Catholic school boards meet to plan future

By Jennika Baines
SUN Assoc. Editor

After some careful thinking and even more careful tallying, the percentages ranged from stellar 100 percent to dismal outcomes of 17 percent and even lower.

Luckily, there were no students, but rather diocesan school board members who were puzzling over the right answers to some tricky questions about the future of Catholic schools.

Diocesan school board members met Nov. 19 at Christ the King Retreat Center in Syracuse to participate in a day-long seminar. Members from Broome County’s Catholic school board were also in attendance. The seminar was organized by diocesan superintendent Chris Mominey and led by Regina Haney, the executive director of the Department of Boards and Councils, a department of the National Catholic Educational Association.

As part of the day, Haney asked board members to evaluate a series of statements regarding both the diocesan schools and the board itself.

Statements like, “The primary criteria of our schools’ success are student learning and human and Christian formation” received 100 percent agreement from all the board members gathered.

But then came statements like, “The evaluation of our teachers and administrators is conducted fairly and effectively,” which received 17 percent agreement. So did the statement “We regularly report to our school communities on the achievement of our board’s mission and objectives.”

The statement, “Our schools’ annual income and development fund goals are sufficient for each school’s needs,” received 0 percent agreement.

Haney said the focus of the day was to construct ways to make the board more viable, sustainable and effective. “How can we make this diocesan board more effective and how can it better assist the bishop and Chris at the local level?” she asked.

A major focus of the day was to help the board form committees that respond to the needs of the schools.

From the meeting came the awareness of needed improvement in areas of planning and marketing. As an outcome of the day-long seminar, a new committee has been formed to deal with these topics. “We’ll have three committees and their challenge will be to polish up the plans and bring it to the full board for approval,” Haney said. An executive committee has existed from the diocesan school board’s inception, and a financial committee was formed last year.

Haney said one of the major challenges for the board until this point was a lack of empowerment. “They have a lot to give and they want their support to make a difference,” she said.

The diocesan school board meets monthly at Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School. It operates under a constitution and board members are nominated and serve fixed terms once they have been appointed by the bishop. Board members represent members of women and men religious as well as lay people from all the regions of the diocese.

Mike Reiner, a parishioner of St. Paul’s Church in Oswego, serves as the chairperson of the board.

“Basically, I lead the meetings and I work with Chris to put together agendas and make sure the committees are ready for the key areas of concern,” Reiner said. “The most important thing the diocesan school board does is to support the superintendent in trying to accomplish his goals,” said Reiner. “We are the people that, whenever Chris has a big concern, he can come to us and say, ‘Hey, guys, how do you think we need to attack this?’”

Reiner said one of the biggest concerns facing the board is how to draw more input from parents. Ideas for making feedback easier to give and receive will be one of the major concerns for the next year, he said.

Even though Reiner grew up in Kansas City, he said he became involved in Catholic schools in this diocese because of what his own experiences in Catholic education from first through 12th grade gave him. “I believe that gave me the foundation for all the success I’ve had since then,” he said.

“The role of the board is to work with the Catholic Schools Office to review issues within the Catholic schools and to try to put together long-term plans to ensure the longevity of the schools far into the future,” Reiner said.

Sister Mary Ellen Shirtz, CSJ, has been involved with the diocesan school board for over six years, and she said there are a few key differences between a public school board and a diocesan school board.

“We always kind of chuckle and say ‘They get paid.’” But she said a real difference lies in the scope of the board. Public school boards work more closely with personnel and human resource matters like hiring new teachers. The diocesan board works more specifically with topics like tuition and financial policy and administrative staff.

And, of course, a persistent concern is the need to maintain viable enrollment figures, particularly during a time when the recession can make paying tuition fees increasingly difficult. To ensure that the board is able to make decisions that address these concerns, the school board committees will include members from the community. “The committees do not have to be made up of board members. We can pull in experts in the field,” Sister Mary Ellen said.

Even more significantly, she said a major part of the board’s purpose is to nurture the Catholic vision of the schools into the future.

Sister Mary Ellen was a product of St. Anthony’s School and went on to teach at Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School for 13 years and at Bishop Ludden High School for four years. She also worked in the School Office for eight years.

“I have a real commitment to seeing quality Catholic education continue,” she said, “because it is the future of our church.”

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