BishopCallahanThis weekly column allows our new archbishop, Bishop Sklba and me, an opportunity to provide uplifting and thought-provoking ideas and themes based on our beloved faith. I am happy to set aside some time and share good news concerning our Catholic schools. As you know, all departments of the archdiocesan central offices were drastically cut back in our budget and personnel crunch last year. We have learned to do more with less – like everybody else, right? But our schools’ office has been busy and I think you might like to share in some of the success.

First of all, allow me to present our new Exemplary Schools Program. This program will identify our Catholic elementary and high schools having outstanding programs in one or more of the following areas: Catholic identity, curriculum, technology and media, service learning and civic engagement, marketing and advancement, innovative programs.

Schools submit a written case statement followed with a visit by a review team.  Awardees will be announced in June. Exemplary Schools will make presentations at the 2010 Catholic Education Convention and will have their documents sent to the NCEA for national program sharing.

Secondly, we are launching our Discovery Project. The project was designed to provide rigorous learning experiences for our academically gifted seventh and eighth grade students. It combines online instruction and three face-to-face workshops taught by exemplary Catholic high school teachers. The courses run for nine weeks and connect high ability learners from all areas of the archdiocese. Courses are language arts based, providing the students with opportunities to explore advanced literature and develop critical thinking skills. More than 40 elementary schools are participating, with 140 students involved in our first year of the program. Divine Savior Holy Angels, Pius, and Dominican are our partnering high schools. They will host workshops on campus for the elementary participants. The project will help us identify, recognize, and challenge our most intellectually promising youth. Our motto is “Creating learning opportunities for bright minds in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.” The project was launched Nov. 9 at DSHA. We plan to expand the program next year, adding accelerated math courses. The Discovery Project has been made possible by a grant from the Finnegan Fund and the generous donation of time by the following elementary principals: Lynn Ann Reeseman, St. Mary Visitation, Elm Grove; Gina Brown, St. Mary, Hales Corners; Linda Joyner, St. Mary, Menomonee Falls; and Lauren Beckmann, St. Robert, Shorewood.

Many of you know that I am a great proponent of Catholic education. These initiatives are exciting and represent some of the advanced thinking that is occurring in the promotion of our Catholic schools and their fidelity to the communication of the faith to coming generations.

Two more new projects round off the good news. These will affect our future ability to grow in our schools and the activities that they provide in our communities. The University of Notre Dame is launching a research initiative funded by the Walton Family Foundation to collect and analyze student achievement data from Catholic schools across the United States. The purpose of the research is to measure school performance trends in nine cities where the Walton Family Foundation is making considerable investments in Catholic education.

Milwaukee is one of the cities chosen for this study because of the foundation’s work with St. Anthony School. Over the next months the University of Notre Dame will collect and analyze the data from our schools in the hope that we can better understand the student, school and community factors that relate to student achievement in Catholic schools to help guide school improvement efforts. This work will provide our own Archdiocese of Milwaukee with some critical information as we continue our focus on continued school improvement.

Finally, the National Catholic Education Association has established a new constituent group of the 20 largest dioceses in the United States. The purpose of this group is to share common concerns and challenges, to network and to advocate for Catholic education at every level. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is part of this new group and will offer valuable insights about what is happening here in Milwaukee to share at the national level.

I am happy about these new developments because we have spent great time and effort reflecting on the value of Catholic education in our presentations about the Faith In Our Future Capital Campaign. Our efforts through these kinds of initiatives help all of us to see that Catholic education and Catholic faith formation are truly important values for all of us today and certainly will remain so for our future.