GLOBAL.School graphicAnita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Implementing best management practices is the goal of an $80,000 Catholic Extension grant awarded to the 15 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Superior.

Announced by the schools late last year, the award is the result of a joint effort by diocesan school superintendent Peggy Schoenfuss; Steve Tarnowski, diocesan director of development, who wrote the grant application; and pastors, principals and school officials who supported the initiative.

The Strategic Management and Development Program is a four-year plan for boosting Catholic schools’ identity, fundraising, communications and marketing, as well as improving the efficiency of school boards, managing enrollment and more. With the help of a consulting firm, Catholic School Management, Inc., which is a division of the nonprofit Christian Brothers Services, schools will be guided in their goal.

“In preparation for the application process we presented the idea to the schools, using their input in the writing of the grant,” Tarnowski explained.

“They were unanimous in that we should go ahead and apply for the grant. One of the early champions of the grant was Fr. John Gerritts of Hudson.”

Challenge to be better

Pastor of St. Patrick, Hudson, Fr. Gerritts is tasked with overseeing one of the largest Catholic schools in the diocese.

“The Catholic schools that we have in our diocese are an incredible asset, just a phenomenal resource,” Fr. Gerritts said, “but one of my concerns is our Catholic schools have always been the best schools of the 20th century … are schools able to continue to be the very best schools of this day and age?

“We have to continue to challenge ourselves to be better,” the priest continued, “because if we don’t continue to grow and change and really continue to challenge ourselves, we’re not going to continue to be this really phenomenal resource … to our parishes that we are.”

The difficulty of embracing change is in the implementation, Fr. Gerritts has found. Often, when they attend workshops and come back inspired to make changes, the new goals are soon set aside in the busyness of everyday life. That’s why the priest supported seeking a grant that would pay for consulting services.

“Most of us, we know what needs to happen in Catholic schools … the struggle can sometimes be the execution,” he said.

Fr. Gerritts likens it to the diocese’s hiring a firm to conduct a capital campaign.

“You know what to do,” he explained, but extra hands are needed to execute it.

“We probably know,” he added, “but we need that impetus, that push.”

Both Schoenfuss and Tarnowski considered stabilization of school management, despite principal turnover or pastoral reassignments, a major benefit of involvement in the Strategic Management and Development Program.

Fr. Gerritts agreed.

“That is a challenge that our schools face, that our principals face,” he commented. “You can have a plan going one day, and all the sudden you get a new pastor, and the plan changes dramatically.”

The training should usher in a new cohesiveness, the priest added, “that hopefully we don’t have these broad swings.”


The first two-day in-service introducing diocesan schools to the program was Nov. 16 in Rice Lake. Two key officials from CSM –  Maria Ribera, president, and Richard Burke, senior consultant – spoke to schools’ staffs, administrators, volunteers, principals and pastors.

“This model consists of two, two-day seminars per year from Catholic School Management in which all 15 schools and their teams come together in one location,” Schoenfuss said. “Two other times during each year, our Catholic School Management consultant, Maria Ribera, will meet with small groups of schools via video conferencing.”

As the first of four years begins, Schoenfuss and Tarnowski are preparing to go on the road.

“Each school is visited every six weeks by either myself or Steve Tarnowski to monitor their progress in the program,” Schoenfuss continued. “Each school works individually on their own process, but come together collaboratively to be in-serviced on the process and progress.”

“We are helping to facilitate the process in our visits,” Tarnowski added. “The first year is especially demanding and deadline-intensive. We have four years to achieve everything that we want to do.

“As we make several visits during the various phases of the process this year, we will be guiding the parishes to achieve the many strategic tasks that are needed to take place in accomplishing the goals of the program.”