Students receive communion during The Seton Family of Catholic Schools Mass.
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki is fond of saying, “We don’t educate children because they are Catholic; we educate them because we are Catholic.”
The Seton Family of Catholic Schools is a shining example, growing from its roots in 2015 to become a model of regional school systems for other dioceses across the nation.
“It’s the most focused form of evangelization we have in the Church because we have these families five days a week, 10 months a year,” said retired Catholic Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Cepelka, who is still mentoring Seton teachers in her spare time. “They are absorbing the faith life we are presenting to them. There is no other place in the Church where we have that opportunity for evangelization.”
Two planks Seton is based on, aside from the model that creates greater efficiencies and assures the sustainability of individual schools, are Catholic identity and a sense of community among the educators at Seton’s 12 schools.
Fr. Tim Kitzke, when he was appointed chaplain of Seton Catholic Schools, suggested the Spark program as a way of igniting the Holy Spirit and fostering Catholic identity in the schools.
Each month, Dr. Cepelka and Jim Schultz, Director of Mission and Catholic Identity for Seton Catholic Schools, meet with each school’s principal and their Spark teacher for a formation session that focuses on one aspect of the Catholic faith.
The Spark teachers serve as mentors to their colleagues at their schools, promoting Catholic identity in the schools and assisting with liturgical services and service projects.
Michele Zampino, a music teacher at St. Roman School, Milwaukee, is her school’s Spark representative.
“To be able to share that faith is vital to me, to be able to talk about it, to be able to help children learn, that has definitely been a great thing,” Zampino said. “Seton-wide, we have shared values, and our shared values help us to form a community.”
Seton takes a holistic approach to nurture children and develop students of strong moral character that instills Catholic values and guides them through life’s challenges.
“(The objective is) to have these young people understand what it really is to be able to follow Christ and live with hope in their hearts and really get through any kind of struggles they have,” Zampino said.
Having Dr. Cepelka assisting on a regular basis is beneficial for educators, Zampino said.
“She’s a listener, and she brings out things in you,” Zampino said. “She’s an incredible lady, and with all those years behind her, even though she’s retired, she’s still totally involved with us. She really strongly supports what we do. She’s helping guide us through her knowledge, to be better leaders within the school. Then, she’s taking the time out to come to the schools.”
Part of Dr. Cepelka’s weekly visits to individual schools includes providing a sounding board for principals and teachers, based on her intricate knowledge of Seton’s structure, standards and practices.
Forming that community among teachers across the city is vital to creating and maintaining Seton’s demanding level of performance, for staff, administration, teachers and, most importantly, students.
The Seton Educator Academy is a yearlong program for teachers who are new to Seton Catholic Schools. It kicks off with two days in the summer.
The first day focuses on the mission, the communities and Seton’s values. The second day focuses on Seton’s coaching model, which includes sessions for each curricular area that they will teach. Then, there are monthly sessions. Each session starts with a meal and faith sharing to build community across the family of schools. The monthly sessions focus on coaching, instructional practices and creating a classroom culture. Each new teacher is also assigned a mentor and they meet monthly to provide support and resources.
“Seton Educator Academy is the foundation to both our community building and alignment to instructional practices,” said Courtney Albright, Senior Director of Curriculum and Instructional Effectiveness for Seton Catholic Schools.
Twelve schools. One mission. That’s the Seton Way.
“Seton is not an optional form of Catholic education for the city of Milwaukee,” Dr. Cepelka said. “It is the archdiocesan vision, plan and system for the way we do Catholic education in Milwaukee. It is our vision. This is really an opportunity for excellence. Seton is at the heart of the archdiocesan commitment to the city of Milwaukee. It’s through these children and families — there’s an outreach that is immeasurable. It’s at the core of the Church’s outreach to the city.”