Catholic School Matters

December 3, 2017

Building Culture the Notre Dame Way

Last month I had the privilege to spend a few days at Notre Dame and ACE headquarters. The Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) began at Notre Dame and is perhaps best known for its teaching corps. But it also houses the headquarters for the ACE Academies, the Remick Leadership Program, and initiatives in school choice, inclusive education, American Indian Catholic schools, Hispanic outreach, and many more.

I’m not a ND grad. I have always greeted ACE programs with a mix of skepticism and jealousy. Aware of their impact as well as their quality, I have always struggled to find their “secret sauce”—that is, the secret to their success and their (cult-like) devotion. I mean that in the most positive sense. Why do people love ACE and Notre Dame so much?

I believe the secret lies in their devotion to building and sustaining culture. Let’s start with the Holy Cross brothers and priests. They are, after all, the founders and the animators of the school’s culture. Where do they live? Separately, in residence halls among 18-22 year olds by choice and by design. They do not hold themselves apart and above. They encounter students where they live.

How do the students live? 90% live in residence halls. When assigned to a residence hall (which are usually around 200 residents, always single-gender), that assignment remains for their time at Notre Dame. There is no Greek system at ND. Community is built through the residence halls—Masses (including Sunday Masses) are held there, intramurals and spirit competitions form there with fellow dorm-mates, etc. And then there’s the football program which is a celebration of community in the highly competitive world of NCAA football. These intentional construction efforts toward building community spill over into the ACE programs. The teachers and principals who join the ACE programs have come from over 100 different universities but I believe the community ethos brewed at ND impacts those programs. Fr. Scully envisions these as "Eucharistic" communities formed and centered on liturgy.

ACE teachers and Remick leadership programs join cohorts. The pictures of these cohorts line the walls of Carole Sandner Hall. ACE Academies are staffed by ACE teachers. They include a robust “school culture” framework and support staff directing and building intentional school cultures aiming for college and heaven. I continue to be impressed with the insight and effectiveness of these efforts.

But ACE and its assorted programs face a challenge. They have uncovered best practices and have built a strong community of educators. Yet they are in a competitive environment—they compete for teachers, for graduate schools, for research, for consulting, etc. How to balance developing and celebrating community while sharing with other schools in need will remain a tension for some time.

As with most families and communities, the tension is between celebrating our bonds and becoming more apostolic. Our communities cannot be solely focused on ourselves. We need to serve by being transparent about our best practices and hospitable towards all. In the process we will discover what makes us great.

I’d sure like ACE to write the book (literally) on building and supporting school culture or forming effective teachers and leaders. I’ll buy it. Want to know more? I've posted conversations with Fr. Scully, Dr. Christian Dallavis (the Director of Leadership programs), and Keiran Roche (regional director of school culture) on the podcast.

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Dr. Tim Uhl

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What I'm Up To

The Church Documents podcast series continues this week. On this week's podcast, two current high school religion teachers join me to discuss Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith, the Vatican's 1982 document on the laity. Sr. Mary Fitzgerald, SSND will be the guest blogger this week.

Last week, Episode #5 of the Church Documents series dropped. "The Catholic School" is a great document exploring the vision for Catholic schools. Sr. Elizabeth Allen, OP, of Aquinas College helped me dissect the document. The previous week, the one an only Gwen Byrd joined me to discuss "Teach Them." You can find links to the documents as well as guest blogs, study questions, and more here.

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:

  • Sunday: Billings Central HS E3 visit kickoff.
  • Monday: Record podcast with Bishop Robert Lynch for Church Documents series & Helena meetings; Podcast Episode 86: Lay Catholics
  • Tuesday: Virtual Principal Meetings 9 am & 3 pm; Blog: Lay Catholics
  • Wednesday: Billings Central E3 visit wrapup & Billings meetings; Wed book blog: Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems (2016) by Michael Fullan & Joanne Quinn.
  • Thursday: Office (Helena); Guest Blog: Sr. Mary Fitzgerald
  • Friday: Office (Helena)

Miles this week: 984 driving miles

Miles travelled in 2017-18: 12,854 road miles; 18,423 air miles

American Catholic News

Catholic School News

  • Ozark Catholic Academy prepares to open in fall of 2018
  • Update on the expansion of LIght of Christ schools (Bismarck, ND)
  • Editorial and news story about the decision to shift San Domenico to an independent school. Here is another article
  • Cardinal Newman Society's article about a comeback for Philly's schools
  • Billings Central Catholic HS students collect gift cards for the homeless
  • St. Gregory's University (OK) will close at end of semester. The struggle for enrollment and vitality envelops our Catholic universities, too.
  • Mt Michael HS (Omaha) expands with a new classroom wing
  • The new tax bill has a few provisions which may affect Catholic schools namely the expansion of 529 savings accounts to cover up to $10k of private and secondary school expenses. (in both bills). The Senate voted to retain Section 117 of the tax code which allows schools to offer tax-free tution to children of staff members. (the House did not). The Senate also retained Section 127 which impacts work study (the House did not). The Washington Post offered this article summarizing the issue.

Leadership Links

Teaching & Learning


Why incompetent people think they're amazing - David Dunning


  • NCEA's National Day of Giving January 30, 2018. Get ready!
  • NCEA Visions for Excellence Soul of Youth Sports Conference, Feb 21-23, 2018 (KC)
  • Convention, April 3-5, 2018 Cincinnati


  • Nominations for the spring awards are now open: Lead, Learn, Proclaim Awards; President's Awards; and Youth Virtues, Vision and Valor are now open. Click here for more information.


What I'm Reading

  1. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (2017) by Neil deGrasse Tyson
  2. The Principal as Spiritual Leader (1994) Ed. by Maria Ciriello, OP
  3. Be Our Guest (2011) by The Disney Institute and Theodore Kinni
  4. The Power of Moments (2017) by Chip & Dan Heath.
  5. Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership (2007) by Gary L. McIntosh & Samuel D. Rima

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

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