January 27, 2016 // Local

Catholic Schools Week: The body of Christ in action

More stories for Catholic Schools Week


Diocesan schools maintain excellence, mission

By Marsha Jordan

Catholic Schools Week 2016 once again provides the opportunity to celebrate all that is good about Catholic schools — the work of teachers, administrators and students; the daily experiences of faith and sacraments; the outstanding academics, arts and athletics; and the family atmosphere that nurtures the schools. Maintaining a standard of excellence requires that we constantly evaluate programs and purpose, while always keeping Christ at the very center of our schools as a means of continuing His mission of proclaiming the Gospel. This mission is vital to the future of our young people, our nation and especially our Church.

In a homily to teachers and administrators at the 2014 Catholic School Mission Day, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades stated, “Our Catholic schools exist to call our children and young people to greatness, this greatness of soul, to use their God-given gifts to do what is great in God’s eyes — to serve, to help, to give, and to build up the body of Christ. A great school is one that encourages and strives for excellence. It doesn’t just try to get by. And it isn’t seeking the mere prestige of the world. A great Catholic school pursues academic excellence, to be sure, but first and foremost it seeks the greatness of Christ, the magnanimity of the Beatitudes, the courage of the cross. These pursuits, academic and spiritual, go hand in hand. For when we pursue academic excellence, we do so knowing that reason and intelligence, like faith, are gifts that God gives us to be used. In the light of our faith, we also know what true greatness is. We must strive for greatness in our lives and in our schools, seek to grow in goodness and virtue, and not be satisfied with the minimum, with mediocrity or the status quo. We must be committed to excellence, to growth, working together to make our schools the best they can be, everything aimed at building up the body of Christ and growing to the full stature of Christ.”

Challenged by the knowledge of this charge, the diocese and its Catholic schools have engaged in an ongoing continuous improvement process. This process has included examining current practices, test and assessment data, as well as inviting input from all stakeholders — teachers, students, parents and members of the various school communities.

In the past, diocesan schools have been accredited individually by the Indiana Department of Education as well as AdvancED, the parent organization of the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. In 2013, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend joined in a collaborative effort with the other four dioceses in the state to form the Indiana Catholic Schools Consortium in an effort to strengthen all Catholic schools. All five Indiana dioceses agreed to pursue Diocesan Accreditation, integrate the “National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools” into the AdvancED accreditation process, and create a statewide Catholic schools “Quality Assurance Board” to develop and implement a statewide quality assurance and continuous improvement process for Catholic schools.

The NSBECS are “program standards that describe how the most mission-driven, program-effective, well-managed and responsibly governed Catholic schools operate. The NSBECS contains three types of statements grounded in Church teachings, best practice and proven success of those committed to the future of Catholic elementary and secondary education in the United States” (Lorraine Ozar, 2012). Nine Defining Characteristics define the deep Catholic identity of Catholic schools and serve as the foundation for the standards and benchmarks. These characteristics flow directly from the Holy See’s teaching on Catholic schools (Archbishop J. Michael Miller, 2006).

The next structural level consists of 13 standards that address the four domains of Mission and Catholic Identity, Governance and Leadership, Academic Excellence and Operational Vitality. As an example, standard three states that “an excellent Catholic school adhering to mission provides opportunities outside the classroom for student faith formation, participation in liturgical and communal prayer, and action in service of social justice.”

Finally, 70 Benchmarks provide observable, measurable descriptors for each standard. Benchmark 3.1 states that “every student is offered timely and regular opportunities to learn about and experience the nature and importance of prayer, the Eucharist and liturgy.” Benchmark 3.4 states that “every student experiences role models of faith and service for social justice among the administrators, faculty and staff.”

In order to assess diocesan Catholic schools in the four critical domains, all elementary and secondary schools invited parents, faculty and staff, and students to respond to surveys in an effort to gain insight into their thinking and perceptions. Teams of teachers and administrators have been carefully analyzing survey responses and test data in order to enrich their understanding of areas of strength and effectiveness, as well as direction for improvement within our system of schools.

In mid-April, diocesan schools and the Catholic Schools Office will host a three-day system accreditation visit from a national team of Catholic educators. This External Review Team will interview diocesan officials, principals, pastors, and other stakeholders; visit a number of diocesan schools; and review diocesan school data, in order to gain as much insight as possible about our diocesan system of schools. The External Review Team will deliver an exit report on Day 3 that will provide an assessment of how well the diocese meets both AdvancED and the NSBECS standards, as well as recognition for powerful practices and any improvement priorities. The overall goal is to provide information to form a strategic plan that will guide continuous improvement in the Catholic schools of the diocese. The reaccreditation of schools will be achieved through the diocese being accredited as a system of schools.

As preparations continue for the April accreditation visit, we invite parish communities to pray daily for our schools. Especially during this Catholic Schools Week, please pray for teachers and staff who daily witness and proclaim the Gospel to our students. These men and women truly are, in the words of St. John Paul II, “great gifts to the Church.” Pray also for our predecessors, priests and lay people, who established the firm foundation of Catholic schools in our diocese. What a tremendous treasure they have given us! Inspired by their example, may we continue to strive for greatness in all areas of our Catholic schools in order to continue to build up the body of Christ.



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