Preliminary Plan Unveiled for Catholic Schools in Region

plan_school_11[1]ERIE, Pa. (EYT) – The Diocese of Erie has unveiled its long-awaited preliminary plan for Catholic schools throughout the 13-county diocese.

Preliminary Plan: Single School System

The preliminary plan—a top-to-bottom rethinking of Catholic education in the region—is part of a larger pastoral planning effort of the diocese, Prayer, Planning, Possibilities, that will ultimately include new initiatives for parishes and diocesan ministries as well.

“What we are presenting is nothing less than a rebirth of Catholic education in the Diocese of Erie,” said The Most Rev. Lawrence T. Persico, bishop of Erie. “Students in northwest Pennsylvania deserve the best education and higher education preparedness possible.

We’ve explored everything from technology and teacher recruitment to Catholic mission, advancement and enrollment management, always with an eye toward affordability and value.”

Bishop Persico said the comprehensive plan is developed on a solid foundation of both data and significant insights from school leadership around the diocese. It provides observations, goals and strategies for Mission and Catholic Identity; Governance and Leadership; Academic Excellence; and Operational Vitality. The plan includes recommendations for significant changes at the majority of schools, most notably in the Erie area.

Until now, many schools in the diocese, particularly in the Erie area, have operated independently. The plan calls for the creation of a single school system in the Greater Erie Area with multiple PreK-5 campuses and two middle schools for students in grades 6 through 8. As with other school systems within the diocese, a board will be established to oversee it. In addition, all Catholic schools in the diocese will now be guided by the leadership of the newly created position of superintendent of schools. The eleven schools across the diocese currently not connected to a school system will form a consortium to enjoy improvements in academic quality and operational efficiency similar to system-affiliated schools. The hope is to implement most of the changes by the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year; some could occur earlier depending on fundraising.

The system will mean more collaboration and less competition among the schools, ensuring consistency in everything from tuition rates to academic offerings. Sharing resources will create an economy of scale that will significantly improve the educational value.

The plan, presented to clergy, principals and diocesan administrators Oct. 27, was subsequently shared with faculty members, school families and diocesan employees.

Local Impact

EASTERN VICARIATE

The Easter Vicariate covers Cameron, Clearfield, Elk, Jefferson, McKean and Potter counties. There are five elementary schools and two PreK-12 school systems in the Eastern Vicariate. Among the stand-alone elementary schools, three are PreK-8, one is PreK-5 and one is PreK-6.

DuBois Area Catholic Schools
(DuBois Area Catholic School, DuBois, DuBois Central Catholic High School, DuBois Central Catholic Middle School, DuBois Central Catholic Elementary School)

DuBois Area Catholic School’s strategic plan will be expanded with further detail and action steps. The funding plan and tuition plan will be brought into alignment with the new direction for funding Catholic education in the diocese. Effort will be put into differentiating the high school and middle school from public school programs. The schools will build on their strong academic image.

St. Francis Catholic School, Clearfield
St. Francis Catholic School in Clearfield will continue as a parish school serving grades PreK- 8 with a vision to serve the wider region. A school advisory council with members from various supporting parishes will support enrollment and marketing, partnerships within the community, stronger parent support and endowments. The school will also become a part of the consortium of schools not currently part of a school system, enjoying similar improvements in academic quality and operational efficiency. It will work more closely with the DuBois Area Catholic School to retain families through grade 12, studying issues including transportation, financial assistance and academic articulation.

Elk County Catholic Schools
(Elk County Catholic High School, St. Marys Catholic Middle School, and St. Marys Catholic Elementary School)

Schools in the Elk County Catholic School System include Elk County Catholic High School, St. Marys Catholic Middle School and St. Marys Elementary School, PreK-grade 5. The school system will develop a comprehensive strategic plan, identifying goals and strategies regarding finance, marketing, curriculum and teacher compensation. The system will expand to include two PreK-5 satellite campuses, one at St. Boniface in Kersey and the other at St. Leo in Ridgway.

St. Boniface Catholic School, Kersey
St. Boniface School will continue serving students in PreK through grade 5 and become a satellite campus of the Elk County Catholic School System in 2016-17. The Catholic identity and pastoral leadership for the spiritual program of the school will continue to be strongly supported by the pastors of nearby parishes. Students in grades 6-8 will be encouraged to attend St. Marys Catholic Middle School, followed by Elk County Catholic High School.

