Susan Abelein, PhD
With over 300 views on LinkedIn and more than 20 shares on LinkedIn and Twitter, Catholic Schools Planning for the Aftermath of Covid-19, Part 1 seems to resonate with educators, fundraisers, and community and business leaders.
From Part 1:
To use Covid-19 as an excuse to permanently close a Catholic school during or after this shutdown, would be a disgrace to the history and mission for which our Catholic schools exemplify. Furthermore, it would be irreproachable evidence of ineffective leadership, poor planning and indecision as well as a lack of creativity and innovation.
What will the lasting effects of Covid-19 be on our stable, stable but fragile, and fragile Catholic schools? Three critical variables of operational vitality include tuition, salaries and benefits, and enrollment; the interplay of these three factors and how and what principals, pastors, presidents, boards, superintendents and bishops plan and do now is what I am most interested in.
In response to Part 1, Allison Hurtt, principal of St. Raphael in Los Angeles, writes, “So many of us on the ground (principals, teachers) are being incredibly creative and resourceful and I appreciate hearing the importance of not letting such creativity and resourcefulness begin and end during the COVID crisis -- but rather, how do we use this as an opportunity to flourish? Rebrand? Rebuild? (emphasis added).”
Our schools not only need to survive this massive disruption, we should use this time as an opportunity to rethink and reimagine such that we flourish in the aftermath. Mrs. Hurtt’s comment is the perfect segue into Part 2 which picks up where Part 1 left off and considers both the how and what of planning and doing. The “How” captures, at a high level, the step-by-step process of planning the work and getting the work done. The “What” speaks to idea generation. The time is now; let’s get started.
The “How” of planning and doing.
Planning is a process and like any solid process, there are defined activities and assigned people responsible for each step. Doing is implementing, assessing, learning, and then making a decision to adopt, adapt, or abandon the plan.
Step 1 of the planning process is to define your mission and vision. With regard to mission, schools and dioceses should consider what they were in the past, what they are now, who they serve now, and who they want to be and as a result of this thoughtful consideration, become the institution that the community needs most. Community surveys, needs assessments, listening sessions, and feasibility studies are important components to this step. What is your mission?
Once your mission is clear, what is your vision? What will your school and the diocese look like 3, 5, 10 years from now? Your vision should be visionary; that is, your vision should represent forward-thinking, innovative design, considerate of the characteristics of the students you want to graduate. What is your vision?
Step 2 of the planning process is to clearly delineate your core values. What are the top five truly important beliefs of your school and the diocese? These can be really hard to define, but they are evidenced through the actions of the stakeholders. For example, as a community, you determine that faith, compassion, positivity, boldness, and growth are your values; as such, these should permeate the organization.
Step 3 of the planning process is to develop goals; goals need to be set in order to ensure that the programs (the “What”) are intentionally designed and implemented such that their accomplishment, while exercising the core values, will lead to fulfillment of the mission and vision. There are a number of free, easy-to-use SMART goal-setting guides and templates available online. What are 3-5 goals that will move your school from good to great and from fragile to stable or from stable to enduring?
In these steps, I’ve included both individual schools and dioceses’ moving through the planning process. Whether you are a system of schools or a school system, multiple stakeholders must be involved. Developing mission, vision, values, and goals should not be done in the principal’s office or the superintendent’s office, respectively, but should involve a representative community of stakeholders: religious and lay employees and volunteers, current students, alumni, and parents, parish and, or religious order influencers, college and university partners, philanthropy, finance and marketing professionals, and businesses.
The “What” of planning and doing.
The time is now for reimagining what Catholic schools do; leaders may consider “tweaking, thinking outside, or transforming” the box. Tweaking the box involves making a small change to improve an existing program; this should be a program, which by all metrics, is working, but with a small tweak will be even better. Thinking outside the box entails creatively rethinking; this is a program that is not working or not meeting the needs of students you currently serve and as such the program needs to be scrapped and something new designed, implemented, and assessed for impact as part of a cycle of continuous improvement. Transforming the box requires complete reimagining; this is an extraordinary opportunity to rethink everything about what Catholic education is and the knowledge, skills, and attributes of a Catholic school graduate.
This continuum of growth moves from least to most difficult to implement, from safe to risky, from maintenance of the status quo to greatness or failure. And, every standard and benchmark of what makes a Catholic school excellent is up for consideration: Mission and Catholic Identity, Governance and Leadership, Academic Excellence, and Operational Vitality. Any number of possible innovations may result from this Covid-19 shock to the system and evolve the way we meet and exceed these expectations.
Now is the time for every idea to be put on the table.
Author’s Note: In Part 3, the final part of this series, I’ll share a handful of ideas for consideration in the areas of Mission and Catholic Identity, Governance and Leadership, Academic Excellence, and Operational Vitality.
Dr. Susan Abelein has served as an associate superintendent in the Archdiocese of New York and Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is a national presenter, consultant and coach on topics including: leadership, systems, and organizational design, and a former Catholic school teacher and principal at both the elementary and secondary levels. She is currently involved in a number of educational projects as well as teaching online for Loyola Marymount University. She can be reached via email: DrSusanAbelein@gmail.com and via Twitter: DrAbelein.
 Gervasio, D. (2017). Running a smooth financial operation in the Catholic Grade School or High School. Arlington, VA: National Catholic Educational Association.
 “Community” can be narrowly or broadly defined; it may be the community within the parish boundaries, town or city, or in reference to a particular culture or socio-economic status. The bottom line is, you need to know who you serve. Who is your community?
 Ozar, L. A. (2012). National standards and benchmarks for effective Catholic elementary and secondary schools. Chicago, IL: Loyola University Chicago.