A new school, Hispanic outreach, affordable tuition plan underway in Catholic schools

Q&A: Superintendent highlights progress made toward achieving vision document goals

Roxanne King

A year ago, the archdiocese’s Catholic Schools Office released a vision statement listing characteristics that make a school “Catholic.” The document, “Worthy of the Name,” highlights goals related to mission, excellence, accessibility and sustainability. With Catholic Schools Week approaching, superintendent Kevin Kijewski, spoke with the Denver Catholic last week about those goals.

To read the latest school vision document, “Worthy of the Investment,” visit denvercatholicschools.com

Denver Catholic: How are you helping the schools to achieve their mission?

Superintendent Kevin Kijewski: One thing we did was the archbishop’s visitation of our Catholic high schools to evaluate their Catholic identity and their mission. We went to all six of the high schools and gave them recommendations. That was a first for the archdiocese and an important first step.

Coming up March 17 is the archbishop’s Catechetical Day for all 1,147 Catholic educators in the archdiocese. We’ll gather them to promote development in the faith so they in turn can give that to their students. They’ll celebrate Mass with Archbishop Samuel Aquila and Bishop Jorge Rodriguez. We’ll have speakers [including Tom Burnford, president of the National Catholic Educators Association] and we’ll have lunch. This is also a first for the Catholic Schools Office.

DC: What measures are being taken to achieve excellence?

KK: We established a pilot board of specified jurisdiction at St. Joseph School in Fort Collins. The board can help direct the school: they assist the pastor in operating it, supervise the principal and set a positive strategic direction. These boards are not new, but are new to Colorado. Of the schools using these, 70 percent were able to increase enrollment and 100 percent were able to increase fundraising. We hope to introduce this into more Catholic schools starting with the 2017-2018 academic year. That’s a good positive development.

Another exciting thing is we’re opening up a brand new school with a new education model, Frassati Catholic Academy. Frassati is a classical educational environment for kids in grades kindergarten through five that will open this fall.

We’re also looking at other academic opportunities for schools to pursue apart from the traditional educational model, including what we’re calling “faith and reason schools” that have a focus on the sciences and mathematics but also have a faith component.

And we hired an instructional effectiveness specialist (IES), which is like a teacher coach. Abriana Chilelli is working with a handful our schools, specifically principals and teachers, to ensure that instruction is brought to the next level, that we have individualized instruction, and that every child receives a top-notch education.

DENVER, CO, 2015: Kevin Kijewski is the Superintendent of Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools. Photo by Jason Taylor

Kevin Kijewski is the Superintendent of Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools. (Photo by Jason Taylor)

DC: How are you improving accessibility to Catholic schools?

KK: We hired a director of Latino enrollment and engagement, Carlos Hernandez. He’s working with about 10 schools and is making great progress. He’s working hand-in-hand with Bishop Rodriguez and with the University of Notre Dame. Over half the people attending Mass on Sundays in the archdiocese are Latino but only about 20 percent of our [Catholic school] students are Latino. We’re going to catch up!

We are developing leadership within our schools, specifically principals and pastors, to be more culturally in tune with the Latino community. So we have good things in terms of accessibility happening from the chancery with Hernandez and at the local level, too.

DC: What is being done to make Catholic schools sustainable for the future?

KK: We are on track for the 2018-2019 academic year to have a variable or needs-based economic system where all Catholics can send their kids to a Catholic school should they desire. It doesn’t matter if you make $30,000 or $300,000, we’re going to make sure you can afford tuition. Everyone is going to pay a different rate. We’re going to be the first Catholic school system in the country—in the country—that has this particular kind of pricing. We’re really looking forward to doing this. We’re working with a focus group of priests and business managers for this project. We’re on track.

DC: Name the biggest challenge bringing the goals to completion.

KK: We’re working with a vast network of Catholic education advocates and supporters: principals, pastors, philanthropists and parents. There are many moving parts but we’re determined to succeed.

DC: What are you most proud of thus far related to efforts on the goals?

KK: The work effort, determination and tenacity of the stakeholders. They care about Catholic schools and they’re willing to share in the work to get the goals accomplished.

COMING UP: Worthy of the Name: Vision document aims to revitalize Catholic schools

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Catholic schools week is Jan. 31 – Feb 6, and in honor of the occasion, the Office of Catholic Schools is releasing a vision document highlighting what characteristics make a school deserving of the title “Catholic.”

At last year’s Catholic school symposium, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila gathered with over 200 teachers, principals, pastors and archdiocesan leaders to discuss ways to overcome the challenges facing Catholic schools.

The fruits of the symposium have manifested themselves in a vision document titled “Worthy of the Name.”

The opening letter for the document, penned by Archbishop Aquila and Superintendent of Catholic Schools Kevin Kijewski, describes the mission of Catholic schools as assisting “parents in helping their children encounter Jesus Christ and the gift of our Catholic faith,” and speaks of the vision formulated as a result of the symposium.

“This vision is ambitious,” the letter states, “But rightly so, since the issues we are facing are significant and cannot be remedied without robust solutions.”

The document describes four focus areas: “On mission,” “Excellent in every way,” “Accessible to all,” and “Sustainable for the future.”

