Early childcare students at St. Matthew in Campbellsport help out with the ground-breaking on the school’s new $2 million childcare facility. (Submitted photo)

As the superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I have the incredible privilege of visiting the 101 Catholic schools that are found across the 10 counties of our archdiocese. Our schools have a tremendous track record of academic achievement and innovation. Most importantly, our Catholic schools are a place where young people encounter Christ, which can strengthen a lifelong commitment to faith and a love for our Church.

Fellow Catholics from across our archdiocese can be proud of the work of our schools’ teachers, leaders and staff. Their work is essential to building the future of our Church and strengthening our local communities. The following snapshots from across the archdiocese are just a sample of innovations and achievements happening in our Catholic schools.

City of Milwaukee

Catholic schools have an unparalleled track record of achievement in the city of Milwaukee. Every year, thousands of students across the state take the Wisconsin Forward exam that measures student proficiency in English language arts and math. The Department of Public Instruction publishes the results of those scores by school every year. In the city of Milwaukee, there are more than 250 public, charter and private schools that receive state report cards. This year, St. Thomas Aquinas Academy, Nativity Jesuit Academy and St. Roman Parish School are the three highest-achieving schools across the entire city of Milwaukee.

Of the top 20 schools rated by the Department of Public Instruction, eight of those schools are Catholic schools, and Catholic schools make up 15 of the top 50 Milwaukee schools. No other group of schools, either public, charter or private, dominates the roster of high-performing Milwaukee schools like the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

This achievement is even more remarkable when we consider the holistic commitment of our Catholic schools. Catholic schools are not teaching our students to just be strong test takers. Our students excel in math and reading while our schools remain committed to religious studies classes, regular sacramental practices, and offer athletics and arts programs. The Catholic school model of forming character, faith and community is the best foundation to support student academic achievement at the highest levels.

Creativity that Supports Families

Catholic schools continue to pursue innovative programs to expand and enhance the mission of Catholic education. Over the past decade, several parish schools have created Catholic day cares or early childhood centers within their Catholic school to expand the programs they offer to families. One story of great success is found at St. Matthew in Campbellsport, which has operated an infant and toddler day care for more than a decade. The success of St. Matthew’s program has been so significant that it has outgrown its physical space on the parish campus. The local community has witnessed the impact of their program and responded by raising more than $2 million to build a dedicated facility, the Sister Marcinette Children’s Center. In late March, St. Matthew, including its early childcare students wearing little hard hats, celebrated the groundbreaking of the new facility.

St. Matthew is one example of the creative response schools are making to serve the changing parental needs across our archdiocese. St. Mary in Mayville, St. Andrew in Delavan and St. John the Baptist in Plymouth have all established or expanded their early childhood and daycare programs. These Catholic schools see early childhood programs as an extension of how Catholic schools live up to our pro-life mission. By offering a welcoming home for children from infancy through grade school, parents feel supported and connected to their Catholic school and parish community.

Special Needs Inclusion

This February, the staff, parents and students in Divine Savior Holy Angels High School’s Marian Scholars program hosted a conference to support the expansion of Catholic school inclusion of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Over the past decade, Catholic schools across our archdiocese have been exploring creative new programs that serve the learning needs of all students. For too long, Catholic schools turned away students with more complex learning needs, but due to the tireless advocacy of special needs parents and the innovative thinking of school leaders, many communities are rethinking how we can offer the gift of Catholic education to all children.

DSHA opened its full inclusion model in 2020, when it launched the Marian Scholars program. The Marian Scholars program supports the belief that all students deserve opportunities to maximize their academic, social and spiritual potential. With a small team of educational experts and a committed group of high school students serving as peer mentors, the Marian Scholars program now enrolls about a dozen young women with intellectual and developmental disabilities. With support from peer mentors, these remarkable young women have become fully integrated into the DSHA community. The Marian Scholars attend class with their peers, participate in extracurricular activities, and attend school liturgies and retreats.

DSHA has begun sharing the success of their program with other Catholic schools. February’s conference brought together leaders and parents from schools across our archdiocese to explore how they can make their school more inclusive to students with special needs. St. Joseph Catholic Academy in Kenosha even brought a small group of high school students to the conference. These young people will serve as St. Joseph’s first group of peer mentors when they welcome special needs students into their high school community next fall.