Catholic Community Schools system progresses, draws on national experts

The leadership team of the new Catholic Community Schools system in St. Cloud wants people to know that not only are plans well underway for the new system that involves eight St. Cloud metro area schools, but that it is already functioning — and functioning well — in many ways.

“Our main goal is increasing accessibility while retaining excellence,” said Matt Reichert, part of the leadership team for CCS. “We are approaching this new system with a growth mindset. We would love more students, and we also want to grow financial stability so we are speaking to and with some of the best people who do this on a national level.

“We are taking this seriously and finding the best because this new system is so important,” he added. “It has to be approached and taken with the greatest of care and the best information available.”

In addition to Reichert, who is a professor at St. John’s University, the leadership team includes Linda Kaiser, director of Catholic Education Ministries of the Diocese of St. Cloud and ex-officio member of the CCS board; Father Ron Weyrens, pastor of Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Rockville, St. Wendelin Parish in Luxemburg and Holy Cross Parish in Pearl Lake; Erin Hatlestad, principal of St. Katharine Drexel School, St. Cloud; and Kathy Kockler, principal of St. Francis Xavier School in Sartell.

In collaboration with the CCS board of directors, the team has identified goals, many of which they hope to have in place as early as July 1.
Bishop Donald Kettler initiated the idea for creating the new school system as a way to increase collaboration and keep Catholic education in the area academically and spiritually strong and financially viable.

“It’s kind of like building a house. When you look at the brick work, it doesn’t look like the house you’re going to get in the end,” Kaiser said.

“We are laying a great foundation for a beautiful thing in the end. The groundwork has to be right and that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to make the place we build this system on [one] that will last for years and years to come.”

To help lay that groundwork, the board of directors recently hired Meitler, a consultative group based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, specializing in planning and research for schools, parishes, dioceses and not-for-profit institutions.

“Their expertise is in helping Catholic schools and parishes develop structure in putting school systems together, helping with funding concepts and strategic planning. We are bringing them in as an objective set of eyes to make sure we are getting all the things we need in order,” Father Weyrens said.

“We are bringing in an external, objective, masters-of-the-field perspective and matching it with the board and other people on the committees who know the local area,” Reichert added. “We have the best of both worlds. They can also help us hold up a mirror to see just how strong our schools already are.”

Another top priority is to hire a superintendent to oversee the new school system.

“[His or her] job will be to steer the system into the future — spiritually, academically and financially,” Kaiser said. “To make it the best of the best.”

A search committee was formed in October and began a nationwide search. The interview process began this month. The search garnered 13 applicants, later narrowed by the committee to six candidates representing all different aspects of the Catholic education spectrum, from large and small dioceses as well as a range of nine to 40 years experience.

Other goals include locating a space for a central accounting office, continued collaboration with schools in the system  (see box above for list of schools); continuing discussions about benefits, salaries and curriculum; working toward a common tuition; as well as developing and maintaining a common calendar and  common handbooks for employees, students and parents.

To assist with creating handbooks, the committee has also brought in the expertise of Sister of Charity of Nazareth Mary Angela Shaughnessy, a nationally recognized consultant who has taught at all levels of Catholic education from elementary through graduate school, including eight years as principal of a Catholic high school. Her research centers on the law as it affects Catholic education and church ministry.

Spirit of collaboration

Though many of the schools have been sharing resources for years, the effort to increase collaboration has increased. Seven of the eight schools involved are preK-6 and share common in-services as well as host grade-level teacher meetings.

When possible, they also have worked with Cathedral High School, such as in bringing the sixth-grade teachers together with Cathedral’s math teacher. All the schools in the new school system will come together Feb. 1 to celebrate Mass with Bishop Kettler in honor of Catholic Schools Week.

“That’s a real win-win. Our professional development is right on. Our teachers are talking and sharing ideas and that’s wonderful,” Kaiser said. “We want this to be the premiere school system — the best teachers, best staff, best everything.”

As parents and students step through the doors next fall, Hatlestad hopes that, initially, they notice very little has changed.

“Yet at the same time, we hope they notice that we are one system and that makes us stronger,” she said. “We want them to know we have a long tradition of providing a quality Catholic education. That’s our goal with the new school system so that it can continue for future generations.”

Author: Kristi Anderson

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