Diocese of Cleveland, Notre Dame partner to boost Catholic schools

ACE Alliance for Catholic Education

The diocese of Cleveland announced this week that it will partner with the University of Notre Dame to reinvigorate two diocesan schools. 

The Notre Dame ACE academies program, which works with Catholic schools to strengthen their operations, culture, and education, is now expanding to two schools in the diocese of Cleveland: St. Anthony of Padua School in Akron and St. Augustine Catholic School in Barberton

“I'm excited about learning,” Dr. Frank O’Linn, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Cleveland, told CNA on Friday. “ACE has a proven track record in the diocese of Cleveland.”

The Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) was founded in 1993 as a teaching program where college graduates spend two years teaching in Catholic classrooms around the country as they earn a master's degree. Over time ACE expanded to include a number of different programs, one of which is Notre Dame ACE academies. 

The ACE academies program was founded in 2010 as a response to the U.S. bishops’ call for a “new model of sponsorship and collaboration” between Catholic institutions of higher education and parish schools. 

An Aug. 26 press release from ACE and the diocese said that ACE faculty and staff will work closely with local leadership in the schools, as well as the diocese, “to increase academic achievement, boost enrollment and strengthen the schools’ Catholic identity by enhancing school leadership, curriculum, instruction, professional development, financial management and marketing.”

Dr. Ryan Clark, the director of Notre Dame ACE academies, explained to CNA that through the program, a diocesan employee will be on-site at the schools, and Notre Dame experts in “teaching and learning operational vitality and school culture” will be available for guidance.

“It's complex to navigate all of those policies, procedures, and paperwork, and that's what schools need help with,” Clark said. “[Schools] don't always know what each student is supposed to have with them financially and it's just hard paperwork, it's a hard process and school leaders and managers don't have time to navigate it and that's where we think we can add some expertise.” 

Both Clark and O’Linn acknowledge that there are a variety of factors that pose challenges to Catholic schools. However, both said they are both excited about the chance to capitalize on positive opportunities.

Clark told CNA that many Catholic schools are functioning well but some “could be functioning at a higher level and work towards a sustainable funding model.” He explained that sometimes schools “leave money on the table” when they could be receiving state funds to subsidize tuition.

O’Linn said that no one in the diocese is paying full tuition to attend Catholic school, and noted that Ohio offers school choice scholarships. 

“But even those dollar amounts don't always cover the full cost,” he said. “So competing with the other options is a challenge for sure and we're always trying to find ways to do more with less.”

O’Linn explained that part of the schools’ challenge is meeting the changing demands of parents while having to be “crystal clear in their commitment to excellence for education in the faith.” 

“Ultimately,” he said, “we’re about forming Christians for the future of the Church and society.”

“So we'll be tracking all of those things and already have some of that baseline work done,” he said. “We'll be kind of doing an annual update with the superintendent and a few of the funders,” he added.

O’Linn said that the future of Catholic schools in the diocese was “strong and bright” and looked forward to spreading this model throughout the diocese. 

Bishop Edward Malesic of Cleveland stated on Aug. 26 that he was grateful for the work between the diocese and Notre Dame. 

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“The partnership of these schools will make them places where our children encounter the love and teaching of Jesus, giving them the best environment in which to flourish in their studies and personal formation,” Malesic said. “We want only the best for our children.”

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