National standards offer
criteria for school excellence
Sister Barbara Bray, SNJM
In May 2012 a landmark document, National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools, was published and disseminated to every Diocese and Catholic school in the United States. This document is the result of two years of broad collaboration among Catholic educators from all levels across the nation. The publication of these standards gives the entire Catholic community a common framework of universal characteristics of Catholic identity and agreed upon criteria for Catholic school excellence. Additionally, this national platform for Catholic school effectiveness correlates wonderfully with and provides clearer guidance and extends the rigor and accountability of our Draft Proposed Strategic Plan for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Oakland.
In August 2012, the principals of our 44 Catholic elementary schools and nine Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Oakland, met and discussed the new "National Standards" document developed by Catholic educators across the nation, including scholars in Catholic institutions of higher education, superintendents, principals, bishops, and pastors.
After discussing the nine characteristics which define the Catholic Identity of a Catholic school, the principals shared in small and large groups how they could demonstrate these characteristics in the life of their schools. These "characteristics" clearly articulate why Catholic schools exist. They are the foundation for the standards and benchmarks. As explained on the website, http://catholicschoolstandards.org — the characteristics are:
• Centered on the person of Jesus Christ: Catholic education is rooted in the conviction that Jesus Christ provides the most comprehensive and compelling example of the realization of full human potential.
• Contributes to the evangelizing mission of the Church: Catholic education participates directly and in a privileged way in the evangelizing mission of the Church.
• Distinguished by excellence: Catholic schools are committed to excellence and this excellence in instruction and Catholic Identity needs to be objectively measured to ensure excellence in every aspect of its programs, life and activities.
• Committed to educate the whole child: Catholic schools have an absolute conviction that human beings have a transcendent destiny and that the school must focus on the whole person. Catholic schools must, therefore, form the spiritual, intellectual, physical, psychological, social, moral, aesthetic and religious capacity of its students.
• Steeped in a Catholic worldview: All curriculum and instruction in a Catholic school should foster: the desire to seek wisdom and truth, the preference for social justice, the discipline to become self-learners, the capacity to recognize ethical and moral grounding for behavior and the responsibility to transform the world with Gospel values.
• Sustained by gospel witness: A Catholic school teacher is a role model for students and gives testimony by his or her life and commitment to the mission.
• Shaped by communion and community: Catholic school education places an emphasis on the school community — an educational community of persons who form a genuine community of faith.
• Accessible to all students: By reason of their evangelizing mission, Catholic schools should be available to all people who desire a Catholic school education for their children.
• Established by the expressed authority of the bishop: The bishop of each diocese needs to proclaim the mission of Catholic schools, support and enhance the work of Catholic schools and insure that these schools are based upon the principles of Catholic doctrine.
The principals then reviewed the 13 standards that describe policies, programs, structures and processes that should be present in mission-driven, program-effective, well-managed and responsibly governed Catholic schools that operate in concert with these defining characteristics. For each standard there are benchmarks that provide a solid basis for future development of more detailed self-assessment and diagnostic instruments, data collection and reporting structures and accreditation tools, as appropriate at the local, diocesan, regional and national levels.
National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools was drafted by a national task force of Catholic school educators and supporters, in communication with the National Catholic Educational Association.
At each school in the diocese, these will form the basis for study, review and planning as we work together as a community of schools to secure a strong future for our Catholic schools for generations to come.
(Sister Barbara Bray, SNJM, is superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Oakland.)