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Catholic schools make the grade

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.”

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