Seton Catholic Schools

Prince of Peace School teacher Malena Torres provides individual help to one of her K5 students.

On any given day, students at Seton Catholic Schools can be found in the traditional classroom, behind a computer screen on Zoom, or in small groups working to accelerate their learning. In all instances, energetic teachers are working diligently to help their students achieve the most in their classes.

Selecting a school for their child to attend can involve significant considerations for parents. It is imperative to find a school to foster the child’s development academically, socially and emotionally. Seton Catholic Schools can offer that and more, including spiritual growth, in a positive, supportive environment. According to Seton Chief Schools Officer Kristen Foster, one of the fundamental components to achieve student success is ongoing professional development for their teachers.

“One of the things we worked diligently on for coming back this year was a focus on safety, as well as continuing our high level of academic excellence,” said Foster. “Last year, we thought we were going to be shut down for two weeks, but we realized it would be for the remainder of the year. We switched to learning new skills and laid the groundwork for virtual teaching. We did not slow down but worked to align our curriculum to allow teachers to collaborate across all of our schools.”

Courtney Albright, director of curriculum and instructional coach, led practice camps to ensure they continued the high level of academic rigor, curricular resources and learning that parents and students had come to expect from Seton schools.

“We went into MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) testing in the fall and used the data to create small groups for kids experiencing some gaps,” she said. “We fared better than most of the country but noticed the largest gaps were in math. We had teachers giving extra instruction in that area and were excited to see how quickly we closed the gap from fall to winter.”

One of the resources used to address those gaps is small-group targeted instruction — titled WIN (What I Need Now), consisting of five to eight students — to address grade-level content in classes such as math, ELA, vocabulary and technology programs. Teachers see tremendous progress in learning and acceleration of skills when implementing WIN in the classroom.

“By moving to concurrent teaching, where we teach students in the building and from home at the same time, we are ensuring an equitable learning experience in the home and classroom,” said Foster. “We weren’t sure how it was going to work at first, but there has been a greater sense of community among students, as well as the social and emotional benefits of learning together, and praying and building together. We have 70 percent back in the classrooms, but all of our students can all still interact, and we get to see their beautiful, smiling faces on our Smart Boards.”

One considerable benefit to a unified curriculum across all Seton Catholic Schools is the ability for students to participate via Zoom in another class at another school if their teacher needed to be absent.

“No one ever stops learning,” said Foster. “We also have great resources to aid in our collaborative efforts. Our teachers also gather each month and bring student data, their common stories, misconceptions, and connect growth and plans for enriching students’ education.”

In addition to MAPS testing three times a year, Albright said they are working to implement programs to allow for quick-progress monitoring and common assessments across the network of schools.

“We look at the data in a couple of ways. For example, (to see) whether kids are meeting individual growth goals, we look at their overall growth, ending percentile and achievements. With our small-group programs, every student needs to show growth; we would like to see 100 percent or more for a year’s growth,” she said. “It is important to close the gap with as many kids as possible to meet our gold standard. This year, due to COVID-19, we had a little dip but had action planning and worked with students in small groups. We identified kids who were struggling and accelerated their learning. We have noted much improvement.”

Currently, Seton  is planning for summer and looking into resources and options, such as ZEARN, a digital math curriculum, for students to remain on track with their learning and to refresh their gap areas.

“This is a great, engaging program for students with a digital component that monitors their progress. It was quickly adopted by all our schools in the network at the time, as it aligns at a high level and focuses on problem-solving,” said Albright. “Walking into classrooms this year has been so inspiring and energizing. The amount of work our teachers put into planning to make sure they offer the best instruction is amazing. There is a lot of work with concurrent teaching, but they have done it well. It is a joy to see the smiles from the kids and teachers.”

One of the most integral components of teaching at Seton Catholic Schools is the ongoing professional development for teachers; this includes continuing education, coaching, and feedback.

“One of the misconceptions for teachers is that veteran teachers might not need it,” said Foster. “But even Aaron Rodgers needs a coach. It is just a shifting of that mindset to realize that coaching is just to grow skills and sharpen the skills they do have. Every teacher every year participates in our coaching cycle. Paul Hohl, our director of school engagement, and I meet with our principals weekly.”

Foster is proud that Seton Catholic Schools include four five-star schools and five additional four-star schools.  She credits the improvement to intentional instructional support.

“I am really proud to be part of this organization, and with COVID-19 hitting during my first year, I was impressed with the response to the care for the safety of the families and students at Seton,” she said. “We have utilized a lot of technology to improve their education. We have a great team who pulled together and became stronger because of COVID. It could have been negative, but we came together and thrived.”