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ACE and generous Notre Dame Benefactors advance the mission of Haitian education


Article originally published through the Alliance for Catholic Education News Feed.

In April 23, 1879, a massive fire destroyed the Main Building of the University of Notre Dame and destroyed virtually the entire fledgling university. In what would become an iconic moment of Notre Dame’s history, Father Sorin addressed the stunned survivors: “Tomorrow, as soon as the bricks cool, we will rebuild, bigger and better than ever.”

It is this same spirit of zeal and hope – especially in the face of adversity – that has characterized the Congregation of Holy Cross and the University of Notre Dame throughout their histories. This same spirit enlivens the work of the Holy Cross community and Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) in their efforts to rebuild and renew education in Haiti.

Now four and a half years since the devastating earthquake in Haiti destroyed Holy Cross schools and infrastructure, Notre Dame and Holy Cross have rebuilt, bigger and better than ever.  With more than $1 million in support from the Notre Dame and ACE communities, Basile Moreau School, which had been reduced to rubble, has been rebuilt. This shining new facility now serves 1,000 K-12 students, twice the number as before the earthquake.  Situated in a slum neighborhood of Port au Prince called Carrefour, the beautiful school and campus present a stark contrast to the shacks, tents, and trash of the surrounding neighborhood.  In the words of Rev. Rosemond Marcelin, C.S.C., the principal of Basile Moreau, “We rebuilt this school to be beautiful and expansive so that the children who come here could see beyond the trash and squalor that they live in and dare to have beautiful and audacious dreams for their lives.”

Advancing Basile Moreau’s mission to serve the poorest children and families in this community, one third of the students receive major tuition assistance, and another third attend the school at no cost.  ACE, working with generous Notre Dame benefactors, has provided 100 scholarships for each of the next five years to increase access for the poorest students. ACE has also partnered with benefactors to beautify the campus, with landscaping and the addition of a soccer field. 

Holy Cross and ACE leaders are now adding new computer labs, strengthening the English language curriculum and instruction, and developing a health clinic to serve the students, many of whom lack access to regular medical care, eyeglasses, and adequate nutrition.  This summer, Basile Moreau hosted more than a dozen Notre Dame faculty, staff, students, and alumni, including ACE graduates leading English language camps and a medical team to coordinate a health screening of nearly 1,000 students and teachers. 

“The transformation at Basile Moreau School is simply breathtaking,” said Rev. Tim Scully, C.S.C., founder of the Alliance for Catholic Education.  “From the rubble, a beautiful school has emerged and is now bustling with activity and exciting and innovative programs.  Basile Moreau is a beacon of hope and a testament to the power of the Gospel in service to our most vulnerable children.”

Health.Screening.PhotoBut knowing the needs of their country, the Holy Cross leaders in Haiti and their partners in ACE have not stopped at rebuilding Basile Moreau School.  They are making great strides in constructing a new school in a growing neighborhood of Port au Prince called Tabarre, located near the international airport, with funding and construction management from the Digicel Foundation.  The new school will have an innovative English focus and will open its doors this September, eventually growing to serve an estimated 1,000 students.  This school will become the 16th that Holy Cross priests and brothers operate in the country, serving over 5,000 students, with a reputation for excellence.

ACE’s work in support of Holy Cross schools is only a small portion of the powerful impact ACE is making in Haiti.  ACE’s initiatives include working with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Haitian Catholic Church to train thousands of teachers, as well as transforming educational outcomes through an innovative literacy program that benefits over 7,500 students in impoverished Catholic schools.  Notre Dame’s ACE Haiti effort and the work of its partners represent perhaps the largest, most impactful, and most promising set of projects currently under way in Haitian education. 

The ACE in Haiti website illustrates the breadth of initiatives transforming this hard-hit country’s future through quality education for its next generations. Notre Dame’s Committed to Haiti website describes the University’s even broader efforts, integrating education, health care, and overall sustainability to support human development in Haiti.

This is a reposted aritcle originally published in Ed Surge by TJ D’Agostino

Catholic schools in the United States are at a crossroads.

