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September 13, 2009

We’re back doing what we do

By Sister M. Paul McCaughey, O.P.

SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS

Well, we are back. No parades, no hip-hop artists, no headlines (Why not?). We are simply back to school with backpacks and book bags filled with faith, learning, hope, challenge and expectations crammed in with the computers, pencils and books.

No millions more in aid (the little we get has been slashed mercilessly in the state budget cuts) for books, transportation, safety and special services. We simply save the state $2 billion dollars a year — funded by parents, parishes, archdiocesan grants, Big Shoulders, alumni, friends and working students.

No meaningful assistance with capital projects. No start-up help or per-pupil funding as afforded the charter schools. We simply get to work with college kids, parent painters, helpful contractors.

No scathing “Still Left Behind” report, no headlines (Why not?) about our ACT scores. We simply produce scores (at the same poverty level as the state of Illinois) which roundly beat state (20.8 percent) and national averages. Up again from last year, the 22.7 ACT composite score for the 40 Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago is a credit to solid teaching at every level, especially when almost every student in the system takes the test and the drop-out rate is near zero.

No beating of the breast about college-readiness. We simply get 88 percent of the kids ready to succeed in college English by ACT standards (66 percent of students in Illinois are ready; 39 percent in Chicago Public Schools are ready; 76 percent in highly selective CPS schools are ready). Hello, out there — is anybody listening?

No citizenship courses because of state mandates. We simply get to tell the kids to be like Jesus. We simply get to tell teachers and administrators to be the face, hands, eyes and voice of Christ in all they do, and be incredibly disappointed if we fail him.

Our Catholic schools exist only because we believe God became incarnate in Jesus Christ. The truly good news (Gospel) that divine love has a human face is why we teach the faith, demand academic excellence and create living communities of support around this project of education.

With more catechists being trained through the University of St. Mary of the Lake and other Catholic universities, we are better prepared to bring the new religion curriculum into each classroom. More parishes are seeking creative ways to reach out to parents, who themselves may have missed out on a quality experience. At the same time, our schools must provide an academic experience better than that in the public sector.

The dual demand for faith and scholarship puts tremendous pressure on educators. Being able to rely on the support of the Catholic community, especially those who themselves or whose children have benefited from a Catholic education, is a pearl without price. Whether it is serving on a board, volunteering as a tutor, leading a capital campaign or assisting with student scholarships, the need for engagement will only grow more acute. We are back. Come on over. We will see the difference. So will you.