Back to School: Catholic schools prepare students for success

by CAROL KOSTYNIAK
Thu, Sep 3rd 2015 08:00 am
Secretary for Education
Carol A. Kostyniak, Secretary for Catholic Education
Carol A. Kostyniak, Secretary for Catholic Education

Our Catholic schools are strong and advancing purposefully into the future.  Catholic schools are essential to the diocesan commitment to evangelization. Throughout the history of the diocese, our Catholic schools have been shining beacons of catechesis, social justice and daily living of the Gospel.

Academically, our schools enjoy an outstanding reputation for maintaining rigorous academic standards to prepare students for success in high school, college and careers in a globally-competitive workplace. The implementation of the STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) initiative has been highly successful in strengthening our academic programs while integrating our Catholic values into all aspects of the curriculum.  

A visitor to the schools will see students engaged in their learning through hands-on activities. This initiative was so impactful to the students, that on a crisp Sunday afternoon in December 2014, more than 600 parents and family members attended the first ever X-STREAM Expo. Visitors were awed by student-created displays and demonstrations.  

Student-built projects included the construction of a secure house for the three little pigs (pre-K - third grade); an arcade games challenge (grades 3-8); the launching of bottle rockets (grades 5-8); and a skills competition with student-fabricated remote controlled robots (grades 7-8). This exceptional day concluded with Mass celebrated by Bishop Richard J. Malone.

Ongoing professional development for teachers is a key component to the success of our schools. As the school year begins, national trainer Joyce Jackson of the Thoughtful Classroom team will facilitate an in-service for principals and teachers.

Participants will learn practical strategies and tools, which focus on classroom instruction, assessment and curriculum design. The Department of Catholic Schools recently hired a coordinator of professional development, Shelly Reidy, who plans to focus on English language arts and math instruction during the 2015-16 school year. The department is also researching a new program for the training and annual certification of our school catechists.

Leadership is essential in growing and strengthening our Catholic schools. Bishop Malone recently endorsed the implementation of school boards at all elementary schools in the diocese. With fewer priests, the laity is called to serve in a greater role to ensure the excellence and stability of the schools.

Composed of skilled members of the local parishes and community, the school boards will oversee the budget and financial health of the school, craft policies, develop strategic plans, and assist in marketing and enrollment management. Bylaws were created for these parish school boards under the direction of the Governance Committee of the Diocesan Catholic Schools Advisory Council, and sessions will be held for interested parties so that by early February 2016, each school will have a board in place.

Training on budgets and policies will be held throughout the year.
Seeking long-term sustainability, we are excited to announce the formation of a Young Catholic Alumni Network. These young alumni of our schools are eager to use their talents to assist the schools by becoming boards members, mentors, tutors and coaches. Engaging these recent graduates as they enter the workforce keeps them close to their roots and brings a fresh perspective and enthusiasm to our schools.  

Today, students and their families struggle with numerous health and human service concerns - special learning needs, divorce, financial concerns, family structure and self-esteem to name a few. It is essential that our schools recognize these realities in our society, which act as a barrier to a student's success.  

The Health and Human Service committee of the Diocesan Catholic Schools Advisory Council has engaged the School of Social work at Daemen College to survey schools on student needs and required services. The committee is now working to design a structure and seek funding to provide resources to meet the identified needs.

The second year of the Buffalo Diocesan Federation of Home-School Associations was highly successful. Parent leaders from elementary school communities across the diocese gathered to discuss and share ideas about such topics as fundraising, marketing and advocacy. Parents appreciated the opportunity to learn from each other and to understand the successes and challenges at our schools.

Led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop Malone, advocacy with the New York state legislature was elevated to a new height and included a visit by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Western New York. Although the NYS Assembly failed to bring the Education Tax Credit to the floor for a vote, we were successful in securing an agreement for the payment of $250 million in unreimbursed mandated services to Catholic and other religious and non-public schools around New York.  

This money has been owed for several years, and is greatly needed by our schools. We will continue the advocacy efforts to provide opportunities for young families to afford the school that best meets their child's needs.

We take seriously and are grateful for the sacrifice of our parents and parishioners who invest in our Catholic schools. We continue to work diligently to seek new ways to ensure the Catholic identity, high academic standards, and future of our schools, as we address the mind, body and soul of the students entrusted to our care.

 

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