On Mission

With authentic discipleship in schools being a key focus of the plan, the hiring process for Catholic school teachers is going to be refined and will include a stronger focus on ensuring the teachers hired are what the vision document refers to as “disciple-teachers.” It also involves administrators and candidates discerning the profession of being a teacher at a Catholic school as a vocation and not just a job.

“Being a teacher at a Catholic school is a vocation, a calling that God gives to those whom he wants to play a vital role in helping parents,” the strategic plan states. “Teachers should strive to possess and communicate real Christian wisdom and virtue in teaching. The method of such teachers ought to convey to their students and awaken in them something beyond the subject by helping them understand the subject’s proper place in the students’ lives, showing them how it points to the universal truths of Creation and giving them a love for learning.”

In order to foster this mentality of discipleship, the Office of Catholic Schools will be implementing ongoing formation programs for its school employees as well as a mentoring program.

To ensure the highest-quality teachers are hired and to promote excellence from them, a new hiring toolkit with the intent of finding and forming disciple-teachers is being developed, as well as an improved teacher evaluation instrument “that will assess behaviors, actions and practices that are used by highly-effective Catholic school teachers.”Worthy of the name cover

Excellent in Every Way

The vision document also goes into detail about the role Catholic schools play in the formation of the entire person, their function in supporting families and their need for continuity and security.

To better compete with the education market, the Office of Catholic Schools will be assisting schools in developing new methods and innovations to meet the unique needs of students and provide an even higher quality of education to its students.

“This will assist schools in becoming uniquely and individually excellent, all the while driving enrollment across the school system,” the plan states.

Boards of specified jurisdictions could also potentially be established at schools to help alleviate some of the challenges pastors face being the president of a school. By employing board members with specific areas of expertise, pastors are given the tools they need to govern parish schools more effectively, the plan states. The Office of Catholic Schools will pilot two boards of specified jurisdiction at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Denver and St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Fort Collins, and should they prove successful, similar models will be deployed in various configurations across the archdiocese.

Another important pillar of the “Excellent in every way” focus area is implementing a more effective marketing strategy to share with the public the many benefits of enrolling students in Catholic schools.

“There are already many aspects of our schools that make them very attractive, yet sometimes they are not readily known to the community, and especially prospective families of students,” the document states.

Accessible to All

The ever-growing Latino population in Denver, as well as other immigrant groups, are also addressed in the document.

“The future of the Catholic Church is closely bound to this growing population,” the plan states.

The Office of Catholic Schools will launch specialized efforts to ensure that the Latino and immigrant populations have access to Catholic education and that this demographic is better-represented in Catholic schools.

“Efforts to transform the Latino population into key stakeholders in parishes and schools are necessary for the archdiocese to thrive in the future,” the plan states.

Taking inspiration from the Marinas Model at the University of Notre Dame, The Office of Catholic Schools will implement a Latino Enrollment Initiative to draw more of the Latino population to schools.

“Communication with the Latino community is different than the communication methods typically used for non-Latino communities. Within the context of the new communication efforts for Catholic schools, particular attention and resources will be used to create a plan specifically for Latinos,” the plan states.

A new position specifically for this initiative will also be created in the Office of Catholic Schools. The Director of Latino Enrollment will coordinate and lead efforts to recruit and retain Hispanic students in all Catholic schools.

Finally, those in leadership positions will be trained in understanding the culture and faith of Latinos, and there will be a conscious effort to recruit and form leaders from within this population.

Sustainable for the Future

The final focus area of the school strategic plan addresses the business and financial aspects of Catholic schools.

This part of the strategic plan involves reworking school budgets, centralizing fundraising and raising teacher salaries.

The concept of developing “right-sized” school budgets is a central pillar of this focus area. The Office of Catholic Schools will require schools to turn in budgets based on a reasonable enrollment projection and a reasonable allocation of the parish’s offertory, the plan states. Additionally, “right-sized” target ratios between school personnel and students will be worked toward over the next several school years, which includes a goal of at least 20 students for every core teacher.

School budgets, tuition and financial aid will be based on per pupil costs. The plan states that “tuition across the system will be set to give families an even starting line.”

The Office of Catholic Schools will also develop a more cohesive network between each individual school in the archdiocese to address fundraising needs.

“Archdiocesan schools operate mostly autonomously from each other. The future success of Catholic schools in the archdiocese, especially with funding, will depend on system-wide solutions where appropriate,” the plan states.

A centralized method for fundraising will be developed for all archdiocesan K-12 schools. This will include a centralized financial aid system to assess individual family financial needs and disburse aid.

A discount will be offered as incentive for teachers to enroll their own kids in Catholic schools as well as for families to enroll multiple children.

The plan also addresses the question of teacher salaries. Salaries will be “prudently” raised to offer a more competitive and attractive environment and better recruit and retain highly effective teachers.

Worthy of the Name
Vision DocumentRead “Worthy of the Name” at DenverCatholicSchools.com
TeleforumDiscuss the vision document with Archbishop Aquila and Kevin Kijewski on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. Text “OCS” to 828282 to register.