St. Leo Catholic School Ridgway
St. Leo School now will serve students in PreK through grade 5. It will also become a satellite campus of the Elk County Catholic School System in 2016-17, with students in grades 6-8 encouraged to attend St. Marys Catholic Middle School followed by Elk County Catholic High School. The Catholic identity and pastoral leadership for the spiritual program of the school will continue to be strongly supported by the pastors of nearby parishes.

Ss. Cosmas and Damian Catholic School, Punxsutawney
Ss. Cosmas and Damian School will move to a PreK-5 grade school in 2016-17. It will develop a curriculum that flows into DuBois Central Catholic Middle School and will coordinate efforts with the DuBois Area Catholic School to maximize the effect of the STAR scholarship money.

Increased investment in marketing and recruiting by building relationships establishing connections with young parents will be made. A professional development program will be established as well as a stronger identity as a Catholic school for the whole community. The school will also become a part of the consortium of schools not currently part of a school system, enjoying similar improvements in academic quality and operational efficiency.

St. Bernard School, Bradford
St. Bernard School in Bradford, the only Catholic school in McKean County, will remain a parish K-8 school. An enrollment management position will be established to increase marketing activities and expand recruiting into neighboring parishes as well as the wider community. Multi-age classes may be created to help with financial viability. The school will participate in the consortium of schools that are not part of a system in order to enjoy similar improvements in academic quality and operational efficiency.

WESTERN VICARIATE

The Western Vicariate covers Clarion, Crawford, Mercer, and Venango counties. There are six elementary schools, one high school and one PreK-12 school system in the Wester Vicariate. Four of the elementary schools are PreK-8 and two are PreK-6. Seton Catholic, in Meadville, is a multi-parish school.

Venango Catholic High School
Two options exist regarding the future of Venango Catholic High School. The plan calls for a facility analysis to establish an accurate cost projection for facility upgrades, a five-year enrollment projection and market research to gauge local interest in a Catholic high school.

The study will help determine if investing in the school will produce the enrollment necessary to sustain it as a high school meeting the Catholic school standards in the diocese. Several steps have been enumerated in the plan to make this assessment.

Should an influx of money, new programs and updated facilities not be viable, the second option is to close the school as it would not be able to offer the quality education students deserve.

St. Stephen School, Oil City
St. Stephen School in Oil City will remain a PreK-8 elementary school, but will join the consortium of schools that are not part of a school system, enjoying similar improvements in academic quality and operational efficiency. If it is determined Venango Catholic High School can remain viable, the diocese will explore the possibility of moving St. Stephen students into a new addition at VCHS built to accommodate the additional students and specialized facilities needed for a quality elementary school. St. Stephen School would then become a separately incorporated diocesan school for students in PreK-12, rather than a parish school.

St. Patrick School, Franklin
St. Patrick School in Franklin will remain a PreK-8 elementary school, but will join the consortium of schools that are not part of a school system, enjoying similar improvements in academic quality and operational efficiency. If it is determined Venango Catholic High School can remain viable, St. Patrick School will be invited into a new school system in Oil City along with St. Stephen Elementary School for greater financial efficiency and academic articulation.

St. Michael School, Greenville
St. Michael School in Greenville will be maintained as a parish PreK-8 school. An enrollment management position will be established to increase marketing activities and expand recruiting into neighboring parishes as well as the wider community. The need for a PreK-3-year-old program will be studied. The school will participate in the consortium of schools that are not part of a system in order to enjoy similar improvements in academic quality and operational efficiency. It will also work with the Kennedy Catholic Family of Schools to retain families through grade 12, studying issues including transportation, financial assistance, academic articulation, and combined marketing.

Immaculate Conception School, Clarion, PreK-8/St. Joseph School, Lucinda, PreK-6
Immaculate Conception School in Clarion and St. Joseph School in Lucinda will be maintained as parish schools, collaborating in both marketing and curriculum. Both schools will participate in the consortium of schools that are not part of a system in order to enjoy similar improvements in academic quality and operational efficiency. If enrollment increases, Immaculate Conception could be expanded to include a Catholic middle school for the county. If it is not viable, students will be encouraged to continue their Catholic education in Oil City or DuBois.

