below I include thirteen other models (in alphabetical order) I could identify along with links and articles. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a list of these innovations in one place. Enjoy!

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Dr. Tim Uhl

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What I'm Up To

The Church Documents podcast series continues this week with the twelfth podcast in the series covering the USCCB document from 2005: Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium. Bishop Robert Lynch, the retired bishop of St. Petersburg and former general secretary of the USCCB, is the guest. He provides a unique perspective on how this document was created. Dr. Terri Greene Henning of St. Anselm College provides a great guest blog this week.

Last week, Jack Peterson, the founder of Managing for Mission and the former president of Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, was the guest on the podcast last week as we discussed the Vatican document from 2002 "Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in Schools." Kevin Donohue from the Archdiocese of LA was a guest blogger, and Jack Peterson also wrote a fantastic blog.

You can find links to the Church documents as well as guest blogs, study questions, and more here. If you're interested in serving as a guest blogger, please contact me.

Another exciting thing is my friend Michael Zelenka, ACE faculty member at Notre Dame, and I are working on a principal formation project. We have developed a 1-minute survey. If you are a Catholic school principal, can you take this survey?

Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes. Here are videos showing you how to download and subscribe to a podcast on iTunes and how to download and subscribe a podcast on Android.

Here's what I'm working on this week:

  • Monday: Livingston & Billings meetings; Podcast Episode 92: Renewing Our Commitment with Bishop Robert Lynch
  • Tuesday: Office (Helena); Blog: Renewing Our Commitment
  • Wednesday: Travel to Denver for superintendent meeting; Wed book blog: Traction (2012) by Gino Wickman.
  • Thursday: Intermountain Superintendent Meeting (Denver)
  • Friday: WCEA previsit @ St. Thomas (Albuquerque)

Miles this week: 515 driving miles; 2,534 air miles

Miles travelled in 2017-18: 15,649 road miles; 18,423 air miles

ACE Academies

ACE (the Alliance for Catholic Education at Notre Dame) has formed ACE Academies and supports them in direct ways by shaping the school culture and helping to hire principals and staff. These academies are located in the school choice states of Arizona, Florida, and Indiana. Listen to my podcast interview with Keiran Roche, the regional director of school culture in Tucson, or with Dr. Christian Dallavis, ACE's Senior Director of Leadership Programs.

Catholic Schools Center of Excellence

Formed to support the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of St. Paul, the CSCOE features admissions squads to increase marketing, teacher task forces to identify common areas of growth, and a Spanish language radio show to help increase Latino enrollment.

Cristo Rey

32 Cristo Rey schools across 21 states and DC make up the largest network of high schools in the country that exclusively serve low-income students. Students must come from poverty and the students work at least one day per week in partner businesses. Listen to my podcast conversation with Kelby Woodward, the president of Cristo Rey Dallas.

Drexel Schools

A growing network of inner-city San Jose Catholic schools, the network provides academic and operational support to nine schools (currently). Listen to my podcast conversation with the dynamic director, Dr. Tara Rolle.
Getting to Know the Drexel School System, Diocese of San Jose

Faith in the Future

Taking over management and fundraising for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's 17 high schools and 4 schools of special education, Faith in the Future has proven successful. Listen to my podcast conversation with Secretary of Education Christopher Mominey.

Healey Education Foundation

The Healey Education Foundation partners with individual schools in six different dioceses in order to build sustainability. They are particularly interested in support development and enrollment management efforts. Listen to my podcast conversation with Executive Director Christine Healey.

Independence Mission Schools

Independence Mission Schools in Philadelphia are a network of 15 inner-city Catholic schools.

Jubilee Schools

The Jubilee Schools Network was the first of its kind and has involved saving and re-opening Catholic schools through development and academic efforts. Founded in 1999, the Jubilee Schools now comprise a network of nine schools. Listen to my podcast conversation with founder Dr. Mary McDonald.

Lumen Christi Schools

In its planning year, the Lumen Christi School network in Oakland will be comprised of seven schools serving approximately 1,400 students. Future podcast guest Dr. Liz Gunderatne is heading up the effort.

Nativity/Miguel Schools

The model of middle schools serving students of poverty was begun in the 1970s. Currently implemented in 47 schools, the coalition survives through fundraising. The mission is "breaking the cycle of poverty through faith-based education." Listen to my podcast conversation from last year with the director, Terry Shields.

Partnership Schools

A network of inner-city New York City Catholic schools, the Partnership Schools encompass six schools with an emphasis on academic collaboration and combined efforts of fundraising and finance. Listen to my podcast conversation with founder Jill Kafka.

Seton Education Partners

Originally finding success with their Blended Learning Initiative, the Seton Education Partners have branched out to a Charter School initiative and Camino Faith Formation program. Listen to my podcast conversation with founder Stephanie Saroki de Garcia.
El Camino Catholic Faith Formation Program
Seton Blended Learning Network

Two-Way Immersion Network for Catholic Schools

The TWIN-CS network out of Boston College promotes two-way immersion schools and supports their 18 schools (and growing). The schools collaborate with a summer professional development institute as well as ongoing programs. Listen to my podcast conversation with BC faculty member Dr. Martin Scanlan, founder Patricia Weitzel-O'Neill, San Antonio principal William Daily, and a couple of TWIN-CS principals in the "Advice for New Principals" podcast (my most popular podcast ever.



  • FACTS Day of Giving January 30th
  • VIsions for Excellence Soul of Youth Sports Conference Feb 21-23
  • Convention, April 3-5 Cincinnati

What I'm Reading

  1. Leadership on the Line Ronald Heifetz & Marty LInsky (1989) by Carl E. Larson & Frank M. J. LaFasto
  2. Building a Bridge (2017) by James Martin, SJ.
  3. Creativity, Inc. (2014) by Ed Catmull
  4. America's Original Sin (2017) by Rev. Jim Wallis
  5. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (2017) by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Click this link for a full list of my professional reading along with links to Wed Book Blogs

For Montana Administrators & Teachers

Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

January 7, 2018 The 411 on 529's

December 17, 2017 Best of the Fall Issue

December 10, 2017 Serving Hispanic Catholics

December 3, 2017 Building Culture the ND Way

November 12, 2017 "How Are We Building Relationships?"

November 5, 2017 "Journal of Catholic Education"

October 29, 2017 Church Documents

October 22, 2017 Momentum Special Issue

October 15, 2017 "Anthem Protests"

October 8, 2017 Classroom Managment Special Issue

October 1, 2017 "The Un-Themed Issue"

September 24, 2017 "Joy of the Gospel"

September 17, 2017 "ESSA"

September 10, 2017 "On Leadership"

August 27, 2017 "American Catholic News"

August 20, 2017 Back to School Issue