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Catholic Voice
February 9, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 3   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
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on the family and Church

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— and close to home

50,000 fill SF streets in Walk for Life
Bishop's 'active listening' leads
to revised school contract

Most Rev.
Michael C. Barber, SJ

Read the contract

After months of consultation with Catholic school principals, presidents and faculty members, Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, presented a contract for the 2014-15 school year.

The contract, adapted from one used by the Archdiocese of Chicago, were made available to teachers, along with a letter from the bishop, on Feb. 2.

The contract's key points include:

• "The Teacher agrees to serve in a professional manner and to act in accordance with the Catholic doctrine and moral teachings. The Teacher is employed as an educator in a Catholic school, and he/she shall perform his/her duties as a minister and steward of the Catholic faith.

• "Demonstrate a public life consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, and refrain from taking a public position contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church."

The bishop unveiled the contract after consulting with various constituencies, including school principals and presidents, and high school and elementary school teachers.

Superintendent Sister Barbara Bray, SNJM, described it as a "collaborative and pastoral process, fruitful and furthering and strengthening the mission of Catholic education in the diocese."

"We really are very much on the same page — teachers, principals and bishop — of Catholic identity as the central reason for our schools," she said.

Participants in the teachers' meetings with bishop described him as an active listener who put them at ease to discuss problems they or their colleagues might have encountered with the contract offered to them for the 2014-15 year.

After some controversy over that contract — including the refusal to sign it by a handful of high school teachers — the bishop said last May, that he was "committed to collaborating further in making decisions about any related language in our 2015-16 teachers' contract."

Among the participants in the bishop's meeting with high school teachers was Marcy Fox, a religion teacher at Carondelet High School in Concord.

"I felt very welcomed into the group," she said. "Bishop Barber really wanted to hear what faculty members thought about the contract." Participants "felt comfortable expressing concerns of the school," she said.

The session with the nine educators — one representative from each high school in the diocese — lasted 90 minutes. It began with the opportunity to voice concerns about contract language, then moved to examples of contracts from other dioceses.

Bishop Barber, participants said, did not express a preference for a particular contract. In reading examples from other dioceses, Angela Hernandez, the St. Elizabeth High School participant said, "some of the contract language was really contentious." The one chosen, she said, "didn't raise any eyebrows."

In her third year at St. Elizabeth High School, Hernandez teaches religion and math and is director of academic services. She also teaches a 7 a.m. algebra class for eighth-graders from neighboring St. Elizabeth Elementary.

"I thought it was a really helpful meeting," she said. "Going in, I was interested to hear perspectives from other schools."

She encountered good communication from everyone in the meeting. Bishop Barber, she said, "answered everyone's questions and was very open. I liked that Bishop Barber seemed open to suggestion."

Nine elementary school teachers, representing each region of the diocese, met similarly with the bishop in a 90-minute session. The meeting marked the first time in her 39 years at the School of the Madeleine in Berkeley that Heather Skinner had ever been asked to consult on a contract.

One of the examples offered "began with a preamble of mutual respect and trust," she said. "It was very beautifully worded; it lifted up the ministry aspect," she said.

The bishop, she noted, was an active listener and "intent on everything each person had to offer. "We all left feeling very positive," she said.

"The bishop's leadership in designing and implementing this process was a great gift to all of us," said Sister Bray, the superintendent.

The arrival of the contract was met with gratitude at Bishop O'Dowd High School, scene of protest over contract language last year.

In a letter emailed to parents on Feb. 2, school president Steven Phelps wrote, "We are grateful to the bishop for fulfilling his promise to listen to our community and respond with respect and compassion. We trust that the contract language assures everyone that O'Dowd will continue to remain a welcoming and inclusive Catholic college preparatory school that serves the educational, personal and spiritual needs of our students, families and the diocese."

In an interview, Phelps said, "He kept his word. He acted like a wise teacher."

Terry Lee, president at Moreau Catholic High School, said, "We feel this new language complements and supports the existing language."

At St. Joseph Notre Dame High School, principal Simon Chiu said, he was "grateful the bishop has engaged in the process of consultation." The participation of the faculty helped the bishop understand the concerns over the contract language, particularly over the issue over public and private life, he said.

"Now we can go forward with the work of educating our kids," Chiu said.

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