Catholic schools make the grade

Review board gives high marks for leadership, faith formation

The rigorous academics and cultivation of the whole child set Catholic schools atop the Mile High City, a review board reported.

After the Archdiocese of Denver’s elementary and high schools were observed and interviewed last fall, an international accreditation team reported an exceptional education and commitment to nurturing the faith that consistently outranks other schools.

“It’s really wonderful news,” said associate superintendent Sister of Charity of Leavenworth Elizabeth Youngs about the accreditation report. “This communicates that we are really faithful to our brand. Our brand is that the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic schools are an investment in the future of your children and our Catholic faith. And that it is a good investment.”

The external review team called AdvancED Accreditation Commission released a 33-page review with a comparison of the archdiocese’s Catholic schools to the more than 1,020 private and public school districts similarly reviewed by the commission across the United States. The commission also reviews schools around the world.

“The opportunity to visit classrooms in the Archdiocese of Denver revealed a committed faculty and staff that are implementing the archdiocesan mission to cultivate in students and the whole school community a love for Jesus Christ, fidelity to his Church, and a commitment to the dignity of the whole person by development of the talents of every student to the fullest,” the report read. “In a very supportive, highly structured, predictable and caring environment, students are challenged to reach their full potential.”

Most notable for school administrators were the nearly perfect scores for governance and leadership, high scores for Catholic identity and whole-child formation.

In five of seven categories used to rate classroom environments, the archdiocese’s Catholic schools exceeded national averages. The review team gave Catholic schools a 3.34 in supportive learning compared to 3.05 nationally, and 2.98 in high expectations compared to 2.81 nationally, among other high scores.

The findings were based on 188 interviews with a cross-section of school communities, including superintendents, pastors, teachers, parents and students. The AdvancED team, consisting of professional peers and other Catholic school superintendents, also observed 74 classrooms to verify a self-assessment completed by the archdiocese.

“Archdiocese of Denver schools aren’t ‘test-centered factories,’ but rather Christ-centered communities that seek the ‘formation of the whole child,’ Richard Thompson, superintendent, told the Denver Catholic after the week-long review.

The last five-yearly review of the archdiocese in 2010 resulted in an award from the commission titled “State Excellence in Education.” Sisters Youngs also received an award in 2011 for “Leading by Example” in the archdiocese.

The accreditation team also suggested areas of improvement. Primarily, the team recommended improved communication with parents about their role as the primary educators of their children. Second, schools could work to improve educational support for students with special needs and conduct a study on the impact of Catholic school funding on programs and services.

“A lot of people had input on this and the purpose is continuous improvement,” Sister Youngs said. “We’re always growing and we’re always getting better.”

The accreditation of the archdiocese’s 37 parochial elementary schools and two high schools with a total of 9,540 enrolled students will be finalized this month. The Office of Catholic Schools plans to release the review and survey results this spring.

“People always say, ‘How do I know that this Catholic school is as good as the public school that I could be sending my kid to?’” Sisters Youngs shared. “We can’t do an apples to apples (comparison) on test scores, but an accreditation like this, which uses the same kinds of standards that would be used for public schools, says that we’d stand up very well. We deliver.”

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash