December 2023 Newsletter


Hands-on the wheel with an intentional gaze forward, we briefly look into the rearview mirror and see remnants of the Cares Act of 2020, the Paycheck Protection Program 1 and 2, PPP Loan Forgiveness, and the EANS program, all providing a stimulus to the operational vitality of Catholic schools over the past forty months. Looking further ahead as we maneuver along, the winds before us are changing, blowing from different directions, causing us to momentarily consider how these forces will affect our movement and trajectory.

Purposeful reflection reveals that pandemic-fueled federal programs behind us were helpful as Catholic schools took the lead nationwide to continue to educate our children using innovative pedagogy and atypical evangelization tools. Most Catholic schools continued to form students and families while other educational genres were stricken with paralysis and uncertainty. Consequently, national public school ACT scores have fallen every year in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, while Catholic school student performance has remained consistent, according to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). Enrollment trends are positive nationwide, and those who chose Catholic institutions to educate their children during the pandemic have remained in Catholic schools, as revealed by NCEA statistics. Retention of pandemic acquired students and funding has positively impacted our journey, but innovation must continue to capitalize on the recent stability.

As we move along, we peer ahead, and our hearts and minds tell us that the winds of change are indeed ahead. The pandemic support legislation and dollars are, in fact, behind us. We are now pondering how all of this will impact our forward movement. We grip the controls; we prepare ourselves and assemble our tools, adjusting quickly to changing forces. Lord, make haste to assist us.

The landscape of our travels is both beautiful and contradictory. The beauty of school choice initiatives have emerged in many states, particularly states that have Republican majorities. This is extremely helpful for the operational vitality of our Catholic schools, particularly in the area of enrollment management. Many states, including Florida and Indiana, have rolled out exceptional school choice programs that assist parents who aspire to educate their children in the Catholic academic tradition. In states such as Louisiana, school choice initiatives are on the horizon.

The question looms: Are we ready for this change? For schools that are located in states advocating for school choice, establishing a Strategic Growth Plan promoting Catholic excellence is essential. Continuing the traditions of Catholic school Academic Excellence is required of us by Canon Law. What an exciting journey this is going to be!

Gazing forward, I engage myself in thoughts of intentional action steps to implement in order to maintain firm control on the future pilgrimage. The assistance of the federal government during and after the pandemic has helped, but the time is now to establish a plan of success on our own. Do we have the facilities and programs necessary to advance our mission as the winds of change blow?

The very first step to ensure that our travels are without bumpy, uncertain, and aimless moments is to create our Strategic Growth Plan. Experience informs us that the best Catholic roadmaps are done in one of two ways:

  1. Alignment with the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools
    • Mission and Catholic Identity
    • Leadership and Governance
    • Academic Excellence
    • Operational Vitality
  2. Alignment with the core values of the charism of the school (I will use the Salesian charism as an example).
    • A home that welcomes
    • A church that evangelizes
    • A school that prepares for life
    • A playground where students can meet and make friends for life

If you do not have a plan, you can end up wandering aimlessly. As Waze or Google Maps show us the way, our Catholic school must have a forward-thinking plan to show us the path to reach our preferred destination.

As we travel along, we know we must stay awake, remain cognizant of the most efficient routes, and abide by the rules to reach our destination. Using our plan to provide direction for the journey, making our trek as efficient and fruitful as possible, we must decide on Planning Areas. Enrollment Management is a must. The thought dawns on me as I move along that an annual Enrollment Management planning focus must become part of my annual expedition. Without students in the seats, we lose opportunities to evangelize families. Effective communication is essential to building community and informing others of the stops along the journey. Funding the journey appropriately is a necessity, and a collaborative budgeting process and an Annual Fund plan ensures that we have the resources to meet the needs of our journey. In addition, we must continuously evaluate our facilities and develop forward-thinking, but realistic, plans for the future. Proper maintenance or new additions may require a Financial Feasibility Study and Capital Campaign.

John 10 tells us, “I have come that you may have life, and have it in abundance.” It is our duty to do all that we can to provide the very best educational journey for our children. Catholic Identity, infused with Academic Excellence, allows our students to experience self-actualization. Moving along and experiencing winds of change must not cause us to lose our way. We are called through our vocation as Catholic leaders to provide the very best for our students and families. As the wheel feels at ease in my palms, the realization that collaboration and an intense culture of planning is necessary to move through any tumultuous journey or challenging terrain. Gathering my team to plan for any destabilizing forces is on my mind.

As this thought calms me, I know that the opportunity to change the world through a robust Catholic education is before me. The challenges are immense, but surmountable, and the opportunities potent. School choice, inclusion, enhancing our parent partnerships, and using the next ten years of the wealth transfer in America to solidify our mission, vision, and core values are exciting while moving along. Considering legacy giving events, succession planning activities, and the establishment of a robust advancement/development system create a stir in my heart while traveling along the winding path. Engaging others in our journey is a breathtaking necessity as we move into the next phase of our journey. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. As our travels unfold, gathering others to build a culture of belonging seems to be the logical next step. Belonging is believing, and my thoughts transition to my next steps . . . together.

ISPD December 2023 newsletter was written by Dr. Mark Williams, Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux and an ISPD associate.

ISPD stands ready to partner with you as you take the next steps in this exciting journey.

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