By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – Upholding the Catholic identity in Catholic schools across the Archdiocese is the first of three goals outlined in a five-year strategic plan the Office of Catholic Education will unveil in September.

“Christ is the foundation of the whole educational enterprise in a Catholic school,” the plan states. “The Catholic school finds its definition in the Gospel of Christ, taking root in the mind and lives of its faithful, leading them to be full and practicing members of the Church.”

Strategies to maintain academic excellence and to sustain the mission of Catholic education for future generations are also prioritized in the plan that spans from 2009 to 2014.

“The strategic plan will help to build up the Church in Philadelphia as students take what they learn into the world,” said Richard McCarron, archdiocesan Secretary for Catholic Education. “We will teach students to think critically and analytically in order to apply the knowledge they have learned to real world problems. This will all be done from a Gospel-centered perspective.”

The blueprint for “a rigorous and relevant Catholic education that is accessible, affordable, excellent and effective” was the brainchild of the staff of the Office of Catholic Education, in collaboration with the Archdiocese’s 117 elementary and 20 secondary schools, and five schools of special education.

Acknowledging advances in technology, ongoing demographic changes and significant contradictions in societal values, the plan notes that current students live in a world much different than the one in which today’s adults grew up.

With that concept in mind, the plan was aptly titled, “Catholic Education in the Third Millennium: Faithful to Jesus Christ with a Vision for Excellence, Availability, Affordability and Accountability.”

Building a Catholic identity
McCarron said he considers the goal to uphold Catholic identity the most compelling component of the plan. He believes it can be achieved by raising an awareness among Catholic parents and students about the necessity of their practicing and living out the Catholic faith and by encouraging teachers to continue to give witness to Gospel values in their interactions with parents and students.

Mary Rochford, the archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools, said the plan’s emphasis on Catholic identity cultivates an understanding among Catholic students and their families that an active practice of the Catholic faith will empower them for a grace-filled future.

“The sacramental life of our Catholic Church is the influence that we want our students to have as the foundation for their lives and the view from which all life decisions will happen,” she said.

As full and practicing members of the Church, Catholic students, in collaboration with their parents, guardians and parish and school communities will learn to live fully their baptismal call in following Christ through frequent reception of the sacraments, particularly penance and holy Communion.

The 5 R’s of academic excellence
As centers of academic excellence, the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese address not three R’s but five: religion, rigor, relevance, relationships and reflection.

Religion instruction infuses Gospel values in a Christ-centered learning environment. Rigor promotes intellectual development through critical and analytical thinking, problem-solving and effective communication.

Relevance addresses real-world applications of learning and interdisciplinary approaches supported by innovative technology.

Positive relationships within the school community foster a collaborative, caring and supportive learning environment.

Reflection is a continuous academic and spiritual review by educators in all areas of the school program.

Rochford said it is important that parents, guardians and students realize that Catholic schools continually evaluate the work of education in a rapidly changing world.

“We accept the responsibility to be vigilant about the type of classroom learning experience that will benefit the learner for each successive grade level and, ultimately, for their life path,” she said.

As a result, all stakeholders – parents and guardians, students, staff, teachers, administrators and the supporting community – will come to more clearly understand the depth of the Catholic educational process, added Rochford.

A plan for growth
Through the assistance of marketing and development programs, schools will continue to strive to stabilize and increase their enrollment. A first-year target goal is 3 percent for grade schools and 4 percent for high schools.

In addition, administrators will be given the opportunity to explore a variety of innovative governance and leadership models as well as avenues of financial guidance.

A collaborative approach will assure the strategic plan is achieved, both McCarron and Rochford believe.

“I have great faith in the talents, expertise and support of the leadership team of the Office of Catholic Education, our gifted principals and presidents and our professionally competent teachers to see that this strategic plan will be embraced and implemented in our elementary, secondary and special education schools,” McCarron said.

“No challenge is too much of a challenge when you have the privilege of assisting in the formation of the lives of young people,” Rochford said.

Throughout the plan’s implementation process, parents, guardians and students will be asked to provide feedback through surveys and by participating in assessment meetings across the Archdiocese.

In addition, Rochford is establishing an Internet blog to continue the dialogue with students, parents and other stakeholders of Catholic education.

“Together, we will enable our young people to bring their talents to the fore – ultimately preparing them as contributors of a more Christ-centered world,” she said.

For more information, visit the web site or call the Office of Catholic Education at (215) 587-3700.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or