School of Thought

Aug. 5-18, 2004
School of Thought
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Immaculate Conception Works to put Strategic Plan in Place

In an effort to remain viable in a rapidly changing educational environment, to foster communication between community and school and to give schools the tools required to become more organized and focused, the diocese has requested that all elementary schools develop a three-to-five year strategic plan.

Father Charles Vavonese, Assistant Superintendent of Catholic Schools, said that the process is designed to take Catholic schools from a charismatic leadership to an institutional leadership. Father Vavonese defined charismatic leadership as leadership attributed to one individual trying to motivate others toward fulfillment of their vision. Institutional leadership is a broader concept where everyone in the institution works together to develop the vision and collaborates to bring the vision to fruition.

To assist elementary schools in outlining and fulfilling their objectives, the diocese has hired an outside strategic planning consulting company, Catholic School Management, Inc. to help with the process. “The consulting company will help move the school toward the future,” said Father Vavonese. “This process is more consultative than any other plan in our schools. It gives the parents and parishioners an opportunity to recommend the shaping and direction of the school to the pastor and the Catholic School Office,” he said. “It also empowers the strategic planning committee at a local level to carry out the plan.”

Each school will be required to assess eight areas of its institution –– Catholic identity, ownership and governance of the school, enrollment, curriculum, staffing, facilities, finances, and development and public relations. Upon completion and approval of the newly formulated mission statement, committees were formed to research each topic thoroughly, to write narratives with supporting documentation explaining a viewpoint and to create surveys to be distributed to the parents, faculty and parishioners.

At the end of the first year, once the strategic plan is in place, the school committees focused on communication –– looking at what type of image the school is projecting to the community and how that image could be changed and/or enhanced. At Immaculate Conception School, a committee of eight volunteers made up of five parents, a teacher, the principal and a parish representative, have been giving their time and talent over the past year to create and implement a strategic plan. The group has logged over 40 hours brainstorming, communicating, planning, developing and instituting the goals and mission of the school.

Principal Sally Lisi said that the long-range goals of the school include strengthening school/community relationships, integrating technology into the curriculum for all grade levels and developing a clear, concise mission statement. “We started the process last year,” said Lisi. “We took a look at our mission statement and put it out to the parents, faculty, staff, parishioners and Home School Association Board for suggestions and comments. It took from September to February to redraft and complete it,” she said.

The committee narrowed the narratives and came up with an analysis of the issues. Goals and objectives will be formulated and be presented to the parents, parishioners, staff and home school board for their input before it goes to the pastor and superintendent. Lisi said that while still in the planning stages, positive things have already begun to happen as a result of discussions taking place. “We have an assistant professor from Syracuse University who has volunteered to work with us on how to use technology in all subject matters throughout the day,” said Lisi. “That was one of our goals.”

Lisi also said that the school is building a stronger sense of community between the parish and school. “We came up with a social event that will benefit both the parish and school,” she said. “It’s not just what we are planning and working on; it’s all the good things that are happening as a result of our discussions, initiatives and enthusiasm. This community has really taken ownership.” “One of Immaculate Conception’s goals was to come up with an endowment for the school. The event they have planned is a part of that,” said Father Vavonese. He said that each school is encouraged to look for grant money to help offset expenses. “There are 45 organizations who give money to Catholic institutions,” said Father Vavonese. “In addition to searching for grant money, the consulting firm will teach schools how to conduct an annual appeal –– to invite people to participate in their mission through time, talent or treasure. They will learn how to do it effectively.”

At a recent committee meeting, the members were working on one of the most important objectives of the school –– Catholic identity. “Catholic identity sells the school,” said parent representative Peter Catalano. “There’s more to education than reading, writing and math. Education has to be based on strong morality. It forms a conscience or a knowledge of what constitutes right and wrong.” Paul Predmore, chair of the committee, added that Catholic identity is a unique aspect of Immaculate Conception or any Catholic school. “It’s one of the number one reasons people send their children to a Catholic school –– to instill a strong Catholic identity in them.” “What makes us uniquely Catholic is that we provide a Catholic education in the context of a liturgical lifestyle,” said Lynn Satterly, another parent representative. “The Gospel values have to form both the academic program and the human relationships that take place on a daily basis.”

In addition to discussing and defining Catholic identity, the group continued the process of identifying additional goals and objectives. Committee member Paula Engel voiced her commitment to the group stating, “I want to make sure the school will be around in 10 or 20 years, that it will grow and improve,” she said. “Hopefully, Immaculate Conception will become more visible in the community. The more we can become involved in the community and the more the community realizes what a viable asset we are, the greater the community and school will benefit.”

“In order for the Catholic schools to remain viable, we have to look toward the future,” said Father Vavonese. “There’s a saying that if you don’t plan your future, someone else will. Education has changed and continues to change. We need to keep our finger on the pulse and make sure we are changing what we need to in order to prepare our children for the future.” As an active parent who has three children enrolled at Immaculate Conception School, Engel said that Immaculate Conception is an amazing school considering the small number of people who are actively involved in the management of it. “I want to see Immaculate Conception be everything that it can be,” said Engel. “Its potential is sky high. Immaculate Conception is a treasure.”

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