The challenges facing many Catholic schools–low enrollment and threats to financial sustainability–put them in a position where they must close their doors unless something dramatic changes. And many have.

There are 500,000 fewer students enrolled in Catholic schools in the U.S. than there were 10 years ago. Over the last fifty years, closures have shrunk the system by more than half, from 5 million to less than 2 million students. Recent research suggests there are dire consequences for entire communities when a Catholic school closes, and there are very few signs that these trends are abating.

Some have suggested that Catholic schools need to reinvent themselves for a new era if they are to survive. This need to adapt may make Catholic schools increasingly open to becoming early adopters of blended learning in an effort to ensure their future vitality. However, Catholic schools will need to overcome significant hurdles if blended learning is to become a key driver of their renewal.

The Challenges

Catholic school systems face many hurdles that could impede the effective adoption of blended learning. Being aware of these challenges is critical to successfully implementing blended learning transitions.

First and most apparent are financial constraints. Tight budgets limit the capacity of many Catholic schools to innovate. An effective deployment of blended learning requires an investment of time, resources, and training, but Catholic schools with small administrative teams struggle to research blended learning best practices and plan an effective implementation.

The blended learning world can be bewildering when trying to get started, and schools either need to devote sufficient human resources to the task or to identify a partner organization (company, non-profit, university, etc.) to help. Both require money that the neediest Catholic schools just don’t have.

Additionally, outdated technology infrastructure and physical plants require significant upfront investments. This is especially true in K-8 schools, where computers still sit in labs and a precious few devices are re-deployed to classrooms. Catholic schools are behind the times on this front.

But there are some promising bright spots that augur well for the future. If Catholic schools can leverage their strengths and early successes, they will be an important player in the years ahead.

The Strengths and Successes

1. Catholic schools need a game change–and are well-positioned for it

Though Catholic schools in the U.S. face many challenges, as noted above, technology can represent a key variable to increase efficiency and effectiveness, and provide just the sort of change and edge that Catholic schools need to reinvent themselves.

Without the influence of district regulations, Catholic schools have local governance and a great deal of independence, allowing them to be nimble and adaptive. Perhaps more importantly, however, is that a great many Catholic schools are hungry for solutions. From many conversations with superintendents and national leaders of Catholic education, there appears to be a growing awareness that Catholic schools need to innovate or slowly fade away. Leaders need to be increasingly on the lookout for innovations and models that can lead to renewed vitality and long-term sustainability.

2. Emerging models are showing success and poised for growth

What is actually happening out there in Catholic schools with regard to blended learning? There are a few notable points of light.

Seton Education Partners, a non-profit and innovator in the Catholic ed sector, has launched the Phaedrus Initiative, helping K-8 Catholic schools transition to a blended learning model. Started in 2011, Phaedrus is now in five schools nationally, and so far, has seen promising results.

The University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), a provider of talent and services to Catholic schools nationally, has a blended learning and school improvement model that has shown promise in its first year, 2013-2014. The ACE blended learning efforts will now support six schools in three cities in its second year.

Over in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the WINGS model of schooling–now Divine Providence Academy–is an example of how blended learning can facilitate effective multi-age classrooms, allowing schools to right-size staff and become sustainable as much smaller operations, akin to one-room schoolhouses of old. A handful of schools have tried to replicate the WINGS model as an approach that offers a more sustainable business model.

3. Catholic schools possess a unique vision

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Catholic schools can have a unique voice regarding the role of technology in education. Some fear that technology will be a dehumanizing force in education, replacing teachers with computers and reducing human interaction. The inadequacies of many virtual schools and blended learning implementations that rely too heavily on technology seem to reinforce these concerns.

But Catholic schools can have a distinctive voice on this matter. The goal of a Catholic education is to form the whole child towards completeness. Catholic educators can demonstrate how technology, if properly integrated, can be a tool for enhancing the holistic development of the child and the quality of student-teacher interactions. Armed with better data, teachers can do more one-on-one coaching than in traditional teacher-centered classrooms. By working at their own pace and level, students are treated with more respect and dignity.

