“Catholic schools – communities of faith, knowledge and service”

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Highlighting the values and academic excellence that Catholic schools bring to Southwestern Pennsylvania, Dr. Michael Latusek, Superintendent for Catholic Schools, enumerated several examples reflecting the 2013-2014 theme, “Catholic Schools—Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service” at his annual news conference opening the school year. 

Though the official enrollment has not yet been determined, approximately 20, 000 students will be enrolled in 79 pre-kindergarten through grade 8 elementary and 11 Catholic high schools in the diocese. The breakdown is approximately 3,000 pre-kindergarten students, about 13,000  kindergarten through eighth grade students and about 4,000 students in grades 9-12.  The average tuition for the first child Catholic student in elementary school is about $3, 600; at the high school level, it is about $9,500.

School opened on August 22 and the school year will end for students on June 13, 2014.  Throughout the year a number of important activities will take place.  Some of the highlights include:

  •  The Diocese of Pittsburgh will host the National Catholic Education Association convention (NCEA) April 22-24 at the David Lawrence Convention Center. Over 7,000 participants are expected.  This is the largest private-education association gathering in the nation, with participants representing all aspects of Catholic and faith-based education, from pre-school, elementary, secondary, adult education, colleges and universities, as well as local parish pastors, priests and directors of religious education programs.
  •  In May, 2013, 68 Catholic elementary schools were recognized by Junior Achievement for involving 100 percent of their students in JA programs. The Cardinal Donald Wuerl Scholarship program established by Junior Achievement in 2005 continues to assist eighth graders with their education at diocesan high schools. During the past nine years, 248 eighth graders have received scholarships of $3,000 each bringing the total provided by JA to $744,000.
  •  Furthermore, the Bishop David A. Zubik Scholarship program that was announced last year is this year supporting 10 students with scholarships of $1,000 toward their Catholic high school education.

 

Important Developments and Initiatives of the 2013-2014 academic year:  

 

  • One of the salient initiatives was the 16 listening sessions held during the school year of 2010-2011.  The listening sessions were organized by the Department for Catholic Schools and included  a team from the University of Notre Dame -- the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE).  There will be further and ongoing dialogue in the fall of 2014 within each of the four vicariates with parishes with schools and parishes without schools, all aimed at the reorganization of Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Pittsburgh that will ensure their long-term viability

 

  • Another important initiative is the establishment of the Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School which opened this year at the site of the former North Catholic High School, and will officially open in the new school building at the Cranberry site in the fall of 2014.  The expectation is that  enrollment will grow over the first several years to as many as 1,000 students in grades 9-12.

As of this date:

 

  • Site-preparation is well underway on the 71-acre parcel, which is located on Rt. 228 in Cranberry Township with completion expected next spring;
  • The firm Astorino Architects and Engineers has designed the state of the art facility;
  • The curriculum framework has been completed;

One important note regarding the curriculum framework was the formation of the Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School Education Planning Commission, representing a cross-section of professional educators and Catholic leaders who finalized all aspects of the education program that began this year on Troy Hill.  The school will have a Science, Technology, Engineering, Math  and Medicine (STEMM) certification program as well as technical education, inclusiveness programs for students with special needs, performing and fine arts, advanced placement options, electronic portfolio and project-based graduation requirements, and most important, the faith dimension grounded in the five characteristics of the Marianist tradition.         

 

  • In 1990, Pittsburgh was the first Catholic diocese in the nation to have all of its schools accredited by Middle States.  As we begin the 2013-2014 school year, the Middle States Association continues to recognize all of our elementary and secondary schools as fully accredited.

Expansion of facilities at several schools:  At the elementary level:

 

  • North American Martyrs School in Monroeville is proud to announce the addition of seventh grade for the 2013-2014 school year.  Enrollment of preschool through sixth-grade has steadily increased over the past three years, averaging about 10% per year.  Seventh grade will be in place this year and eighth grade will be added in 2014. Plans are underway for reconstruction in the existing building.

 

  • Holy Child Catholic in Bridgeville started the new school year with new computers in the Computer Lab.   Students will use the latest Microsoft Office Suite.    Additional SmartBoards and documents cameras were added to classrooms.  Intrusion locks have been installed on all classroom

     doors. All entrances to the building have had the locks changed to be unlocked with a single key that

     cannot be copied.

 

  • Aquinas Academy in Gibsonia has begun construction on a $4.2 M 22,000 square foot building.   This will have 2 science labs equipped with fume hoods for advanced chemistry, as well as 9 other high school classrooms and a basement that will house art and music classes for all levels.   The building should be complete for the 2014-2015 school year.   Once complete, all levels -- lower, middle, and high school students -- will benefit from expanded space.   The high school has a current enrollment of 110 students, with a freshman class of 39.   For the first time, Aquinas Academy has two sections each of Kindergarten through 10th grade, with one 11th and one 12th grade class.

 

  • Butler Catholic upgraded their technology to completely wireless.  Replaced 65 windows and two roofs. Landscaping done in front of school. New basketball hoops installed in gym.

 

  • Sacred Heart completed the Mark Krotec Science Lab, a state-of-the-art facility that will be used by all the students.   

A few examples at the secondary school level include:

  • Quigley Catholic Baden had eight students selected for the Westinghouse Science Honors Institute.  Ten students participated in the PJAS awards; of the ten, five won first place, five second, and two were recognized for being participants in the State competition for all four years.  Quigley also participates in the National Forensic League and the University of Pittsburgh Mock Trial competition where they won the State competition.

