Catholic schools in Dayton launch largest collaborative program in nation
By David Eck

.- A new approach for both Catholic schools and parishes in the Dayton Deanery is designed to strengthen Catholic education in the area and increase efficiency.

Under the Catholic Education Collaborative, all the Catholic schools in the deanery, including 18 elementary and three high schools, will work together on areas such as professional development for educators, purchasing and student enrichment. The collaborative is one of the largest in the nation, archdiocesan officials said.

Among the benefits of the collaborative are increased purchasing power, new program opportunities for students and the ability to better analyze the cost of providing Catholic education.

"This is a new model of doing Catholic schools," Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk said. "It’s innovative. I think it’s going to enhance Catholic education in this area of our archdiocese.’’

Archdiocesan and school officials unveiled details of the collaborative Oct. 1. The collaborative is currently a 5-year effort, which began with the current school year.

Shifting demographics, a changing economy and fewer religious in Catholic schools have caused Catholic officials to reevaluate the way Catholic parishes and schools operate.

"Our schools can no longer survive if we continue the model of one parish, one school," the archbishop said. "We don’t have enough enrollment. We don’t have enough resources. And we have to find another way to do it."

What became the Catholic Education Collaborative got its start in the spring of 2004 when a think tank made up of principals, pastors, officials from the University of Dayton and area business leaders was formed to discuss the challenges and possibilities of Catholic education in the deanery, said Father David Brinkmoeller, pastor of St. Helen Parish and dean of the Dayton Deanery.

In 2005, feedback from parish representatives was gathered, which in turn led to a meeting early last year.

"What we learned at the meeting was that there is a tremendously high commitment to Catholic schools here in the Dayton area," said Father Brinkmoeller, who became a key participant in the process early on. "There was a consensus that we need to do something new and stronger."

For much of the last year, officials have been forming the collaborative concept and meeting with parish and school officials to gauge interest. Parishes and schools committed to the collaborative over the spring and summer.

"This has given us a chance to say what we are about and there are so many people now who are buying into a bigger vision of positively impacting kids’ lives," Father Brinkmoeller said. "So this is another kind of power. This is people power, getting people together for the sake of a very important mission."

During the first year of the collaborative, all the schools are partners in the venture, which provides them the benefits of cooperation while retaining their autonomy.

For example, academic professionals and resources from the University of Dayton can better help the schools as a group as opposed to working with them individually.

"We can now pool our needs and talk with (UD) in a way they can really respond," Father Brinkmoeller said. "We can plan to do things much more intelligently."

Among the strategies offered by the collaborative are enhanced curriculum for the schools and utilization of the resources from the higher education institutions.

"We can do some outstanding things in math and science education with our students, but we can also do unified work in the arts," said Marianist Brother Ray Fitz, former president of UD and another key participant in the collaborative discussions. "Exciting things can happen in foreign language studies through the work of telecommunications."

Professional development for teachers is also a key goal of the collaborative. Such development will enhance the academics of Catholic education in the deanery.

"We want our teachers and our faculties to continue developing excellence in their teaching and integrating faith in the learning process," Brother Ray said. "We want all our schools to be excellent places to work."

The collaborative can provide enrollment and tuition services, facility management, collaborative purchasing and vendor savings programs. It can also provide cooperative recruitment and marketing, and cooperative development strategies.

"We believe a large amount of efficiencies can come by bringing these services together," Brother Ray said.

As part of the process, each parish and school was given a breakdown of their estimated cost savings based on their level of participation in the collaborative.

Beginning in the second year, there may be opportunities for schools to choose to be managed by the collaborative. Those schools, to be known as "member" schools, will see increased benefits, officials said.

"I think part of the beauty of what we’re starting here today is that there are different levels of cooperation," Archbishop Pilarczyk said. "No parish is forced to be part of this to any degree."

The collaborative concept has generated some positive feedback from school principals.

"I think principals are excited about the potential opportunities that we can do together, especially in the area of professional development," said Anne Battes, deputy superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese and president of the collaborative. "I think as we go forward and we grow, our teachers and our parents will begin to experience the benefits of the collaborative."

The collaborative is one of several models of Catholic school governance now being used in the archdiocese. Others include consolidation of schools, the creation of private schools and the establishment of inter-parish schools.

Published October 12, 2007 in the Catholic Telegraph.

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