Technology is a tool and does not replace the witness of the teacher and the essential community of faith and learning fostered within Catholic school classrooms, but if thoughtfully used, it can enhance teaching and learning.  

Why Go Blended At All?

In the end, blended learning and the emerging role of technology can offer a lot to Catholic school systems and their long term vitality. For early adopters, blended learning can provide an edge and help brand schools as innovative models offering a personalized approach. This cachet can help drive up enrollment, which in turn stabilizes finances. 

For small schools with limited markets, blended learning can support effective multi-age classes, allowing schools to right-size staff and become sustainable small-schools. 

But, ultimately, to really help Catholic schools, blended learning needs to be more than a marketing strategy or a financial fix. It must strengthen the quality of the product.

If we can judge from the initial successes of some early Catholic blended models, blended learning holds much promise for a marketing boost, enhanced financial flexibility, and improved educational outcomes. And if these new models continue to show strong results, look out for many more blended Catholic schools in the years to come.


I’ve become increasingly fascinated with the idea of venture philanthropy, applying the strategies of venture capitalism to charitable giving, and convinced that this can play a greater role in Catholic education. Venture philanthropy seeks promising start-ups and innovative models and helps provide funding to bring them to scale. This implies a shift in thinking, from giving as charity to giving as investment, where the expected return is transformative social impact.

I like this idea for a few reasons. First, it looks for leverage. It bets on winners with the potential to scale.  This is a smart strategy for effecting change.  Secondly, by treating giving as an investment – with an expectation for specific outcomes – it helps bring greater accountability to the social sector.  In sum, it is a more strategic use of funds that seeks the greatest possible impact or return on investment for charitable giving.  It combines charity with strategy with powerful effects.

A specific example of venture philanthropy in the education sector is the Charter School Growth Fund.

The Charter School Growth Fund is a non-profit that invests philanthropic capital in the nation’s highest performing charter school operators to dramatically expand their impact on underserved students.

So here is the big idea.  Why not a Catholic School Growth Fund?  It would do the following:

  1. Invest in and scale what’s working in Catholic education
  2. Replicate successful Catholic school models
  3. Drive and spread innovation in Catholic schools

A quick note on each point.

First, Catholic schools need to do more to invest in what’s working.  We’ve spent too much time focusing on the problems in Catholic schools and not enough time focusing on the bright spots.  A Catholic School Venture Fund would begin to change this.

Secondly, there is a need for new school models and effective turnaround models. This is already the norm for public school reform in the U.S., and Catholic schools are behind the curve.  We need a diversification of approaches to Catholic schooling in America.  The vanilla Catholic school is quickly becoming an endangered species. The explosion of new school options, from charter schools to virtual schools and everything in between, is creating an increasingly diverse educational market. This is good for parents and children, with more options and more innovation, but a threat to Catholic schools if they don’t adapt.

Though on the whole Catholic schools still provide a high quality education and a distinct advantage to under-resourced children – see here for more stats on this – there are relatively few new Catholic school models that have proven exceptionally effective at educating low-income children and even fewer avenues for bringing such models to scale.  A list of new Catholic school models might include the following:

By creating a Catholic School Growth Fund, we would open up opportunity for more new Catholic school models.  It would allow Catholic educational entrepreneurs to see an easier path for scaling good ideas. New Catholic schools must be created more rapidly in areas with favorable conditions for growth, namely, a growing Catholic population, areas with insufficient supply of Catholic schools per capita, and states or cities with robust parental choice programs.

We also need to support effective school turnaround strategies. The Archdiocese of Seattle, with support from the Fulcrum Foundation, has been experimenting with an interesting turnaround approach. This approach recognizes that an ailing Catholic school – and some have fallen on hard times (low enrollment, mediocre or struggling academics, etc.) cannot be helped with a single intervention or just pouring money on the problem.  Their model prescribes, instead, an intensive regimen. It includes the following:

  • Changing the academic program to fill a niche in the market (i.e. dual language immersion, blended learning, a STEM focus, etc.),
  • Providing intensive support and professional development to improve school quality in key areas known to drive performance,
  • Conducting a rebranding, marketing and recruitment campaign, and
  • Providing significant short-term financial support with a gradual withdrawal.

