More progress is being made toward the implementation of the new Catholic Community Schools system in the St. Cloud metro area.
The CCS board of directors met for the first time in May to talk about initial priorities and elect officers. The board convened again June 8 in St. Cloud.
“We are working together to create a very dynamic school system that is cutting edge, that helps build our students fully, both intellectually and with their faith, to build on ‘what is’ and to become greater,” said Father Ron Weyrens, who was named chair of the board of directors.
As part of their commitment to that goal, board members determined the need to have a leadership team. Its members, called “coordinators of transition,” will provide direction and assistance to the board.
The team — which includes board members as well as non-board members — are Father Weyrens, pastor of parishes in Luxemburg, Rockville and Pearl Lake; Matt Reichert, former principal of St. John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville and a St. John’s University professor; Kathy Kockler, principal of St. Francis Xavier School in Sartell; Erin Hatlestad, principal of St. Katharine Drexel School in St. Cloud; Mike Mullin, president of Cathedral High School; and Linda Kaiser, diocesan director of Catholic Education Ministries.
“The group of us were pulled together to start figuring out what we need to do between now and July 1, 2017, to get this thing off the ground,” said Reichert, who is chairing the newly formed team.
The CCS initiative began with Bishop Donald Kettler’s appointment of a steering committee in the fall of 2014. The committee’s task was to design a consolidated system for Catholic schools in the St. Cloud metro area.
In a column in The Visitor last year, Bishop Kettler said the CCS initiative is the best solution for keeping Catholic school education in the St. Cloud area academically and spiritually strong and financially viable in light of rising costs and ongoing enrollment challenges.
After Bishop Kettler accepted the steering committee’s recommendations to move ahead with CCS, a corporate board was formed, which then appointed a 20-person board of directors comprised of pastors from the parishes involved in CCS and lay members recommended by the pastors.
Schools participating in CCS are All Saints Academy (St. Cloud and St. Joseph campuses), 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) and St. Wendelin (Luxemburg).
The 2016-2017 school year will serve as a transition year, and CCS is expected to be operational for the 2017-2018 school year. The board’s goal is to begin a national search in late fall for a superintendent, who would be in place by July 1, 2017.
Committed to success
“One of the things I’m most excited about is that it’s really great to be a part of a group of people who are so committed to the success of the new endeavor,” Reichert said. “They believe in it so strongly that every time we meet, I get a sense that everyone is aimed at the same goal post. That’s not something you encounter all the time. There’s a lot of great momentum here.”
Reichert said he has always been a proponent of Catholic education. With three young children of his own, he said he has a “real interest in investing and ensuring the highest vitality in our local area.”
It also is helpful, he said, that he has a background as a teacher, administrator and has taught at the college level. And because he doesn’t come from one of the schools in the system, he brings a different perspective.
The transition group has been meeting every other week and has compiled an extensive list of 74 different tasks that need to be done. The list includes items that relate to the areas of finance, teaching and learning, facilities, and fundraising — all areas that need attention when creating a system, Reichert said.
The team developed a transition task matrix, which is broken down into two one-year spans.
“We are looking at what has to happen in year one and which things will happen in year two. We then looked at all the people involved — the bishop, the corporate board, the board of directors, the central office, the superintendent, pastors and principals,” he said.
“We’ve got a year, trying to be as smart as possible in creating an operations plan and getting as many people around the table as possible. It’s called the ‘community’ school for a reason. It will be a whole community effort to make it successful,” he said.
One of the big challenges the team will be addressing in the next few weeks is how to take the eight schools and their supporting parish communities and streamline them into using the same systems and processes in terms of budgeting, finance, handbooks and policies, Reichert said.
The team also will focus on the formation, training and empowerment of the board of directors.
“It’s really important now to form the board into committees that can focus on areas of operation. These committees can then look at transition tasks and help develop a timeline,” Reichert said.
The board of directors plans to formally adopt a mission and vision statement, which Reichert said will take them to a new “actionable” level.
“This is a really exciting structure that has found a lot of success elsewhere, certainly in Sioux Falls [South Dakota] and in Rochester [Minnesota],” he said. “It is something that works, but we know we have to do it carefully in order to have schools that are stronger and even more well supported than they are now. We are no longer in the ‘dream’ phase.
We are in the ‘doing’ phase and we are all excited to get in and get going on it.”