Thanks to a $10-million multi-year investment from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence (CSCOE) will be able to serve every Catholic elementary school in Minnesota’s six dioceses — including St. Cloud.
The center, based in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, is a nonprofit organization that works to increase excellence and enrollment in Catholic elementary schools. It currently serves 78 schools in the archdiocese.
“I think it’s tremendously exciting,” said David Fremo, director of Catholic Education Ministries and superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of St. Cloud. “It’s really an endorsement of the value of our schools and the positive impact they make in the community.”
What is CSCOE?
The Catholic Schools Center of Excellence was founded in 2015 at a time when, according to CSCOE President Brian Ragatz, Catholic schools were in a tough spot.
Declining enrollments, schools closing and a lack of resources were just a few of the problems schools faced, he said.
“Then CSCOE comes on board as a new nonprofit to really ask questions: How can we help? What problem are you facing? What barrier is getting in the way of you increasing enrollment or making your school better at enhancing excellence?” Ragatz said.
CSCOE’s main focus is removing barriers for school principals in addition to better equipping teachers and staff. Ragatz, who was a principal for 14 years before working for the nonprofit, stressed the importance of providing these resources.
“We say that Catholic schools educate the whole child — mind, soul, and heart. If we ought to do that, then we ought to do that ourselves,” Ragatz said.
CSCOE supports Catholic education by investing in three things: schools, programs and people. Its approach begins by listening to the needs of each school and culminates in offering ideas and resources that
can best help.
“We’re going to listen, we’re going to learn, and then we’re going to open our toolbox,” Ragatz said.
CSCOE’s ‘toolbox’ holds a variety of resources, ideas, and opportunities for schools. One is the opportunity for schools to send grant requests to CSCOE.
“[The grant] could be anything from ‘I want to expand my preschool … [to] I’d love to have my teachers go on this professional development,’” Ragatz said. “We always want to support [schools] in what they think is going to help.”
“I think it’s tremendously exciting. It’s really an endorsement of the value of our schools and the positive impact they make in the community.”
— David Fremo, superintendent of Catholic schools, Diocese of St. Cloud
Another item in CSCOE’s toolbox is investing in and offering different programs, such as a mental health and wellness program, literacy program, and even a Catholic STEM partnership program with the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering.
Yet, perhaps the most important item in CSCOE’s toolbox is providing resources and support for educators, staff and principals.
“When we think about everything we do, we like to say that we work for the principals. We want to remove whatever barrier they’re facing to excel,” Ragatz said. “Sometimes that’s ‘Hey, I just need help or help talking through something.’”
One such way that CSCOE has recently supported educators is by sending Catholic school principals on pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land.
CSCOE’s work is made possible thanks to a $35 million investment from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation. The foundation, started by Best Buy founder Richard Schulze, seeks to “enable transformational change to benefit the communities where [Schulze] and his family live and work,” according to an excerpt from its website.
With the new investment, CSCOE will now serve an additional 74 Catholic schools across the state. In the Diocese of St. Cloud, that’s 27 elementary schools serving 4,000 students and employing 325 staff members.
CSCOE in Central Minnesota
Fremo, the superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese, anticipates CSCOE being a “great partner” in addressing the needs of local schools.
One of the challenges the diocese faces is getting communities “excited about investment in programming and development,” he said. It can be difficult to find resources in those areas.
“I think this is what CSCOE is all about. They really want to make available to schools what they understand as an educational and formational reality,” Fremo said.
Like Ragatz, Fremo also stressed the importance of providing more assistance for educators and principals.
“No asset is greater for kids than the best educators we can provide them,” Fremo said.
Yet, he added, there aren’t enough programs that develop educators from a Catholic perspective, as prospective teachers usually receive their educational training in college through the lens of public education.
“It’s a great starting point, but there are things that are fundamentally different in a Catholic school, particularly on the leadership end of things,” he said. “That’s what [CSCOE] is recognizing. If you really want students to benefit more, the people who are there with them every day are one of the most important places to start.”
In the archdiocese, St. Hubert Catholic School in Chanhassen saw a 20% increase in students thanks to a marketing grant from CSCOE. St. Ambrose Catholic School in Woodbury saw an 11.4% student increase. As a whole, Catholic schools in the archdiocese saw two years straight of increased enrollment, according to CSCOE’s website.
Ragatz said he hopes the same impact will soon be felt in the entire state.
“We’re talking 35,000 kids,” Ragatz said. “The impact of that … it’s a number, but it’s immeasurable how that’s going to propel future generations of kids and families in our state and in our faith. That just gets me excited.”
To donate to CSCOE or learn more, visit https://cscoe.givingplan.net/pp/legacy-change/208.