Fr. Louis Reddy Maram Reddy leads Abby Hrdina’s first-grade students in prayer during the pastor’s visit with principal Rita Lee. Each classroom is blessed by the priest every year on the first day of school at St. Mary Catholic School, Tomahawk. (Submitted photo)

Peggy Schoenfuss
Superintendent of Schools

What a wonderful time of year! School starting up again is such a joyful time of year. All the teachers are busy getting ready and students are excited to see their friends again – there is so much joy and excitement in our 14 Catholic elementary schools. Who could ask for a better show of love and joy for our Lord, Jesus Christ!

Our schools are undertaking quite a few changes this coming school year. All changes are set to our mission of sharing the love and joy of Christ and forming disciples. We welcome a few new leaders to our schools. Nick Berens is our new principal at St. Francis de Sales in Spooner. He is a former technology education teacher at Hayward Public Schools. Mark Gobler, former president of Regis Catholic Schools in Eau Claire, has come out of retirement to help lead Our Lady of Sorrows in Ladysmith. Stephanie Van Strydonk and Kate Shimel, both teachers at St. Francis Xavier in Merrill, have both stepped up to co-lead. We are so excited to have these new leaders as part of our diocesan schools. Welcome!

Last school year, our schools met often to discuss how we can work better together rather than independently. Working together in a more collaborative way will allow us to find professional staff, purchase sound educational resources, provide high quality professional development for teachers and allow our schools to utilize experts from around the diocese. Several committees were established to help us work on this collaboration and plan into the future.

Our governance committee researched ways in which we can most effectively utilize the time of our priests, parish life coordinators and principals and identified the greatest needs of our schools. Through this process, our traditional parish education committees were restructured, and this past August we trained our new school executive boards. These executive boards will walk side-by-side with the principals to ensure Catholic identity and financial sustainability of our schools. Members of this board consist of the principal, a finance or business representative of the parish, and three stewards (individuals with a vested interest in the school). Because this board is now more of a decision-making board, all members are approved by the corporate trustees of the parish.

Our marketing and development committee is comprised of three school-parish development directors and a principal. Steve Tarnowski, our diocesan development director, is leading this committee. Through their efforts, this group has established a portal for resources to be shared among all the schools, and a monthly newsletter goes out to school leadership to give tips for how to best get the word out about the schools. Another initiative being worked on is a partnership with Our Sunday Visitor to help schools with some fundraising.

Our evangelization committee, led by Chris Hurtubise, the diocesan director of evangelization and missionary discipleship, has been mainly reviewing what evangelization should look like in our schools and what role the schools have in the evangelizing mission of the church. Their next steps will be to begin implementing some ideas. To also add to this effort, the principals will be participating in four evangelization initiatives this year, supported by Catholic Extension and Catholic School Management. The first of these initiatives was a spiritual retreat for principals on Sept. 10. Another initiative in this area that principals will be undertaking this school year is a book study of “Renewing Catholic Schools: How to Regain a Catholic Vision in a Secular Age,” by Dr. R. Jared Staudt.

Our finance committee, led by Larry French, the diocesan director of finance, is beginning to look at the accounting procedures and financial planning efforts of our schools. These efforts are all in conjunction with all the other efforts of the other committees.

Our collaboration committees are looking at ways in which our schools can work together most effectively. There are ways we’ve begun to purchase education programs together as well as opening up communications to see if there are ways to share teaching and support staff. Another collaborative effort to try to cut costs on educational materials and also enhance teacher professional growth is establishing a diocesan-wide curriculum. There are many more areas we’ve identified to work closer in, but we are taking one step at a time to adapt them.

Our 14 Catholic schools are each so very unique, but yet joined together within the church on one mission. Our ultimate goal is to provide an environment and an education where all of our children and their families can experience, grow in knowledge about and pass on the word of God. We are extremely excited and joy-filled for this school year. May all of our students and their families have a truly blessed year.