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September 12, 2010

Under new management

By Michelle Martin


For 16 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago, the 2010-2011 school year opened on a different note.

For the first time, they are not under the direct control of their parishes. Instead, the so-called “board-initiative” schools

Board Initiative Schools

  • Holy Angels, 750 E. 40th St.
  • St. Michael (South Shore) 8231 South Shore Drive
  • Queen of the Universe, 7130 S. Hamlin Ave.
  • St. Ethelreda, 8734 S. Paulina St.
  • St. Christopher School, Midlothian
  • St. Ailbe, 9037 S. Harper Ave.
  • Our Lady of Grace, 2446 N. Ridgeway Ave.
  • St. Philip Neri, 2110 E. 72nd St.
  • Our Lady of Tepeyac, 2235 S. Albany Ave.
  • Maternity B.V.M., 1537 N. Lawndale Ave.
  • St. Hyacinth Basilica, 3640 W. Wolfram St.
  • Nativity B.V.M., 6820 S. Washtenaw Ave.
  • St. Nicholas of Tolentine, 3741 W. 62nd St.
  • St. Turibius, 4120 W. 57th St.
  • St. Helen, 2347 W. Augusta Blvd.

are under the administration of the Office of Catholic Schools as part of a three-year pilot program.

The plan and the hope is that the schools will be able to investigate and adopt new programs or configurations to make them more attractive to the community. Some may take on different grade levels or emphasize a particular area of study, said Springfield Dominican Sister M. Paul McCaughey, the school superintendent. Others may want to become year-round schools.

The schools are still associated with their parishes, Sister Paul said. The buildings still belong to the parishes, and pastors are still responsible for spiritual leadership. “They still get to do all the fun stuff,” Sister Paul said. “But they don’t have to worry about being the boiler man, too.”

That job now goes to the school principals, who must take on greater responsibility for finances and marketing and other tasks. But they are getting support to do so, said Sharon Dulewski, principal at St. Turibius School on the Southwest Side.

“I’m getting all kinds of help to make St. Turibius the best school possible,” Dulewski said.

That includes help with marketing and financial planning and budgeting.

Support increased

While parishes are asked to maintain financial support at whatever level they gave in 2009- 2010, and the archdiocese is also freezing grants to the schools, Dulewski was able to tap into other scholarship money, she said.

The marketing ideas have helped raise the school’s enrollment from 215 at the end of last year to 228 at the end of August, with four new preschool students coming from a parent-tot playgroup.

“I feel like I’m less on my own,” she said. “They are saying, you need to market, you need to increase enrollment, but they are providing a person who can give some ideas for how to do it.”

Looking to future

Denise Spells, principal at St. Ethelreda School on the South Side, said her school has felt a bit isolated since St. Ethelreda Parish closed in 2007, and responsibility for the school was taken over by St. Kilian Parish several blocks away. Last year, the former St. Ethelreda Church was purchased by a Baptist congregation.

The pastor at St. Kilian, Father William Vanecko, has been supportive in terms of celebrating Mass and preparing children for the sacraments, Spells said, but the school does not feel like it’s part of the parish.

Transferring administrative responsibility to the Office of Catholic Schools makes sense, she said.

The school is struggling with enrollment; at the end of August, it was at 183 students, down from 205 in June. But Spells said she was reaching out to more families who had expressed interest. Many school families have had a hard time paying tuition because a parent has been laid off, she said.

To offset that, the school is developing a scholarship fund with alumni donations and help from its Big Shoulders patron, she said.

She also sees a role for St. Ethelreda as a math and science specialty school. It has an ongoing partnership with Benedictine University in Lisle, which includes having Benedictine faculty team-teach math classes and having Benedictine students do student teaching at the school.

Also, any St. Ethlreda graduate who maintains a B average in high school and attends Benedictine University to obtain a teaching degree is eligible for a fouryear scholarship, as long as the student returns to teach in an inner-city school, Spells said.

The schools that became part of the pilot program were nominated by their episcopal vicars. Pastors then were approached for approval.

At the end of the three years, schools will be judged on four criteria: increasing enrollment, reducing the need for parish and archdiocesan financial support, developing the principals’ leadership skills and creating a board of specified jurisdiction if there isn’t one already in place.