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Webster schools take lead in planning for future

Posted By January 30, 2014 | 12:55 pm | Lead Story #1
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By Tanya Connor

The three Webster parishes, which each run a school, are looking at the future of Catholic education in their community with the aid of a study provided by the diocese.
Bishop McManus commissioned Meitler Consultants, of Milwaukee, to conduct a diocesan-wide data study of Catholic education last year, according to Delma L. Josephson, superintendent of schools.
“The study revealed that the Webster schools serve completely overlapping target families and that the redundancy of services and programs are both expensive and might be inefficient,” according to the superintendent.
She said Webster is one of the first areas in the diocese to undertake an expanded study that will lead to a localized plan.
“Webster … has determined that any significant changes would not be implemented until late 2015, and that changes could be implemented in stages,” she said.
Leaders of parish, regional and central Catholic schools in the diocese received the study for internal use in strategic planning, Superintendent Josephson said. The study is not being made public yet, as some people might read it and assume there will be certain outcomes before any decisions have been made.
The study conducted by Meitler, which has more than 40 years of experience in more than 100 dioceses, provides much hard data to support strategic planning, Superintendent Josephson said. The work began in February and ended last fall and looked at enrollment, finances, diversity, class sizes, capacity of buildings, and public and parish demographics, among other things. The final report  also includes observations about the data.
Throughout the diocese, schools face challenges that include enrollment decline, inefficiency, competition from surrounding school districts, and a change in the way parents value Catholic education, a press release from the Catholic Schools Office said. The schools’ strengths include their Catholic identity, student success, and support from communities, parishes, teachers and parents.
The study was undertaken now in order to plan for the future “while we’re not in an emergency situation,” but still predominately in “a place of strength,” Superintendent Josephson said. Asked if this is true even for Webster, where the three schools are just a few streets away from each other, she said that proximity does not make it a crisis.
“What we’ve learned about how people learn has changed the landscape of education,” she said. “So has technology. … What does Catholic education need to look like in Webster and how is that best delivered? We don’t have the answers. The answers will come from the parish communities.”
The Webster parishes and their schools are: Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and St. Ann Elementary, St. Joseph Basilica and St. Joseph Elementary, and St. Louis Parish and St. Louis Elementary.
Webster pastors announced to their parishioners in November that Meitler would facilitate a joint study committee which would “have a clear mandate to shape the new vision for Catholic education in Webster and the surrounding area.”
The joint study committee met in December and again last week, and is to meet in February and April, said Father Adam Reid, Sacred Heart’s pastor. He said the committee is expected to give its recommendations to Bishop McManus and to the three pastors in May.
The committee consists of 17 people, including the pastors, he said. They meet with the consultant, Alan Meitler, and Superintendent Josephson and/or another representative of the Catholic Schools Office. Pastors recommended people to serve on this committee and Bishop McManus made the final decisions.
“The people had to be open to seeing a larger vision,” Father Reid said. “They had to be prepared to put Catholic education ahead of the interest of any one school.” Qualifications included having expertise the committee could benefit from.
For example, he said, he recommended Paul LaFramboise, who operates a local construction company. He was chosen and is heading a subcommittee that is looking at the schools’ physical plants, he said.
Another of his recommendations, also chosen, was Deacon Peter J. Motyka, who is serving at St. Louis, was once on St. Anne’s School board, is now a member of the Webster St. Vincent de Paul Society and grew up at St. Joseph’s, he said.
The three principals, who are not on the commmittee, are also meeting with Mr. Meitler and a Catholic Schools Office representative on a “parallel track” to keep them updated on the process and to get their input, Father Reid said.
Mr. Meitler also meets with Bishop McManus, he said.
Each parish also formed a delegation of 25-30 people, who met together Dec. 12 to learn why the process was initiated and to give input, Father Reid said.
They were to meet subsequently in their individual parishes with a few more parish representatives to share the study committee’s plans, solicit further input and “get a finger on the pulse of the people,” he said. St. Joseph’s and St. Louis each held that meeting last week, and his parish is to hold its in February, he said.
The pastors’ November letter talked about the Meitler study and their responses to it as follows:
“The report addresses the fact that all schools face challenges and that maintaining the status quo will not produce a desirable result.
“As your pastors, we want to take an active role in shaping a viable and thriving future for Catholic education in this community. To accomplish this will require implementing a process to find solutions for the challenges ahead. …
“The committee will approach the planning process prayerfully in a manner that seeks God’s will and blessing for the ministry of Catholic schools in Webster.”
The committee is expected to “produce a written plan to move forward, develop enrollment projections, formulate various scenarios, evaluate facilities, identify possibilities for new and expanded programs, (and) develop a financial projection for proposed plans,” said the letter signed by Father Reid and Msgr. Anthony S. Czarnecki of St. Joseph’s and Father William F. Sanders of St. Louis.
Superintendent Josephson said that “each Catholic school in Webster continues to prepare for the future and to strive for the best education for the children .… This study process provides an opportunity to envision what Catholic education could look like in 10 years and beyond. There is no question Catholic education will be a part of the mission of the parishes in the future; the question is how it will be delivered.”
Webster’s process could be a model for other schools, the superintendent said.