Teaching our Faith – Catholic school boards: Learn, serve, lead and succeed

Leisa Schulz
Superintendent of Schools

This series of teaching editorials focuses on consultation in the Church and the role of boards and councils on the parish and diocesan level.

Catholic school education is central to the mission of the church. The National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools declare “the success of the mission depends on the key components of effective governance, which provides direction or authority, and leadership, which ensure effective operations. Catholic school governance and leadership can be seen as a ministry that promotes and protects the responsibilities and rights of the school community.”

Governance and leadership based on the principles and practices of excellence are essential to ensuring the Catholic identity, academic excellence, and operational vitality of the school. Although governance models vary based on the sponsorship of the school, those who serve on the governing body or leadership team in Catholic schools provide for an environment for the teaching of doctrine and Sacred Scripture, the building and experiencing of community, the serving of others and the opportunity for worship for students and adults alike.

The board movement began in the mid-1960s after the Second Vatican Council when parishes and churches were trying to implement the call of the council to involve the laity in the work of the Church. Boards were a way in which the laity could be involved as they had the right skills and expertise to support Catholic schools. This also was the time that the federal government was providing a variety of services to Catholic and private schools. Boards were a way to connect voters to the legislators in Congress. This was the time that the board movement was at its peak. The Archdiocese of Louisville embraced the creation of local school boards, and all of our Catholic schools have boards in place.

A Catholic school board is a body whose members are selected to participate in decision-making, through consultation in designated areas of responsibility, by making recommendations to the principal and pastor. The areas in which school boards will typically be consulted are planning, policy formulation, financial advice, selection/appointment of the principal, advancement and evaluation.

As a principal, I valued the experience and expertise of school board members as they present diverse perspectives to complement the educational context that faculty members and I brought to issues. Inviting collaboration and working with all stakeholders ensures that everyone is heard and part of the process leading to planning and policy decisions. Those conditions create a sense of shared ownership, thoughtful decision making and a lived expression of the Catholic school’s mission.

We want school boards that think generatively, that look at the “what ifs” and what could be. We want boards to fly at 30,000 feet. We do not want them running the school, but we do want them to tell us how to get to the vision that they, along with the community, imagine for the school. Boards should have a meaningful role in consequential work.

We need board members to help with marketing and with providing technology. We need them for their business acumen. We need them to assist us with continuous improvement planning and finances. We need them to provide the energy and the resourcefulness to deal with current and future trends and much more. Yes, commitment to Catholic school education is very important, but the talent, experience and connections that board members possess is just as important.

Through committee structures, our school boards have led strategic planning processes, developed technology plans, created school web sites, designed marketing materials and overseen enrollment management plans. Our school boards also give input to annual school budget planning and formulate policies to ensure the smooth operations of our schools. School board members also are vocal advocates for issues such as state bus subsidies and scholarship tax credits that assist students and families in Catholic schools. Ultimately, school board members serve as ambassadors for Catholic education by knowing and proclaiming “the good news” about the schools they serve.

An excellent Catholic school has a governing body that recognizes and respects the role of the appropriate authorities and exercises responsible decision making in collaboration with school leaders for development and oversight of the school’s fidelity to mission, academic excellence and operational vitality. An effective school board is the catalyst to create a strong foundation for our schools and to provide an excellent education steeped in Catholic beliefs, traditions and practices and a vision to ensure Catholic schools learn, serve, lead and succeed.

Leisa Schulz is the Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Louisville

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