School plan looks to address changing needs

Second-graders Brandy Paisano, left, and Emily Roussel, right, took part in a lesson about bartering at St. Rita School last week. Brandy’s mom, Blanca Salinas, looked on. Brandy is one of about two dozen Latino children now attending the school, thanks to an initiative to increase their enrollment. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Second-graders Brandy Paisano, left, and Emily Roussel, right, took part in a lesson about bartering at St. Rita School last week. Brandy’s mom, Blanca Salinas, looked on. Brandy is one of about two dozen Latino children now attending the school, thanks to an initiative to increase their enrollment. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

St. Rita Church in Okolona, home to a large Latino community, nearly doubled its enrollment of children from Latino families at its parish school this year.

The school’s principal, Neil Hulsewede, said that reaching out to those families made sense, but the idea was fraught with challenges.

The Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) helped break down the financial challenge — not unique to the Latino community. But the school also had to address cultural and language differences, Hulsewede said, which required the school to chart new territory.

So far, St. Rita School has provided a bilingual liaison to ensure Spanish-speaking parents are able to communicate with teachers and staff. And St. Rita teachers are doing professional development to learn how to meet the needs of their new pupils.
Hulsewede added that it’s a work in progress.

The Archdiocese of Louisville hopes to see more schools follow St. Rita’s example of finding creative ways to meet community
needs.

The new Catholic Elementary School Plan opens the door for parishes to “develop new elementary school structures to address expanding needs within the archdiocese,” the plan says. It lists, in particular, language, cultural and educational needs.

“There’s a great deal of energy and excitement,” said Leisa Schulz, superintendent of Catholic schools. “I know things will change and our schools will be that much more enriched and stronger in terms of the students and families that will be a part of the school communities.”

Schulz noted that the archdiocese plans to make grant money available to help schools create these programs — an essential point for schools.

“While schools and parishes have always had the ability to design their programs, sometimes the barriers are perceived to be so great, they haven’t been able to take the first step,” she explained. “Having access to startup grants takes away part of the barrier.”

Schulz noted that under the new plan, some parish schools might expand their programs for special needs students.

“All of our schools can accommodate students with mild learning disabilities,” she said. “Are there schools that might want to look at students with greater needs? We would work with them to develop a process, see what they want to do and what would be needed. We are prepared to sit down one-on-one to have those conversations.

“It’s not going to be cookie cutter; it’s not going to be formulaic,” she added. “It’s going to be very individualized. And I think that will be effective. One of the strengths of our schools is choosing individually how they want to” fulfill their mission.

In addition to developing new programs within schools, the archdiocese also is offering guidance and support to parents interested in establishing independent Catholic schools. Already, such schools exist in the archdiocese, though most are not connected formally to the church here.

“Immaculata (Classical Academy) is an example of that, where you have a group of parents who maybe are home schooling their children,” said Schulz. “As they grow, they naturally connect with other families and before you know it you have the beginnings of a more formalized school structure.”

The new school plan also offers new options — potentially money-saving — for administrative structures in schools.

Specifically, the archdiocese intends to make “alternative central business offices” available to two or more elementary schools that wish to share the cost of certain services — such as payroll, financial reporting, accounts payable, tuition collection and more.

According to the new plan, the archdiocese’s Finance Office will supervise the operation.

Dr. Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the archdiocese, said this part of the plan offers schools great potential for savings.

“These shared business services can create efficiencies for schools,” he said. “It will reduce the cost to share administrative tasks.”

Business services, he said, are “expensive and it’s a cost that can be contained,” he added. “You have to do some business office tasks, but it varies from school to school. Why have two payroll systems when one would be more efficient? Two schools could work together.”

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