Plans advance for new St. Cloud area Catholic school system

Categories: Around the Diocese

Finances, governance structure and communication among areas of focus for steering committee

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

Last December Bishop Donald Kettler convened a 12-person steering committee, charging it to design a single Catholic school system for the greater St. Cloud metro area — one that ensures the continued vitality of Catholic education into the future and its availability to all Catholic families.

The steering committee has been meeting regularly since then and recently agreed on the name for the new school system: Catholic Community Schools. It also has written a mission statement for the new system and created a basic framework for its operation.

ccs_logoThe committee is currently in the process of appointing a finance task force, which will include members from the wider community, to compile a draft budget for the new system. Steering committee representatives will be meeting with school boards over the next few weeks and in the fall to keep them informed about the overall process, listen to their ideas and feedback, and answer questions.

Bishop Kettler has asked the committee to submit a draft plan to him for the new system by December. In 2016-2017, a “year of transition,” schools would begin more collaborative efforts. By the first day of school in the fall of 2017, Catholic Community Schools is expected to be fully functioning.

“I believe that this needs to happen,” Bishop Kettler said April 29 at a Breakfast with the Bishop event at the College of St. Benedict in support of Catholic education. “If it doesn’t, our schools will not be what they could be.”

Although some Catholic schools are thriving, Bishop Kettler noted in a Feb. 13 column in The Visitor that many “face significant challenges because of rising costs and diminished enrollments that threaten their long-term affordability and sustainability.”

“One of my priorities as bishop is to take steps that strengthen Catholic education and how it is delivered in our diocese,” he said, adding that the hope and goal of the new school system is to fill classrooms, not to close school buildings.

In many ways, the steering committee’s work builds on a history of local Catholic school collaborations and consolidations over the last four decades that began with the formation of SS. Peter, Paul and Michael School in St. Cloud in the mid-1970s and includes more recent efforts that led to the creation of All Saints Academy, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School and St. Katharine Drexel School.

The Catholic Community Schools’ name has roots that stem from a similar concept that St. Cloud-area Catholic schools and parishes had worked toward — ultimately unsuccessfully — about a decade ago.

Father Ron Weyrens, one of two pastors on the steering committee, was part of that effort.

“We are tapping into some of the work that has been done in the past,” said Father Weyrens, now pastor of Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Rockville, St. Wendelin in Luxemburg and Holy Cross in Pearl Lake.

“So, it’s really a continuation of work that’s been going on for at least 40 years — looking at how to effectively provide Catholic education, how to make it affordable, accessible and to help form us as Catholics,” he said. “It is also an evangelization tool. If we can eliminate some of the barriers people have about coming to Catholic schools, then more people can come.”

Basic framework

The steering committee and finance task force will be focused on putting together a draft budget for the new system over the next several months. Developing a uniform tuition structure and common salary schedule are among the goals.

“There are big questions about finance,” said David Borgert, chair of the steering committee. “We clearly know this is complicated and this may be where we will spend the most time. While [the steering committee] may drive the structure, the philosophy and the vision, somebody has to figure out what the numbers on the spreadsheet look like — not just to be economical but to offer more to make the whole experience richer.”

The committee anticipates a governance structure comprised of a board of directors — including pastors from every parish involved — to oversee the major decisions of the school system like finances, curriculum and human resources. Advisory committees made up of priests, staff, parents and others from the school sites and parishes involved will assist the board.

Much of the steering committee’s work is being guided by the document “National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools,” which was put together by the schools of education of Boston College and Loyola University in Chicago in cooperation with the National Catholic Educational Association.

“What we do will conform with this design so that we create a system that can be accredited, that in fact will meet the highest level of accreditation,” Borgert said. “If we do our job well, we will have a robust system of schools preK-12 in the St. Cloud metro area that will endure into the foreseeable future.”

The document provides performance benchmarks in key areas such as Catholic mission and identity, governance and leadership, academic excellence and operational vitality.
Erin Hatlestad, principal of St. Katharine Drexel School in St. Cloud and member of the steering committee, has experienced the merging of schools before.

