Written by Mary Beth Peabody
Principals from South Jersey Catholic elementary schools gathered in Cape May on Oct. 11-12 for their annual professional development conference. They spent the better part of two days sharing best practices and developing new strategies related to their work as administrative and instructional leaders.
“Our principals inspire me,” said Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Mary Boyle. “They bring passion and dedication to their work and to our gatherings. Their commitment to the mission of Catholic education is unrelenting.”
Unlike their public school counterparts, Catholic school principals need to recruit new families and keep current families in the fold. They are responsible not only for academics, but for faith formation and spiritual growth. With tuition well below the actual cost to educate each student, principals wear a fundraising hat and manage tight budgets.
Most schools have an advancement director to support many of the non-academic activities that help South Jersey Catholic schools thrive. During the recent conference, a panel of principals and advancement directors exchanged ideas and best practices about marketing and communications, outreach to new and current school families, working with pastors and parishes to maintain close ties between church and school, and strategies for managing the annual fund — an integral part of every school’s budget.
Father Joseph Perreault, pastor at Saint Joseph Parish in Sea Isle City, addressed the group as well. Father Perreault chairs the Inter-parochial Catholic School Fund (ICSF) Committee, an advisory group of pastors from each deanery. An outcome of the Bishop’s Commission on Catholic Schools, the ICSF was established in 2016 and is funded through parish assessments based on ordinary income. The committee’s primary role is to determine how funds should be distributed equitably among schools each year, ideally as grants.
With tuition as the primary funding source, Father Perreault said the hope for the ICSF is that it will help principals support their dreams. “The funds should not be life boats, but sails,” he said.
Rounding out the agenda, principals explored new ways to assess students’ learning — using formal and informal methods to assess knowledge and, if necessary, adjust teaching plans. Led by Allison Rodman from Catapult Learning, the session demonstrated ways to individualize learning for students, develop strategies to reinforce difficult concepts, and ensure mastery before teachers move to a new unit of study.
“Principals are the lead learners in their schools,” said Dr. Bill Watson, Director of Curriculum and Assessment for the diocese. “It is critical that we help them to stay up-to-date on assessment and instruction approaches that will help the students in their schools to thrive. Meetings and sessions like this allow us to grapple with challenges and build common practices together.”
Principals from the southern and shore areas of the diocese collaborated to create liturgical experiences, including Mass celebrated by Father Yvans Jazon, parochial vicar at Notre Dame de la Mer Parish in Wildwood. Prominently displayed was a banner with individual school logos surrounding the South Jersey Catholic Schools logo.
“It’s a visual representation of ‘Who We Are,’” said creator Steve Hogan, principal at Saint Mary’s in East Vineland, referencing a page on the diocesan website. We are a community of schools bound by a commitment to faith-based education and a common curriculum… We celebrate the distinct culture and areas of focus that make every South Jersey Catholic school unique.
Mary Beth Peabody is communications and marketing manager, Office of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Camden.