Seton Catholic School, Meadville
Seton Catholic School, the only Catholic school in Crawford County, will be maintained as a multi-parish, PreK-8 school. While enrollment has remained stable for the past six years, a projected decline in baptisms and First Eucharists will impact the number of students available in the future.

The school will create a long-range facilities plan, and develop a subsidy formula among the sponsoring parishes. It will also strengthen parish connections and support for encouraging children to attend the school.

Seton Catholic will participate in the consortium of schools that are not part of a system in order to enjoy similar improvements in academic quality and operational efficiency.

plan_school_3[1]Final Approval Slated for Early 2016

The plan is the result of more than a year of work under the leadership of the Catholic Education Task Force of the Pastoral Planning Committee in concert with the Catholic Schools Office and Meitler consultants. Schools now have until December 1 to review details of the plan and offer feedback. Bishop Persico will approve a final plan in early 2016.

It draws significantly on the inspiration of a 2005 document from the U.S. Bishops titled, Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium. It states, “Young people are a valued treasure and the future leaders of our Church. It is the responsibility of the entire Catholic community…to strive toward the goal of making our Catholic elementary and secondary schools available, accessible and affordable to all Catholic parents and their children, including those who are poor and middle class.”

The plan is a culmination of an effort that included statistical analysis, visits to every school and the help of professional consultants. While Bishop Persico expressed his confidence in the plan, he acknowledged change always presents challenges.

“People have great pride in their schools and rightly so. Once they have a chance to absorb the emotion of the news, I believe they will see the wisdom in the recommendations,” he said.

Bishop Persico noted he is proud of the leadership evident throughout the plan.

“As we unveil this first significant initiative, I believe people will understand its importance,” he said. “We are taking full advantage of this moment, allowing for inspiration and innovation.” The bishop expects planning to be an ongoing commitment for Catholic schools and parishes, and recognizes that recommendations will take time to implement. But with today’s announcement, Bishop Persico said the Diocese of Erie has taken a vital step in the right direction.

“The goal from the very beginning was to raise the standard for education across the region, ensuring generations of children will have access to quality academics in a faith-based environment,” Bishop Persico said. “I feel a great responsibility to the sisters and priests and families who came before us—they poured their lives into our Catholic schools. We’re doing our best to honor that legacy and to make sure that future generations will have the same opportunities we have enjoyed for more than 150 years.”

Four Key Components of Preliminary Strategic Plan

An overview of each of the four key components of the Preliminary Strategic Plan for Catholic Schools as well as details of the plan in a school-by-school listing are available at Eriercd.org/planning.asp.

Discussion about the need for a pastoral plan began less than a year after the arrival of Bishop Persico, who was installed as bishop in October 2012. In August 2014, the diocese engaged the nationally recognized consulting firm of Meitler. Based in Milwaukee, Meitler has worked with more than 120 dioceses and 2,000 Catholic and religious schools since 1971, with an emphasis on strategic planning, demographic and market research and enrollment management. The firm has been working with Catholic school leaders throughout the diocese to form a new vision and practical plan that will move schools toward a desired future.

As part of the process, the diocese developed a listing of Key Indicators for a Healthy School, based on National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools promulgated by the National Catholic Education Association. Parish and school leaders had a number of opportunities to contribute to an understanding of the current state of Catholic education and offer ideas to shape the plan. They are now being asked to respond to proposed goals and strategies.

Catholic Education Task Force Established

To guide the development of the plan, a Catholic Education Task Force was estab-lished. Members reviewed data gathered by the Catholic Schools Office and Meitler. Every school in the diocese was visited, engaging administrators who provided vital information. In addition, community demographics were collected and relevant parish data was compiled in order to create a complete picture of those trends affecting Catholic schools.

This information was shared in multiple forums, and used by the task force to form a draft. Working subcommittees of the task force included Catholic identity, academic excellence and school finances.

The plan is being unveiled in preliminary form. Officials at the Diocese of Erie said that while plan is a collaborative effort integrating the work of the groups already enumerated, they want the people who will implement the plan and those affected by its recommendations to have an opportunity to provide feedback. School administrators have access to a confidential online form developed for this purpose; individuals who would like to submit feedback will find a similar form developed for this purpose at www.ErieRCD.org/planning.asp.

The final plan will be approved by Bishop Persico after consulting with the Priests Council, the College of Deans and the Administrative Cabinet in early 2016.


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