Back to school 2017: The state of our schools

| September 22, 2017 | 0 Comments
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Peggy Schoenfuss
Superintendent of schools

As we begin another school year, we are thankful to our Lord for giving us an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children. Our 14 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Superior provide a much-needed choice for children and their parents. Not only do we provide great academic opportunities, but we also provide spiritually faith-filled experiences.

Our schools still remain fully Catholic in our mission and philosophy. We ensure our teachings of the faith are guided by Bishop Powers and grounded in the truth of Christ. In continuing a 40-year history of ensuring our teachers are well prepared as catechists of the faith, they all, Catholic and non-Catholic, participate in some level of catechetical certification. Almost half of them have reached their required levels and are continually developing their faith in parish- and diocesan-based formation opportunities.

On average, all the children in our schools receive three hours of direct religious classroom instruction. Also, all children attend Mass at least once each week. These opportunities to directly learn of the faith every day of the week are powerful experiences for all the children.

In addition to direct instruction, children experience faith through the artwork and bulletin boards throughout the schools, the opportunities for prayer many times through the day, and the opportunities to lead the congregation at Mass and through service opportunities. Our children leave our schools with a reverence for the Eucharist and communal life. Every school offers the sacrament of reconciliation at least twice a year, prayer services are offered multiple times a school year, the rosary and Stations of the Cross are prayed during liturgical opportunities of the church year, and most children experience a retreat before they leave our schools.

Our Catholic schools strive for academic excellence. We do this by ensuring there is a Catholic-infused curriculum for each subject matter. Every school has an opportunity each year to work with the diocese in establishing or updating a curricular area. Our schools work hard to ensure there are effective teaching techniques used within the classroom while still utilizing tested and true traditional methods of teaching.

To help our schools stay on top of curriculum development and the success of our schools, each school is accredited through the Wisconsin Religious and Independent Schools
Association. WRISA is a nonprofit organization that provided non-public schools with an ongoing school improvement process. It is recognized by the Wisconsin state legislature and is a state chapter of the National Federation of Nonpublic School State Accrediting Associations which is recognized by the College Board and the Office of Non-Public Education, an office within the U.S. Department of Education.

All of our schools utilize measures to evaluate the curriculum and instruction. The most common measure is the use and implementation of the Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress taken two times per year. The results of these assessments help our school personnel meet the needs of individual students as well as review the overall curricular needs of the school.

About 14 percent of our student body has some type of special need. In some cases, the public school, through the Every Student Succeeds Act and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funds, gives assistance to our students, but in a large part, our teachers, without the aid of separate special education teachers, work with these families and children to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all children. We truly believe all children are special and have needs. We want to do our best to provide for as many as we can.

NWEA routinely conducts studies that provide estimates of RIT (Rasch Unit) scores on the MAP assessments corresponding to “proficient” and other performance levels on summative state accountability assessments. These studies provide schools and districts using MAP assessments with tools to predict whether students will demonstrate adequate reading and mathematics achievement on their state accountability assessments, and to adjust instructional plans accordingly. (See pie charts.) The below information shows projected minimal performance, basic, proficient and advanced aptitude on summative state accountability assessments. Because the assessments measure different things, these results should be viewed with caution.

Back in 2015, the Diocese of Superior helped the schools obtain a grant from Catholic Extension that has allowed them to bring Catholic Schools Management, a Division of Christian Brothers Services, and a national leader in consultative guidance for Catholic Schools. With this guidance, Catholic School Management and our 14 Catholic schools are in the third year of a four-year Strategic Management and Development Process. Through this process, each school is evaluating their programs for mission, viability and sustainability. Within this process, each school will develop a strategic plan, enrollment management plan, a communications and marketing plan, and a development plan. Each of these plans should assist the schools and their parishes in moving the success of the schools long into the future, no matter what changes may occur with personnel.

In order to sustain this program into the future, after Catholic Schools Management has fulfilled the grant, the diocese will work with the schools through the accreditation process to maintain strategic management. Starting this school year, all schools undergoing a self-study for accreditation must utilize the Wisconsin Catholic School Accreditation standards, which utilized the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary Schools. The joint effort of all five dioceses in the state of Wisconsin has guaranteed a tool that will keep our schools Catholic and utilizing measurements of viability.

At the start of the school year, we have more than 400 students in our 3-year-old and 4-year-old programs and about 1,400 students in our kindergarten through eighth-grade programs from 48 of our diocesan parishes. We evangelize to about 271 students who are not Catholic, but their parents have opted for this school choice in education. Five of our school serve almost 150 students in the public school-sponsored 4-year-old program. Two of our schools, Our Lady of the Lake in Ashland and Holy Rosary in Medford, serve 43 children whose parents have chosen to participate in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program.

Catholic tradition has long recognized the important role of parents as the primary educators of their children. The Catechism of the Catholic Church expressly states: “As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise.” (#2229)

Parental choice flows from the parents’ role as the primary educator of their children. As Catholics, we are supportive of policies that foster that choice and expand quality educational options for parents and their children, especially for families of modest means. Also, by serving families in need the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program exhibits a preferential option for the poor, another principle of Catholic social teaching. In recognizing that families in our communities are in financial need, the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program ensures these families are not denied a choice in education because of their economic status.

In comparison, the state of Wisconsin had about 55,737 students open enroll between public school districts. This was a cost of about $303,237,767 shifting between districts. With an average cost of $7,000 per student, our diocese saved our public schools about $13,783,000 this past school year. Our parishes, with an average tuition of $2,188, cover about 34 percent of the cost to educate a child. We do this by being good stewards of our finances, raising funds through various fundraisers, partnering with foundations that support low-income schools, using subsidies provided through federal and state legislation and relying on the faithful of the parishes. It is the support from our parishioners and alumni that keep our Catholic schools financially viable.

In looking at our expenses for our schools, it is important to keep in mind the dedication and sacrifice our 195 certified teachers and 190 support staff provide. Our teaching staff, on average, are paid $28,110 per academic year. Our lowest salary for a certified teacher with a bachelor’s degree is around $21,250. If this individual is a new college graduate, the amount of student loans exceeds this annual salary. Even more, about 30 of our teachers have master’s degrees in their fields but on average only make about $24,492. In comparison to what they could be making in other private or public schools, these teachers have dedicated and sacrificed to bring the Catholic faith to our children. We truly commend these teachers and thank them for their service to our church. Please take time to thank them for not only providing the best education but also committing to continuing their licensure as a teacher as well as becoming certified in religion for our diocese.

Many of our faithful in the diocese have not been given an opportunity to attend Catholic schools. At the high point of Catholic education in our diocese, there were only 32 schools, including high schools and a college. Now, we have 14 elementary schools. These schools make a powerful impact on the lives of those who attend. If you have not had a chance to participate in or simply visit one of our Catholic schools, please do so. You are always welcome to get to know us as we want to get to know you. To all who offer support in time, talent, prayer and finances to our schools – thank you!

Category: Local News

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