Back to School —
Continuous advancement for our schools

Mary Parola

As a former Catholic school principal, I understand the importance of utilizing a system of support to develop a teaching staff focused on student learning, growth, and school improvement.

Now in my new role as the school improvement and professional learning specialist for the Office of Catholic Schools, I can support other school leaders in that same endeavor and foster our capacity as a system to provide high-quality instruction and promote continuous advancement of our schools.

Within our system of schools, there is a dedicated emphasis on the cycle of continuous improvement, a cycle that allows us to assess our practices and nurture the work that strengthens and sustains our vision and mission for Catholic education.

Over the years, the Office of Catholic Schools has created a robust practice of professional development for our educators.

My role as specialist is to work with archdiocesan and school leaders to continue to refine and cultivate these professional learning opportunities and initiatives to further the goals of individual School Improvement Plans focused on student learning.

We strive to build the capacity of school teams to examine data through the lens of the Data Wise Improvement Process and in the context of the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Schools. We will continue to develop and support school leadership teams in the use of the Danielson Framework for Teaching, which provides the basis for implementing programs and effecting change within classrooms.

The “Framework” helps provide development through professional learning communities, student growth assessment, tiered instruction, and the response to intervention process.

During the fall of the 2021-22 school year, we will participate in the accreditation process through the Cognia network. This process for continuous improvement — which takes place every five years — allows the archdiocese to examine its policies, practices, learning environments and conditions using the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Schools integrated with the Cognia standards.

The 2021-22 Focus Review will be organized around key initiatives: the use of assessment to guide instruction, the engagement of all students, and the promotion of continuous improvement. In addition, we will examine our efforts at building leadership capacity at the archdiocesan and school team levels to support our Catholic School leaders charged with implementing these initiatives. A visiting team, made up of a number of superintendents and assistant superintendents from other archdioceses, will provide feedback and action steps so we can continue to improve our work in these areas.

As we return to school in the wake of the pandemic, we also understand the importance of focused support on the mental health and well-being of our students, families, and educators. During summer professional development, our educators had the opportunity to participate in sessions devoted to Social/Emotional Learning and Self-Care.

The “Light Unto My Path” series provided sessions on social/emotional learning support for students, including classroom strategies to build a culture of belonging and school-wide practices to respond to mental health needs. School counselors also attended “SOS: Signs of Suicide” training, a suicide prevention program to educate students about the relationship between suicide and depression. The program is designed to provide counselors, teachers, and parents with tools to support children’s mental health and information about suicide prevention efforts.

The Archdiocese of Louisville Catholic Schools is a strong system of Catholic schools committed to learning and helping students grow in their understanding and living the Catholic faith. Our schools have been an integral part of the archdiocesan-wide continuous improvement process over the years and will continue to be in the future. I look forward to working with and supporting school leaders and teachers as we each answer our call to serve our students in the ministry of Catholic education.

Mary Parola is the school improvement and professional learning specialist for the Archdiocese of Louisville Office of Catholic Schools.

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