Friday, January 31, 2014

Leadership: Key to Catholic Education Success

By Kevin Baxter

For long-term growth and sustainability Catholic schools need strong leaders who focus on clear Catholic identity, rigorous academics and active stewardship. Quality, Catholic-centered education attracts students and parents. Even in low income neighborhoods, when these characteristics are present we see successful Catholic schools. Creating quality and ensuring that that value is present at a school starts with vision.

Catholic school leaders must indicate that growth not only is possible but also attainable in the coming decades. In Los Angeles, we educate fewer than 10 percent of the Catholic school age population, and I imagine one finds similar percentages in other dioceses. The potential for growth in Catholic school enrollment is not something discussed often given time spent focusing on schools that have closed (or are closing) and the challenges faced by those that remain.

That vision – that school enrollment growth is attainable – builds on leadership and innovation. The leadership must be transformative and present a bold vision of growth along with a clear plan for how to achieve it. To simply convey the vision with words and not actions will not lead to successful change. In order to be transformative an effective leader must tell people what they need to hear and not what they necessarily want to hear. In doing so the effective leader must maintain the respect of those who follow to lead them to understanding and acceptance.

Innovation, at its most basic level, consistently rejects the status quo and explores new ways to educate students and operate schools that effectively prepares students for the world of tomorrow. Catholic schools need to adapt and innovate to meet the needs of the 21st century family and student. Ways that worked in the past will not work in the future; change is a requirement for growth. The advent of new technologies requires new approaches in how we govern and educate students in Catholic schools. This includes how we integrate technology into classrooms. It also involves innovation in curriculum, for example, establishing dual language immersion schools to better meet the needs of the contemporary student and family.

As stewards of God’s creation and the schools that have been entrusted to them, Catholic school leaders must ensure that the schools where they serve remain available to future generations. Today’s Catholic school leader stands on the shoulders of the saints who built the schools and educated generations of students. Principals didn’t set out to start a small business of their own. They inherited a gift from decades of predecessors. Their predecessors’ task: To building and establish schools. Today’s task, indeed, obligation, is to ensure that Catholic schools grow and thrive so they can continue to serve generations to come.


Kevin Baxter is Superintendent of Elementary Schools for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

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