When students and parents walk through the doors of their Catholic Community Schools this fall, they shouldn’t notice anything but the same great atmosphere they’ve always known and loved.
“Everything we are doing has been behind-the-scenes,” said Kevin Powers, CCS’ new superintendent who officially began his duties July 1. “We’ve been working to create efficiency and share best practices and also to be able to leverage things as a district such as ordering supplies and creating policies, handbooks and benefits.
“Nothing should look different when you walk in that door. And I think that’s a great thing. You are still at your great school with your great teachers and principals who are, like always, working hard to take the best of everything and spread it to everyone,” he said.
The consolidated school system includes the campuses of All Saints Academy (St. Cloud, St. Joseph); Cathedral (St. Cloud); Holy Cross (Pearl Lake); St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (St. Cloud); St. Francis Xavier (Sartell); St. Katharine Drexel (St. Cloud); St. Mary, Help of Christians (St. Augusta); and St. Wendelin (Luxemburg).
Bishop Donald Kettler initiated conversations about creating the new school system two-and-a-half years ago as a way to increase collaboration and keep Catholic education in the area academically and spiritually strong and financially viable.
CCS is governed by a board of directors made up of pastors and lay people and also includes committees offering support in the areas of marketing, finance and personnel.
“Everyone has been really welcoming,” Powers said. “We are feeling excitement from pastors and principals who will be able to hand off some of the administrative responsibilities to a centralized office. This will allow principals to focus on students’ learning which is why they became principals. Our hope is to take some of the things like human resources off their hands and allow them to work with teachers, work with students, work with parents, and that’s going to make our schools stronger.
“Pastors want to be involved with the faith formation and community building of the school, not worrying about what supplies are being used,” Powers said. “We hope this central office will also free up priests’ time to do more pastoral activities for the whole parish and school.”
Father Scott Pogatchnik is pastor of St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Augustine Church and one of the pastors who serves St. Katharine Drexel School in St. Cloud.
“We are building on the shoulders of so many people who have made great commitments to Catholic education,” he said. “The system comes together now to build upon the legacy of each school and what each school has brought to the community.
“What I see more than anything else is the opportunity for mutual ownership in all of our Catholic schools, to be able to say confidently, this is ‘our school,’” Father Pogatchnik said. “Through collaboration, it just really expands the gift pool. A system like this can draw upon the gifts of all the teachers and all the parents who tend be so passionate about what their kids are learning and to be such a great support and extension of what is learned at home.”
Coming together for students
Powers has embraced an analogy for the school that he heard when he first arrived.
“CCS is kind of like a band,” he said. “Every instrument has its own sound, its own characteristics, but all together it makes a beautiful song. A trumpet is a trumpet and a drum is a drum but when they come together they make beautiful music. A trumpet can’t be a drum. Each school will still look and sound the same, we are just going to be doing some things as a district now.”
One benefit of the school system Powers noted is the ability to come together with other teachers to share ideas and insights.
In August, for example, PreK-6 teachers from all the campuses attended a three-day workshop at St. Francis Xavier Church in Sartell, where they participated in curriculum mapping, a process of reviewing and assessing national education standards. Last year, they held a similar gathering that focused on math curriculum. This year they addressed language arts.
Joanne Schneider, first-grade teacher at All Saints Academy in St. Joseph, has been teaching in Catholic schools for nearly 30 years. She attended the training in Sartell.
“We’ve been collaborating for years on some things, especially since the bishop asked us to start considering the new school system. The schools have a history of working very well together and we all have the same goals, so it is natural to come together to do some of these things,” she said.
During the training, teachers worked within their grade levels for part of the time and expanded into groups with other grade level teachers.
“It’s really nice for me to look at what the other first-grade teachers are doing as well as to be able to talk to some of the higher grades to hear about what support the kids will need as they get older,” Schneider said. “Really that’s why all of us are there, to make sure the kids get what they need.”
The teachers returned to their classrooms Aug. 22 for professional development and to set up their classrooms. Classes begin Aug. 29.
“What I find exciting is that the principals planned this the past two years,” Powers said. “They did this before the CCS system fully existed so it showed that people want to come together and are used to coming together and taking the best ideas to help our students.”
Powers, who previously served as principal at St. Margaret of Scotland School in Chicago, has visited all the schools in the system and met with the principals several times.
He plans to do a “meet and greet” at each campus this fall and also to introduce himself at Mass at each of the parishes involved.
He and the board of directors are planning an ice cream social for anyone involved in the CCS system and for those who are interested in learning more. The social will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Sept. 6 at Lake George in St. Cloud.
“Anyone can drop in for an ice cream sandwich or popsicle to kick off the school year and a chance to say hello,” Powers said.
Powers’ office is located in the Pastoral Center, 305 7th St. N., St. Cloud. He can be reached by phone at 320-258-7639. More information is available at www.catholiccommunityschools.org. Follow CCS on Twitter @stcloudccs, and on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/stcloudccs.