The intended outcome is shocking a sluggish Catholic school out of poor performance and setting it on the road to success in terms of academics, enrollment and financial health.  All of this is done, of course, without sacrificing or changing the core of what makes Catholic schools special: faith and character formation rooted in community.  We know that turnarounds are hard, but possible.  The alternative will be round upon round of closures, in city after city, year after year.

Finally, a Catholic School Venture Fund would serve as both a catalyst of and repository for promising strategies.  Funding shouldn’t necessarily be limited to replicating school models, it could also drive good and innovative ideas, like a particular approach to finding, training and retaining talent in Catholic schools or expanding data-driven instructional practices in Catholic schools.

I’ve heard that the idea of a Catholic School Venture Fund has been kicked around in different forums in the past couple of years, but to my knowledge there has not been much action yet.  Well, it’s time to get started.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, used his weekly column to highlight one way in which supporters of Catholic schools could celebrate Catholic Schools Week: work to provide educational choice to parents.  In his message, Archbishop Chaput encourages Catholic schools’ advocates within the state to contact their legislators to support school choice in Pennsylvania.  He writes, “If we Philadelphia Catholics love our Catholic schools, and we obviously do, then the time to get active and focused is now.”  If his efforts are successful, Catholic Schools Week will not be the only time for celebration.

Increased educational costs and a struggling economy have contributed to the financial challenges that Catholic schools face.  In light of these obstacles, it is uplifting to hear about Catholic school advocates who invest money in the future of Catholic education – especially when they will not even have the chance to see the fruit that their contribution will bear.

Alicia Sullivan of Dover, New Hampshire, decided to donate the wealth that she and her two sisters, Ruth and Mary Melanie Sullivan, had accumulated to benefit two local Catholic schools.  Upon Alicia Sullivan’s death, $500,000 was designated to be split between St. Mary Academy and St. Thomas Aquinas High School. To read the complete story, click here.

What does it mean to be a Catholic school?  A few weeks ago the New Jersey Assembly advanced a bill that should cause pause for supporters of Catholic schools to evaluate the implications of their responses.  The bill (A2806) would allow hundreds of high-performing private and parochial schools in failing districts to convert to charter schools as long as they remove religious teachings and symbolism from curricula and facilities.  The author of this news report wrote that the bill had support from lawmakers and Gov. Chris Christie, but that it was “opposed by the Catholic [C]hurch, an organization the bill stands to help.”  He concluded that the bill, if enacted, would help the Catholic Church because “[d]eclining enrollment has led the state’s parochial schools to close in record numbers over the past decade, and the bill aims to alleviate that shortage. Many families that pull students from parochial schools do so because they can no longer afford the tuition.”  His rationale is that if tuition is no longer a barrier, more students will be in these schools, which will lead to greater resources for the schools, and therefore the Catholic schools stand to benefit.  What’s the issue then?  Well, everything really…particularly that the identity of these Catholic schools would be fundamentally undermined.  I’m fearful that others – including supporters of Catholic education – would find this logic appealing.  And it is for those who already value a Catholic school education that this message is directed.  I am “preaching to the believers” in this case.

At the core of a Catholic school’s mission is educating the entire person.  If a Catholic school is effective at fulfilling its mission, students will not only undergo a transformation in their ability to think critically, write succinctly, and speak articulately, but they will also have spent time discerning their vocations (i.e., where their God-given talents meet the world’s needs) and exploring their faith in a meaningful way.  Just as we acknowledge that students’ minds should be educated, so too should their hearts.  Equipping students with the prerequisite analytical skills to effect societal change is not the only element of effective teaching.  Exposing students to the ills that plague society and moving their hearts to unceasingly yearn for justice is another crucial aspect.  Could we even ask for a better context to do so than in that of the Christian faith – one whose central figure is a man who not only dwelled among the poor and downtrodden but emphasized that we are judged by our treatment of these groups?  Advocates of Catholic schools desire students to depart, much like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, with their hearts set on fire.  The hope, then, is that they will use this fire kindling within them to go forth, do good, and set the world aflame.  How then could it possibly be in the best interest of these schools to prohibit discussion of the Holy Spirit’s presence working in their midst?  For those who really value the integral role that Catholic schools can play, increasing enrollment at the sake of sacrificing identity cannot even be considered a trade-off.  It’s an admission of defeat, conceding that Catholic schools are not worth fighting for.

