Don't wait until you hear that a school is struggling financially. Step forward now and be an advocate for your school. Tell people about why Catholic schools are important in your life and in our community.
Generally, this time of year, we are celebrating the end of school, with teachers and school leaders looking forward to a break from the daily routine -- schools quiet, floors being waxed, walls painted and a relaxing time to get caught up before another year begins. This all seems like a luxury now.
This summer, particularly for Catholic school leaders, is one of constant work and preparation. Being a Catholic school leader, especially at the elementary level, means the principal is the CEO, CFO, COO, head of maintenance, head of HR and, oh yeah, responsible for the high-quality curriculum, ensuring each student reaches his or her potential. In short, it is an extremely difficult job under normal conditions.
As principals are preparing their buildings for next year, they are doing so under the incredible pressure of so many unknowns. These leaders must ask many questions and prepare for various scenarios: students back and socially distant, students rotating days between online and in school, aligned in cohorts, best ways to keep students and teachers safe. Consider questions such as: Do we require testing before the school year starts? Do we need a person at the front door taking temperatures? What if there is another outbreak? All of this is set against a backdrop of families not knowing what their financial situation will look like next year.
The COVID-19 crisis has already negatively impacted Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Boston with school closings and mergers. A school building closing is always sad for families, but is not always bad; sometimes it is an opportunity to emerge stronger with better facilities, stronger academics, and a better financial position for schools so that more students can be served with less buildings.
Often, we hear from families and alumni when a school is closing, "I wish we had known," and "I wish we could have done something." This generally comes past the point of no return when the decision has been made to close, resulting in alumni and other community members feeling cheated and not heard. They feel that had they known, they could have gathered others and supported the school that made such a difference in their lives.
So, as these principals and school leaders are working harder than ever preparing for next year, let me be the first to say to anyone interested or positively impacted by Catholic education: these schools need you. These principals need you. These students need you. Now is the time to reach out; now is the time to reflect on the value of Catholic education. Now is the time to act. Don't wait until you hear that a school is struggling financially. Step forward now and be an advocate for your school. Tell people about why Catholic schools are important in your life and in our community.
It was this sort of advocacy that resulted in the CARES Act, which provided significant financial relief for small businesses, ultimately including Catholic schools. The inclusion of Catholic schools in the CARES Act had a direct positive impact on Catholic schools throughout this country, especially in economically challenged areas and those schools that serve economically disadvantaged students. We need this sort of advocacy to continue. We need everyone to understand that Catholic schools save taxpayers more than $500 million a year in Massachusetts alone while providing better outcomes for students, especially for low-income students. Catholic Schools are good for the students they serve, they are good for the tax-payer, and they are good for the public schools.
Catholic education is facing challenging times and school leaders have risen to the occasion, continuing to make it a priority to serve low-income households, new immigrants, and other disadvantaged families. This describes so many families who benefited from Catholic education and are now successful in life. In the past, nothing was ever asked of families; the sisters and parishes covered most of the cost so families could receive this benefit. Today, with the number of sisters declining and parishes struggling, schools rely on the generosity of donors to stay true to their mission.
Your support and advocacy are needed to ensure a vibrant system of Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Boston. Pastors, principals, and teachers are not able to do this work alone. They need our support and advocacy now more than ever. Now is the time to act and I invite you to reach out to the Catholic Schools Foundation or your local Catholic school to learn how you can help. With your help, we can be sure that the life changing gift of Catholic education is available to more students and families for years to come.
- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.