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Report delves into school governance: philanthropists see new models as alternative to a culture of closings.

Catholic schools were once fairly straightforward operations. Typically, they were attached to a parish, Catholic kids from the neighborhood attended for little or no tuition, the pastor was the ultimate decider, and an order of women religious whose members lived in a nearby convent ran the place and taught the classes.

The days of that iconic version of things are gone, said Heather Gossart, senior consultant for the National Catholic Educational Association. It faded in the wake of the 1960s exodus from religious life and the subsequent demographic shifts that emptied inner cities of white, middle-class Catholics.

What remains of the Catholic school "system" today is often out of the reach of many Catholics because of greatly increased costs occasioned by a lay teacher force that hasn't taken a vow of poverty. Gone as well are diocesan high schools where tuition was most likely either nonexistent or so low anyone who wanted could attend a Catholic school.

The new reality doesn't mean that Catholic schools have disappeared or that they don't serve low-income students. But what exists today is often far different from the systems of the past, and the new forms have attracted the attention of Catholic philanthropists interested in the future of Catholic education.

Members of FADICA (Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities), an umbrella association of Catholic individuals and organizations, decided to sort out the various new structures of Catholic education emerging in recent years and produced a report titled "Breathing New Life into Catholic Schools: An Exploration of Governance Models."

The need for such information is clear. According to statistics compiled over decades by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, the number of Catholic elementary schools, for instance, has dropped from 10,667 in 1965 to 5,302 last year. During the same period, the number of students in Catholic elementary schools has dropped from 4.4 million to 1.3 million while the Catholic population has actually increased from 46.3 million to 68.1 million, according to the number of "parish-connected" Catholics calculated by the Official Catholic Directory.

The concern, then, is how to continue passing on the faith and shaping Catholic lives, a function that was once the province of the parochial school system, when the old form is obviously not sustainable today?

While some numbers are declining, the models of how to maintain Catholic education are growing. "Many of our members are really passionate about education, especially for young people and especially for low-income children who deserve an opportunity to learn and succeed," said Alicia Bondanella, director of program and member services for FADICA.

The members were hearing about new and different models of Catholic schools and became curious. Among the questions:

* How do these models work?

* Are some more successful than others?

* Who is ultimately responsible?

* How do they ensure the schools remain Catholic?

What resulted is "a practical tool to advance the understanding of the growing array of governance models," writes Alexia Kelley, FADICA president, in a letter introducing the study The work deals only with "governance of a high-level policy-making authority" and not day-to-day administration.

The report organizes the different models along the horizontal and vertical axes of a matrix.

The vertical axis runs from "central" governance at the top to "local" at the bottom. The horizontal axis runs from an "executive" model on the left to a "collegial" model on the right.

Models outlined on the central-to-local axis run from "total central control" in which schools are governed by a singular entity such as a diocese or nonprofit agency that controls the vast majority of governance decisions.

A "consortium" model is that in which schools are part of a single system, but the controlling entity has less control than does the "total central" model.

"Network affiliation" is the term used for systems in which a single entity oversees operations but in which most governance occurs at a local level "on a school by school basis."

A "collaborative system" is one in which schools "share overlapping operations or goals" and "may pool resources or collaborate in certain areas." Governance is left up to individual schools or regions. No "overarching entity" governs the system.

The most extreme example of "local" management entails schools that are independently run and managed with no sharing of resources, staff or goals.

On the horizontal axis, the possibilities run from the single individual (pastor, bishop, superintendent) with full executive authority to make all governance decisions, to a board of directors that has full authority and no executive. In the latter model, a pastor may oversee spiritual formation, but the executive "is functionally absent from most governance."

Between those extremes are models that include an "advisory/consultative" board that can make suggestions on policy but that also hold responsibility for all final decisions, as well as a "board of limited jurisdiction" which retains control over most areas of governance.

Most of the innovation at the current time is occurring in the quadrants that emphasize collegiality and cooperation. Those schools in the "local-executive" quadrant are the old-style structures that are now under greatest stress. "With a shortage of priests, the financial challenges that many dioceses face for other reasons, and the lack of training and mentoring that priests may have in the business of running schools, many parishes are no longer able to independently support and sustain schools," according to the report.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are those that fall into the "central-collegial" quadrant, "perhaps the most radical type of governance, insofar as it requires not only a bishop or pastor to delegate authority to a collegial board of some kind, but also requires multiple schools to buy into a collective system."

One example of this kind of governance is the Drexel School system, in the San Jose, Calif., diocese. It was launched in 2013 and is governed by "a limited jurisdiction board appointed by the bishop. It centralizes supervision of seven elementary schools to a director of operations in the department of education," according to the report.

Highly collaborative in structure, the system has shown "increased academic performance and reversed the trend of declining enrollment," says the report.

The trend toward experimenting with new models, said Gossart, began in the late 1970s and through the 1980s, when "a lot of pastors and bishops really had the foresight to say, 'We need outside help.'"

That era, she said, saw the emergence of school boards, parent advisory committees and regional arrangements in which schools with dropping enrollments were combined.

Today, the National Catholic Educational Association's gatherings focus on providing a forum for discussion and debate over various models, as well as leadership training.

One result of the FADICA study Bondanella said, was to raise awareness among Catholic-school leaders of the varieties of models that now exist.

She said FADICA members were also motivated by the desire to "move away from a culture of closing schools" to finding new models that might be replicated across the country Instead, they would like to see the church in "the business of growing schools," she said, "providing higher-quality education and better education outcomes."

[Tom Roberts is NCR editor at large. His email address is]

Caption: Fourth-grade teacher Ryan Gallagher assists student Britany Martinez with a geography question during class at St. Ann School in Chicago Oct. 17, 2014. --CNS/Karen Callaway


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Title Annotation:CATHOLIC EDUCATION; Breathing New Life into Catholic Schools: An Exploration of Governance Models
Author:Roberts, Tom
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 26, 2016
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