Bishop moving ahead with St. Cloud-area schools plan

After reviewing a steering committee’s recommendations sent to him in December, Bishop Donald Kettler is moving forward with the plan to create Catholic Community Schools.

“It’s an important desire of mine that all of our Catholic schools work together in every way possible, and this is the way we need to go forward,” he told The Visitor Feb. 9. “The steering committee did superb work over the last year looking at the possibilities and putting together a plan that I think is as good as it can be at this time.”

CCS will foster more collaboration among St. Cloud-area Catholic schools, he said, as well as lead to more uniform tuition rates, just salaries for teachers and principals, and stronger programming among schools.

The CCS corporate board has been formed and consists of five members. The bishop; the vicar general of the diocese, Father Robert Rolfes; and the chancellor, Jane Marrin, serve as ex-officio members. The other corporate board members are Bonnie Van Heel, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Sartell, and Bill Kain, a St. Cloud attorney and former Catholic school parent.

The corporate board will appoint a CCS board of directors to oversee the major decisions of CCS in areas such as finances, programming and human resources. The board will be composed of pastors and lay people from the parishes involved. The new CCS superintendent, when that person is hired, will serve as an ex-officio member and oversee the day-to-day operation of CCS in a central office.

The aim is to have CCS operational for the 2017-2018 academic year. The 2016- 2017 school year will serve as a transition year during which CCS schools will continue their ongoing collaborative efforts and an overall budget will be finalized.

The schools slated to participate in CCS are: 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).

Each school site would maintain its own site council, which would serve the CCS board in a consultative role.

“There’s great opportunity [with CCS] for continuing to build excellence and a strong faith-based education for our students if we’re all working together and united in this endeavor,” said Van Heel, who previously served for seven years as principal of St. Mary, Help of Christians School in St. Augusta. “We have some amazing principals and educators in our St. Cloud area.”

Kain, who served on the CCS steering committee and who attended Catholic schools himself from elementary school through college, said he believes CCS will bring about “a sustainable Catholic school system that will enhance the educational programming and activities that our Catholic schools already offer.”

He hopes it will foster “stability and an increase in enrollment, and that we’ll have a sustainable financial model that will increase the accessibility of Catholic schools for every family that wants to see their child educated in one.

“I think Catholic Community Schools really gives us the best opportunity to accomplish that,” he added. “This is something I think everybody has always wanted, and I think this will allow us to move forward and realize some of those goals.”


Strengthening schools

Bishop Kettler announced his appointment of the 12-person steering committee in a column in The Visitor last February. In the column, he stated his belief that Catholic schools are “essential to the church’s evangelizing mission [and] building up the kingdom of God.” The CCS initiative, he said, was the best solution for keeping Catholic school education in the St. Cloud area academically and spiritually strong and financially viable in light of rising costs and ongoing enrollment challenges.

David Borgert, a member of St. Michael Parish in St. Cloud and former Catholic school parent, chaired the committee. From December 2014 to December 2015, it organized meetings with pastors, principals and school boards to explain its work, the vision for CCS and answer questions.

The committee reviewed and adopted “National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools” to guide its work. The standards were created by the schools of education of Boston College and Loyola University in Chicago in cooperation with the National Catholic Educational Association.

Throughout the process, the committee emphasized that there is no intent to close school buildings or change the individual cultures of schools as part of the CCS process. The goal is to fill classrooms and revitalize Catholic education.

A finance sub-committee drafted an initial budget that the steering committee presented to Bishop Kettler for further review. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure Catholic education is viable for participating parishes and schools as well as families who desire a Catholic education for their children.

“Affordability is one of our goals,” said Father Tom Knoblach, pastor of St. Anthony, Holy Spirit and St. John Cantius parishes in St. Cloud who was a member of the CCS steering committee. “How that’s going to be realized is going to take some imagination, creativity and generosity.

Erin Hatlestad, principal of St. Katharine Drexel School who was also a member of the steering committee, said area principals are looking forward to further collaborative efforts among the CCS schools.

“There are so many positives to working together, and not many when you start to compete,” Hatlestad said. “We’re so much stronger together than we are apart.”

Principals are creating a joint calendar for next year and working on on a number of curriculum efforts, she said.

Having a central CCS office that focuses on areas such as human resources and marketing will benefit all the participating schools, she said.

“It allows the principals to do the job we were basically hired to do, which is to support teachers and families and collaborate to ensure the highest educational programming and student success possible,” Hatlestad said. “Right now, we’re having to do that plus HR, plus marketing, plus finance, plus development. It forces us to put on a lot of hats, so [CCS] allows the principals to take off a few of those hats and focus on the hats they should be focused on.”

For past coverage regarding Catholic Community Schools, visit, and click on “St. Cloud-area Catholic schools initiative.”

Author: The Visitor

The Visitor is the official newpaper for the Diocese of Saint Cloud.