By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
An exhaustive once-every-five years assessment of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Catholic schools concluded last week with rave reviews and the system’s reaccreditation with AdvancEd.
“In every area, you are above average,” the lead reviewer, Dr. Mary Ann Keeley, told a small group of school leaders during her exit report, presented on Sept. 21 at the Flaget Center.
During an interview afterward Keeley said, “The rating speaks for itself. It is an archdiocese that has committed to consistently improve.”
Keeley is AdvancEd’s vice president of the Northeast USA/Canada region. She and a team of reviewers spent four days in Louisville, Sept. 18-21. They visited eight schools and observed several dozen classes. They spoke to teachers, pastors, parents, administrators and Archbishop of Louisville Joseph E. Kurtz.
By the end of their visit, the accreditation team had interviewed 225 stakeholders in Catholic education here.
These interviews and observations, plus the archdiocese’s own written assessment, led to the above-average rating and a short list of ideas to improve the archdiocese’s schools.
Leisa Schulz, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, said after Keeley’s presentation, “I was thrilled and so proud. Certainly our teachers and students are doing hard work. We have such a rich history and tradition of academic excellence. I’m so pleased and proud we can continue that.”
Schulz said she and school leaders, who worked on the accreditation for the last two years, welcomed the accreditation team’s suggestions for improvement, too.
During the exit report, the archdiocese received several suggestions for improvement and two directives — called
improvement priorities — which must be addressed within two years.
“Having these improvement priorities doesn’t phase me at all,” Schulz said. “We are so high achieving, we need to be challenged, to be open to learning and growing. Ultimately, it’s going to benefit our students.”
The required improvements addressed two different areas — one deals with classroom instruction and the other is related to system-wide software.
- The former calls on schools to “implement instructional strategies” to accomplish several things, such as:
- Address student’s individual learning needs.
- Further integrate technology into the classroom work the students are doing.
- Provide examples of good work to help students understand the aim of an assignment.
The archdiocese’s schools already do these things, Keeley said, “but we see it needs to go further.”
The other priority calls for a system-wide “student-management system” that would collect student-information, such as test scores and other records.
In other dioceses, Keeley said, such a system enables “schools’ central offices to collate information about the students, about testing and support operational needs.”
The Archdiocese of Louisville has not implemented such a network in the past, in part because individual parish-school autonomy is highly valued here, noted Schulz. Rather than having mandates from the central office here, the superintendent’s office acts as a resource to the schools.
Keeley said this is known as a “collaborative model” and it’s unusual for a diocese of this size.
“There are some (central offices) that strongly encourage their schools, and there are some who mandate what the schools are going to do,” Keeley noted. “And then you have the collaborative model that is respectful of the autonomy of the parish, where the decisions are left up to the local level.
“They all have their pros and cons,” she noted. “In Louisville you have the blessing of a collaborative model that works. It’s wonderful because it really is church. It’s not easy; it’s not easy to maintain.
“Personally, I think the strength of the system (in the Archdiocese of Louisville) is the collaborative model of leadership and the work of the central office serving as a resource for the schools,” she added. “They are very, very strong at that.”
Keeley suggested that maintaining autonomy and adopting a system-wide network will require some balancing.
Schulz said that she will begin to study both directives and how they can be implemented here.
“I’m really excited about sitting down and discussing with our principals and teachers how they envision us tackling the improvement priorities,” she said. “I have no doubt we will be able to make a very good plan.”