Some contend that lessons in character-building can still be taught without explicitly using religion as the vehicle.  The religious symbols – the crucifixes in the classrooms, the statue of Mary in the hallway, the quotes from Scripture painted on the walls – do not confer knowledge.  Plus, the same teachers will be teaching in the same building in the same classrooms.  Surely the schools can find a way to have the same success, right?  Unfortunately, the schools’ culture would be so radically changed that the schools would no longer resemble what they once did, schools with conditions that enabled them to achieve their institutional missions.  This realization is absolutely crucial for true Catholic school advocates.  How can a “charter” Catholic school serve the same function as an actual Catholic school if the person whose life (and death…and resurrection) is the sole reason for the existence of the school cannot be discussed?  Imagine if a public school, like say Henry Harris in Bayonne, New Jersey, was entirely forbidden from mentioning Henry Harris.  That would be ludicrous.  It’s the same thing with truly Catholic schools…except that if Henry Harris didn’t live, that school would still exist just with a different name.  If Jesus didn’t live, that Catholic school would not be there.

From August 2009-May 2011, I taught at Resurrection Catholic School in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  If I were to ask students to name a few of the sources of greatest growth for them during the past school year, undoubtedly a high number would cite their class retreats as one of those causes.  For some others, weekly prayer group meetings were another source of individual and collective growth.  I know how important they were because students would regularly tell me.  And this isn’t unique to a small school along the Gulf Coast.  It was the exact same way when I was a high school student at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Catholic schools are going away; sadly, there is no disputing this fact.  Legislation that makes it easier for these schools to disappear needs to be vociferously opposed by supporters of Catholic education.  If a person holds the conviction that Catholic schools serve the common good, passive acceptance of Catholic schools’ demise is simply unacceptable.  In the end, it is a matter of whether or not people are willing to commit to sustaining a school system that provides concrete opportunities for the entire person to be educated.

Gerard Robinson, a long time advocate for school choice, was unanimously selected yesterday as the Florida education commissioner.  He most recently served as the Virginia Secretary of Education.  For more information, you can check out Robinson picked for education commissioner.

Interesting news out of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as Loyola Marymount University has established the Center for Catholic Education within its School of Education.  Launched in August 2010, the Center brings together 10 Catholic-focused education programs that advance Catholic education in the greater Los Angeles region.  This initiative reflects the latest response by Catholic universities to adopt greater ownership over K-12 education, as called for in United States Catholic Conference of Bishops’ 2005 pastoral statement Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millenium.

For more information on the Center, you can visit its website:  Center for Catholic Education.

De – mol – ish (Verb):

1. Pull or knock down (a building).
2. Comprehensively refute (an argument or its proponent).

Derrell Bradford (from E3, school choice champions of New Jersey) vs. apologist for the status quo. There is nothing I can add, and if you know me, that’s saying something.

It is the second video on the link.

Two Quick Links for ya’ll this beautiful Monday morning:

1.  Cory Booker’s Testimony before the New Jersey Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee regarding the Opportunity Scholarship Act– Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some Cory Booker, especially when he gets revved up about the 4:30 mark, and his comments about the “infantilization” of the poor are right on.  However, I might have to disagree with his belief in voucher or tax-credit scholarships simply as an “escape hatch” for kids in failing schools.   Even if schools are not failing, it is still not OK that some folks get to pick where their kids go to school and some folks don’t because they don’t have as much money.


2.  Big ups to St. Joseph’s University’s new teacher training program.  Who knows, maybe getting compared to Teach for America might get ya’ll  some of that cash.