Catholic School Matters

May 24, 2020

Value Proposition During Uncertain Times

The twin uncertainties of the pandemic and the economic downturn have challenged our Catholic school leaders to articulate the value proposition of their schools. Without well-known national values for Catholic schools and with the economic downturn forcing many families to question whether they can afford Catholic school tuition, these leaders are looking for the right language and messaging while, ironically, many of their schools have proven quite successful at pivoting their programs to online. That message hasn’t taken root, however, and instead we’re finding parents questioning that if remote learning is to continue, is it even worth the tuition cost?

Several of us have been gathering to articulate a vision for Catholic schools during these uncertain times. This collaborative effort was not commissioned by any organization and is not official by any means. It represents the kind of collaborative innovation that has been springing up (mostly on video conferences!) all around Catholic school.

First, we’re asking schools to gather and publish their testimonies. Students can speak to how they’ve been challenged and cared for during these difficult times. Parents can testify to their gratitude that their students have been learning and part of a caring community. Staff members can talk about their support and innovation to reach students.

Second, we’re recommending a focus on the purpose of Catholic education. We are forming disciples by finding God in all things. Our students and educators are learning from this experience, finding meaning and purpose during these twin uncertainties of the pandemic and the economic downturn. A renewal of faith, hope, and charity is needed in the world, and it will come through the children who have been formed in them.

Third, we’re providing five essential themes for Catholic school leaders. This should shape your planning and communication during these uncertain times:

1. Prayer: our schools are providing spiritual companionship to all members of our communities. We’re giving them a foundation of faith.

2. Partnership with Families: Parents are the primary educators and are choosing Catholic schools as the best option. Our Catholic schools are responding to the needs of each family.

3. Personalization: Catholic schools are small and nimble enough to customize the education for each student. We are working with families to adjust to the changing economic circumstances.

4. Perseverance: We are modeling to our students how to rely on their faith to persist and persevere through the obstacles that have emerged.

5. Planning: We are purposefully planning for all contingencies to improve our instruction and strengthen our communities.

These themes should infuse your communication and planning for next year and re-orient your community to face these unprecedented challenges. We have prepared an Executive Summary for distribution. The latest projection is that over 100 Catholic schools will close before the new school year starts. So far, 40 have announced their closures due to the pandemic (track it here). Let’s distribute these ideas and work to keep our schools open and serving our students.

Want to keep up with the conversations surrounding Catholic education? Set up your own Google Alert, subscribe to this newsletter by clicking "follow," subscribe to the Catholic Schools Daily, or subscribe to the Catholic School Matters podcast.

Dr. Tim Uhl

This edition of Catholic School Matters is sponsored by the Institute for School and Parish Development (ISPD), a national development consulting firm founded in 1989; ISPD works exclusively with Catholic schools, parishes, and dioceses. In partnership with the University of Dayton, the Institute for School and Parish Development (ISPD) will be offering three new on-line summer courses beginning the week of June 15, 2020. Titled ISPD Summer Institute, 2020, each course will award Continuing Education Units (CEUs) and a Certificate of Completion from the university. Students not interested in the above are invited to audit any one or more of the courses. The three courses are:

  • Moving Your Catholic School Forward NOW: How to Create a Plan of Action to Face COVID-19 Challenges through People Engagement
  • Moving Your Catholic Parish Forward NOW: How to Create a Plan of Action to Face COVID-19 Challenges through People Engagement
  • 15 More Lessons Learned in 30+ Years in Catholic School Development: Moving Forward with Valuable Operational Vitality Lessons Midst the Challenges of COVID-19
For more information, please contact Frank Donaldson, president:; phone 504-491-2122;

The Best COVID Resources

  1. I referenced this above but this printable Executive Summary of the work on identifying a Value Proposition for Catholic Schools During Uncertain Times is designed to give school leaders touchstones for the current moment. Print this out and share it!
  2. The Greeley Center came out with a fantastic planning guide for schools. It helps you organize your planning and raises all the right questions.
  3. While many dioceses are embarking on large-scale task forces, here is the guidance document I've been working on for our Catholic schools. We've been trying to match up our guidance with the phase of reopening. It also includes links to the recent CDC guidance and the NFHS guidance on sports & activities.
  4. Lincoln Snyder from the Diocese of Sacramento has come up with a school reentry template. Here is the Brilla School return to school framework.
  5. Here is the Equitable Services FAQ from the DOE.
  6. The special rolling COVID issue of the Journal of Catholic Education will be updated throughout the summer.
  7. Sadlier is offering a free "Summer Shape Up" free e-book for students. Did I mention it's free? They also are offering a free summer religion pack.
  8. Fisher Phillips has a great back to school legal FAQ. Are you wonderng about liability? Whether you can require teachers to report to work. Start here.
  9. Chiefs for Change and the Johns Hopkins Education Policy Center collaborated on a return to school planning guide
  10. I've created a new curated list of resources for professional learning on technology, on remote learning as well as resources for teacher and parents. I will continue to update over the summer.
  11. The CSCOE (Catholic School Center of Excellence) in the Twin Cities came up with the idea of a parent appreciation week. Take a look at their effort
  12. Michael Pryor, principal of St. Timothy School in Virginia, sent in their plan for 8th grade graduation activities this week. It's a great example of creativity and celebrating community.

Catholic Schools Closing & Opening

For the complete list of Catholic schools closing at the end of this school year, click here.

For Your Reflection

Want to go down a rabbit hole of scenarios for the immediate future? Try reading these COVID scenarios


What I'm Reading

    The Last 5 Books:

    1. How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community (2018) by Judith Valente
    2. Evolving Learner: Shifting from Professional Development to Professional Learning (2020) by Lainie Rowell, Kristy Andre, and Lauren Steinmann

    3. Public & Private High Schools: The Impact of Communities (1987) by James S. Coleman and Thomas Hoffa

    4. The Practical Prophet: Pastoral Writings (2007) by Ken Untener

    5. How the Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, and the Battle Over School Choice (2019) by Robert Pondiscio

            Click this link for a full list of my professional reading

            Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

            May 17, 2020 "Tell Your Story"

            May 10, 2020 "Remote and Catholic"

            May 3, 2020 "Safety & Normalcy"

            For previous newsletters, click this link

            Orchestrating Conflict

            Orchestrating Conflict: Case Studies in Catholic Leadership is now available on Amazon or on the Barnes & Noble site in print or e-book formats. The book explores issues in Catholic school leadership and the tensions between building community and following Church policies and introduces deliberate practice as a method for leadership formation. This is my first book and has been an ongoing project for the past couple of years.