Archbishop Aquila calls school principals to encounter Christ

At a special Mass for local Catholic school principals Aug. 8, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila challenged the educators to first and foremost pursue a relationship with Christ, that they may have an encounter with him and lead the people they serve to that same encounter in their own lives.

“Each of us are called to encounter Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Aquila said. “Truly knowing him as our Lord, our savior, our redeemer. If we are not convinced of he truth of Jesus Christ, we will never hand on that gift of faith.”

The Mass was held at Christ the King chapel, located at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, one week prior to when kids and teachers headed back to school for the new school year. In his homily, Archbishop Aquila also spoke about St. Dominic and the way he constantly pointed to the truth of Christ in his teachings as a theologian and astronomer. He told the principals to bear these things in mind in their work as educators.

Principal Mass 2016 Selects-3

At a special Mass for Catholic school principals, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila commended them for their work and challenged them to bring those they serve into an encounter with Christ. (Photo by Andrew Wright | Denver Catholic)

In January, Archbishop Aquila and Catholic schools superintendent Kevin Kijewski released a vision document titled “Worthy of the Name.” The vision outlined the ways Denver Catholic schools would continue to provide quality education to its students and form intentional disciples of Jesus Christ, while also sharing plans for improvement. At the heart of the vision lies a strong faith in Jesus Christ, and he stressed that in order for the principals to be effective in their work in Catholic schools, they must first foster a relationship with Christ.

“If we are not convinced that Jesus is the Christ, that he is the word, then we are not worthy of the name Christian, we are not worthy of the name Catholic,” Archbishop Aquila told the principals. “That is why it is so important for us to be those who give ourselves completely to Christ. In the vision we have give for our Catholic schools, it is deeply rooted in the good news of Jesus Christ. [We must] proclaim that truth and [invite] our young people to be worthy of the name.”

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

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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.