Words from our Superintendent: Dr. Ashton’s Dinner Speech
This year’s Archbishop’s Annual Dinner for Education was another heartfelt celebration of the people who work in Catholic schools, and our efforts to eliminate financial barriers to Catholic education for those with less resources.
We enjoyed messages from educators who received recognition, and the student testimonials had most of us in tears.
I have posted my comments from the evening, an abbreviated “state of the schools” address, HERE. Here now are some of the takeaway points that are most exciting:
Our Archdiocesan schools enjoy partnerships with:
- Catholic charities, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Metro Community College, Creighton University, University of Nebraska, College of St. Mary, the Consulate of Mexico, Boston College’s Twin CS program, Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education, Boystown, CUES, Winnebago and Omaha Councils, School of Faith, Omaha Police Department, Boy Scouts, public school partners, Office of Evangelization, Development
Among our blessings are also collaborations between schools:
- Skutt, Roncalli and Gross are teaming up to find points of intersection,
- the Consortium and CUES schools are working together to explore urban school system management practices.
- the greater Nebraska grade schools held their first unified Catholic Schools Week Mass with the Archbishop,
- adjacent schools within rural deaneries are in active dialogue about ways to combine resources, staff, and even governance.
- 16 of our grade schools with over 3000 students are now participating in the Blended Learning initiative, an instructional approach that applies technology in a way that increases engagement, achievement, and independent learning.
- How about Roncalli’s 9th inning clutch hit to win the state title, or a Marian freshman breaking records and taking medals in track and field?
- Or the winningest HS football coach in state history at Norfolk Catholic earning another championship?
- Or, my personal favorite, the Cedar Catholic boys cheering on girl’s volleyball by donning choir robes and singing hymns to rattle the opponent.
- Our graduation rate last spring was over 99% again
- schools are also expanding non-college options with the help of local Community Colleges.
- A growing partnership with OPS has brought five new resource teachers to serve more students who struggle.
- Our high schools have expanded their academic support, guidance and clinical capacity,
- elementaries have partnered with Catholic Charities to pair clinicians with elementary students in need.
- Stans has a school in it again, after 93 years, and closing in 2013, it now welcomes 80 preschool and kindergarten students, half English speaking and half from Spanish speaking households, learning together in a bi-literate environment. This Dual Language academy is the only one of its kind in Nebraska – Its motto? United in Christ, Unidos en Cristo. Changes like this demonstrate the ever increasing passion and investment that our Latino parishioners have for Catholic education. This year our high schools will serve 300 Latino students, a number never seen before. And it’s no wonder they are enrolling, because the ACT score for a Latino student who attends our Catholic schools averages five points higher than a Latino student who does not.
- Last year we graduated a large senior class, only two other senior classes in the last two decades have been larger than 1250
- Gross Catholic enrolled more freshman than they have in decades.
- Several elementaries that are bursting at the seams
- Sts. Peter and Paul will have more students in it than they have, maybe ever
- St. Wenceslaus just added six classrooms and could use six more
- Howells is puzzling over where to put a potential Kindergarten class
- In our rural deaneries where county populations are still shrinking, 19 of our 25 elementaries actually grew!
- Our preschool through Kindergarten enrollment has increased 33% the last five years, from 2,616 to 3,485
To summarize, even with a large class graduating out, our total unofficial number of 19,831 is almost the same as last year, but it doesn’t tell the good news, that we are growing in all the right places, giving young families an earlier entry, reaching out to a broader array of learners, and providing education for those who previously could not afford it.
And if you ask these teachers and these administrators to brag about enrollment, they rarely will. In fact, when I asked principals to send me news about their schools that would be fun to share tonight, they didn’t send counts. They didn’t send athletic accomplishments. Instead, this is what I learned:
- last year, more than 20 non-Catholic students or parents entered the Church because of their involvement at school
- 2 school staff members were in discernment
- 4 recent graduates are currently in seminary
- 2 more pursuing other religious vocations
- two Catholic school alumni were just ordained
- a new high school student group that focuses on discernment
- a new campus ministry program inviting high school students into deeper prayer and spiritual growth
- a new encounter program for staff and parents that provides them CEC retreat experiences and facilitates follow up small prayer groups
- young students, unprompted, showing up at a funeral for a school secretary’s husband, and perfectly behaved by the way.
- testimonials and quotes from new families like a non-Catholic father saying, “sending my son to Catholic school was the best decision I ever made.” and my favorite, a third grader who convinced his parents to send him to St. Rose of Lima because, in his words, “I just need to be there.”
Learn more at Lovemyschool.com where you can share this good news with others, link to our Facebook (@ArchOmahaSchool), Twitter (@ArchOmahaSchool) and Instagram (@ArchOmahaSchools) feeds, come work in our buildings, and especially, please keep praying, keep on giving, and start collecting more apostrophe s’s, I guarantee we’re going to need even more next year.
Dr. Mike Ashton