St. Catherine's High School building

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is studying the governance of Catholic schools in the greater Racine area. No changes have yet been announced, but decisions could have an impact on the Racine Dominicans' 152-year sponsorship of St. Catherine's High School, 1200 Park Ave.

RACINE — The Archdiocese of Milwaukee, along with the Catholic schools in Racine, are seeking input as to what to call the new Catholic school system.

Parents and stakeholders have until Friday to complete the survey online at racinecatholicschools.org.

This is just one step in a process that is slowly changing how Catholic education in Racine will look in the coming years, according to school administrators and the archdiocese.

“We’re hoping to accomplish a better educational experience for all of our students,” said Bruce Varick, principal of Our Lady of Grace Academy, 1425 Grove Ave. “All six schools are going to continue their unique identities.”

Varick said none of the schools are going to close, and this is an opportunity to “grow that Catholic education and presence in Racine.”

“We’re trying to see if we can put together a system that serves our students better than we can as six separate schools,” Varick said. “We’re looking to work more closely together.”

Amy Grau, communication director for the archdiocese, said they’re pleased with the progress being made.

“Educational benchmarking data has now been compiled from all our schools to target next-education achievements,” Grau stated.

“Efforts also continue to establish the governance and the business plan for the collective school system, as well as identifying active roles for each parish and school to help further communicate the effort to their parish and school communities.”

The statement said participants in the survey will have several names to choose from for the new school system and “based on community feedback received, three of those names will be further vetted and provided to the Archbishop (Jerome Listecki) for his consideration.”

Standards and benchmarks

So far there have been various meetings with representatives from the six Catholic schools, the Racine Dominicans (which currently sponsor St. Catherine’s School grades 6-12), the 10 parishes and the archdiocese.

According to the website Racinecatholicschools.org, the archdiocese wants to create a prekindergarten through 12th-grade Catholic school system in Racine and also create a governance structure “that upholds a distinguished academic program, engages justly with all constituencies and models stewardship of resources.”

The website also states the archdiocese will “implement this system according to the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools.”

The standards and benchmarks are defined by Loyola University Chicago in partnership with Boston College. They broadly outline how Catholic schools should provide a high-quality education which allows for faith formation inside as well as outside the classroom. It also outlines how each school should have a governing body that will collaborate the school and the “leader/leadership team.”

The archdiocese also is trying to “grow the system and increase the capacity of our schools to meet students, family and community needs.”

Currently each of the schools follow the same curriculum, Varick said, however the potential changes could mean each of the schools would have the same textbooks, projects and field trips, among other things.

“We’re looking for opportunities to reduce expenses by sharing costs,” Varick said. “The more books I’m able to order, the better price I’m able to get.”

It’s unclear at the moment when the changes will go into effect.

“I believe that there will be more information coming as the process moves forward,” Varick said. “The biggest thing is: If parents have questions they should ask their school principal.”

St. Catherine’s long-term plan

The archdiocesan plan aims to get each of the schools operating together. However, it’s unclear at the moment how the changes will affect St. Catherine’s High School as it looks to make some improvements of its own.

In February, the high school released a “long term strategic plan progress report,” aimed to have 650 “diverse students” enrolled in the school by 2020.

The high school has four strategic objectives regarding: school mode, school campus, faculty and staff, and financial.

Members of St. Catherine’s administration did not return multiple phone calls or emails.

According to the report, the high school has completed internal and external surveys of stakeholders to determine strong and weak areas and has undergone a third-party evaluation of the school.

The high school is currently in the process of creating a five-year facility planning guide, a retention plan, a comprehensive professional development plan, and conducting a climate survey “to determine priorities and parameters of current staff,” according to the strategic plan.

Since fall 2014, St. Catherine’s Board of Directors has been going through a process “with the aim of establishing the school’s direction for the next three to five years,” the plan states.

For the last several years task forces, formed by the archdiocese, have guided the development of the collaboration. However, it’s unclear how that plan will mesh with St. Catherine’s plans for the future.

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Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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