Schools invited to participate
All Saints Academy (St. Cloud, St. Joseph)
Cathedral (St. Cloud)
Holy Cross (Pearl Lake)
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (St. Cloud)
St. Francis Xavier (Sartell)
St. Katharine Drexel (St. Cloud)
St. Mary, Help of Christians (St. Augusta)
St. Wendelin (Luxemburg)
Parish communities involved
Annunciation, Mayhew Lake
Christ Church Newman Center, St. Cloud
Holy Cross, Pearl Lake
Holy Spirit, St. Cloud
Immaculate Conception, Rice
Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Rockville
Sacred Heart, Sauk Rapids
St. Anthony, St. Cloud
St. Augustine, St. Cloud
St. Francis Xavier, Sartell
St. John Cantius, St. Cloud
St. Joseph, Waite Park
St. Joseph, St. Joseph
St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Cloud
St. Mary, Help of Christians, St. Augusta
St. Michael, St. Cloud
St. Paul, St. Cloud
St. Peter, St. Cloud
St. Stephen, St. Stephen
St. Wendelin, Luxemburg

She was instrumental in the unification of Sacred Heart School in Sauk Rapids and St. Augustine /St. Mary School in St. Cloud in 2010, and she knows the challenges and rewards of combining resources, arranging busing across district lines and balancing school calendars.

Mission statement for Catholic Community Schools
The mission of Catholic Community Schools is to strengthen the Catholic Church
and society by educating her people at an unparalleled level of excellence while
teaching, sharing, and living the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

“The merger was not easy, it was not without pain, it was not without giving up things on both sides to make it work,” she said. “But like any relationship, you have to give and take, and there is some loss. There is also much gain.”

And it’s not just the schools that are affected. Parishes are a vital piece of the system’s success. The committee wants every parish to know they have a Catholic school, whether a building is attached or not.

“Our charge is to talk about the structure for a school system — what it means legally, both under civil law and canon law,” Borgert said. “It will be a system that has multi-parish arrangements so that students from any parish in the metro area can feel a part of it. We want it so that every child who belongs to a parish has a Catholic school. That is the goal.”

Everyone on the steering committee has been through a merger at some point, “so we know what we are asking people to do,” Borgert said. “But as I look around the table at the people the bishop has gathered for this task, I see the absolute dedication to the value of Catholic education and the desire to see it be available for all Catholic families for years to come.

“Our hope is that students and families will walk in on that first fall day of 2017 to the same building they left in the spring, with the same principal, faculty and staff,” he said.

“Their curriculum might be a little different but hopefully there will be more things for them whether its computers, books or more opportunities. They won’t walk in and be afraid that first day. If they do, then we’ve failed miserably. And we don’t intend to fail.”

Steering committee members
• Bishop Donald Kettler
• Deacon Mark Barder, Diocesan director of planning and the permanent diaconate
• David Borgert, Member of St. Michael Parish, St. Cloud; former Catholic school parent
• Erin Hatlestad, Principal, St. Katharine Drexel School; parent of three children attending Catholic school
• Tom Janson, Attorney for St. Cloud Diocese; former Catholic school parent
• William Kain, Former Catholic school parent and school board member
• Linda Kaiser, Diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools; former Catholic school parent, principal and teacher
• Father Tom Knoblach, Pastor of St. Anthony, Holy Spirit and St. John Cantius parishes in St. Cloud
• Jane Marrin, Chancellor of St. Cloud Diocese; former Catholic school parent
• Michael Mullin, Member of St. Peter Parish, St. Cloud; president of Cathedral School, St. Cloud
• Joe Towalski, Diocesan director of communications; Catholic school parent
• Father Ron Weyrens, Pastor of the parishes of St. Wendelin, Luxemburg; Holy Cross, Pearl Lake; and Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Rockville

Regular updates about the steering committee’s progress can be found on the diocese’s website (www.stclouddiocese.org) and in The Visitor. The committee also encourages people to submit their questions and concerns as well as offer suggestions about the new school system via email: CatholicSchoolsSC@gmail.com.