Learn and Grow

March 27, 2003
Learn and Grow
By Howie Mansfield
St. Mary’s School unveils long-range strategic plan

CORTLAND — Staying ahead of the curve has been one of the cornerstones of St. Mary’s School in Cortland. The school continues to be an example for diocesan Catholic schools, implementing innovative ideas and changes to help students learn and be prepared better for high school and beyond.

During Catholic Schools week in January, St. Mary’s School announced the adoption of its Strategic Long Range Plan for the coming years. Sister Harriet Hamilton, OSF, principal of St. Mary’s School, formed the 45-member planning committee last spring and contracted the services of Catholic School Management, Inc. to provide direction for the strategic planning. After many hours of meetings, in-depth days of discussion and consultation, St. Mary’s School had its plan approved and ratified.

“We are extremely grateful to a considerable number of volunteer leaders who have devoted their time and effort over several months to construct a creative blueprint for the continued growth and development of St. Mary’s School,” said Father John Fenlon, pastor of St. Mary’s Church, in a statement. “The entire community can take pride in knowing that a Catholic school education will be available at the elementary level for area families for many years to come.”

Sister Harriet said she is pleased with the goals and objectives the planning committee has set for the school for the coming years. She feels each goal and objective is attainable and is looking forward to achieving them. St. Mary’s School separates the strategic long-range plan into eight categories — ownership and governance, Catholic identity, curriculum, staffing, enrollment, building and grounds, development and marketing, and finances. Lisa Morris, president of the advisory school board and member of the strategic planning committee, said Sister Harriet has been a true leader for the school. “We needed to start with a visionary. Sister provides that,” Morris said. Norm Haley, coordinator of the marketing and development efforts at the school, said Sister Harriet provided important information to the planning committee when it met last May to begin creating the long-range plan. “She has been the driving force behind this planning. She gave us a history of the school, statistics and an array of other data, so we could grab ahold of the topics,” Haley said.

The long-range planning committee completed assessment of the school, along with discussing strengths and weaknesses. From its analysis, the planning committee agreed on goals and objectives. “It was an intense process. It was very time consuming,” Morris said. “In the end, we came to good conclusions on the issues.”

Regarding ownership and governance, the long-range plan calls for the hiring of a vice principal and streamlining its organizational chart. Sister Harriet said this move would allow for the workload of the principal to be distributed between two people. Under Catholic identity, St. Mary’s will continue to “maintain a comprehensive Catholic education that builds a solid faith foundation for our students, as outlined by diocesan standards.”

The curriculum objectives would integrate more technology into the classrooms. Sister Harriet said students are coming to St. Mary’s more interested in learning at younger ages today than in the past because of technology at home. The school hopes to contract a part-time technology person to oversee the school’s plans for technology. St. Mary’s has always prided itself on enrollment. “We are one of the few schools with a waiting list,” Sister Harriet said. “Many kids are on our pre-K waiting list before they are even born.” St. Mary’s School currently has 415 students in attendance. In its goals, St. Mary’s will focus on maintaining enrollment while designing more extra-curricular programs.

Another area of growth is in building and grounds. A long-range facility master plan is being created to support the educational goals of the school and parish. “We are looking to add some playground equipment for the students,” Sister Harriet said. “We are also looking into getting a new sign for the front of the school.” Development and marketing have become increasingly important, Sister Harriet said. “We are restructuring our development and marketing. We have many groups working together and getting better organization,” she said. “We have alumni, parents, teachers and members of the committee all getting involved.”

Haley said the school’s upcoming 75th anniversary next year would be an opportunity to market the school to the community. Morris said St. Mary’s School teaches Gospel values, even to its non-Catholic students. “My first impressions of the school were validated by being on the committee. One of the first things I saw in the school was the sign saying, ‘Jesus is the reason.’ I still remember that today. Everyone here not only talks the talk, but walks the walk,” Morris said. “They do a very good job extending values to many religious backgrounds. They give the children the tools to be good citizens and to lead successful lives.”

Sister Harriet said St. Mary’s students go onto public junior high schools and high schools and they are very successful. “Within a couple of weeks, public school teachers tell me they can pick out the St. Mary’s students. They are respectful, have strong study skills,” said Sister Harriet. “We demand they learn the curriculum. They take all of the New York State testing. We make sure they are prepared.” Observations of St. Mary’s graduates were recorded in a promotional brochure in February 2002, from St. Mary’s School classes of 1996, 1999 and 2000. Their comments reflect the importance of the school in their lives, Haley said. “The school has helped me in making tough decisions, avoiding peer pressure, making good friends, and giving me self-confidence,” said St. Mary’s graduate Gabe Fadale in the brochure. “The community of St. Mary’s was kind and caring and everyone looked out for everyone else. The students were great and had respect for teachers and others. St. Mary’s definitely is a great place to learn and to grow.”

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