 

  • Seton LaSalle completed multiple capital improvement projects over the summer.  The Media Room (formerly AV/TV) room) was renovated to host a new project SLS is taking on in collaboration with the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. SLS students will audition and volunteer their time to voice audio books for the Library.  These books will be made available to library patrons in downloadable digital files, a new initiative started by the Library to enhance the audiobook options for their patrons. The Media room also hosts the live morning news and announcements.  SLS students in the media club perform live news and announcements broadcast for the school each morning.  

 

  • Vincentian Academy in North Hills completed implementation of the new Chrome Books that students began training on the first day of school.  The new technology initiative brought a wireless system throughout the entire Vincentian Academy campus, along with new Chrome Books for every student. Vincentian Academy’s Chrome Book devices are optimized for the web’s vast educational resources.

 

  • Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic began operations at the Troy Hill site and will have a significant 21stcentury curriculum with a one-to-one laptop program.  The 2012 graduates were awarded the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Medal, University of Rochester Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony Awards, George Eastman Young Leaders Award, Xerox Award for Innovation and Information Technology, and the Saint Michael’s College Book Award for Academic Excellence with a Social Conscience.

 

  • Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School graduates earned over $6,000,000 in scholarship money this past year and Serra Catholic High School graduates earned over $3.4 million in scholarships .St. Joseph High School students earned over $4.8 million in scholarships.  Overall in the 11 high schools graduates have earned over $36,000,000 this past year.

 

  •  Central Catholic High School, the largest high school  had two seniors named  as National Merit Scholarship finalists and nine named as Commended Students.  The young men at Central raised $35,000 during Lent for one of their Brother La Sallian schools in Haiti.

Orientation for principals was held the week of August 12, and for 68 new teachers on August 8 and 15, with in-service days held throughout August for teachers, administrators and principals.

Between opening day and the final class on June 6, 2013 several important events and projects will take place, Latusek noted.  “First, during the week of January 26-February 1, 2014, our schools celebrate Catholic Schools Week.  Our theme throughout this year is ‘Catholic Schools – Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.’ Our schools celebrate more than 185 consecutive years of quality education in the Diocese of Pittsburgh in the year 2013-2014.”

“Regarding faith formation and Catholic identity,” Latusek added, “All of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Pittsburgh share a set of common goals which they strive to fulfill.  Of foremost importance is Faith Formation/Catholic identity.  Our Catholic schools integrate faith into every aspect of life and culture, producing graduates who continually strive for human and Christian perfection.  It is this focus on faith formation, spiritual values, moral and ethical development, and a strong sense of helping others that defines who we are,” Latusek said.

Academic excellence is readily apparent in the performance of our students in standardized tests.  In the spring of 2013, approximately 13,000 students in grades two through eight in our Catholic elementary schools took the Terra Nova Achievement Tests, and approximately 2,000 ninth and tenth grade students in our Catholic high schools took the Iowa Test of Educational Development in October 2012.

In citing just a few examples, the results show that from grades kindergarten through eighth in Reading, our students exceeded the national norms.  For example, students in the fifth grade scored at the 8.2 level which is 2.5years above the norm; in grade seven at the 11.3 level which is 3.6 years above the norm, and in grade eight at the 12.5 level which is 3.8 years above the norm.    In grades nine and ten, our students performed at grades 13.0 plus and 13.0 plus, or at the 8thstanine. 

Similarly, in Mathematics, our average diocesan test scores in comparison to the national norms were greatly exceeded by our students.  For instance, students in grade seven scored at the 10.8 level, or 3.1 years above the norm; in grade eight at the 11.3 level which is 2.6 years above the norm.  In grades 9 and 10, our students performed at grades 13.0+ and 13.0+ respectively or at the 7thstanine.

“A measure of our Catholic high school graduates’ success might be found in the fact that more than 99 percent of them went on to post-secondary education following the year 2012 graduation  and that 94% went onto four year degree granting programs.  Of that group 86% attended the U.S. New and World Report top 150 colleges in the country,” Latusek said.

Catholic schools have fully integrated an Academic Support Model to provide interventions to students with mild to moderate disabilities, including students with specific learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and students with a slower pace of learning.  Currently, all of our Catholic schools are involved with this formalized approach to meeting the diverse learning needs of students in regular education classrooms.   In addition, 103 special needs children are educated in an inclusive model directed by St. Anthony School Programs at four elementary schools and two high schools.  It also includes a program focusing on vocational training and career services for 18-21 year-old students at Duquesne University, University of Pittsburgh and Carlow University. 

Regarding financial support, Latusek commented on the diocese’s school financing policy that requires 60 percent of total school cost to be funded from tuition yield, 25 percent from parish subsidy, and 15 percent from fund raising and development and other sources, including diocesan subsidy. This program has been in operation for the past 16 years and has created a level of financial support for each of our schools that can be budgeted for on an annual basis.  “Every parish in the diocese provides financial support for our schools each year.  We are grateful for the continued support for our schools that comes from our parishes, the diocese, the larger community and many benefactors,” Latusek added.

Schools also receive continuing training in fundraising and development through the diocesan development office, and support through the Bishop’s Education Fund.   In the 19 years that this fund has existed, it has awarded over $10.2 million to nearly 38,000 elementary and secondary students in every part of the diocese.  This year, tuition assistance grants from the fund will total over $700,000.  A collection for this fund was taken up at all parishes at weekend Masses of September 7 and 8, 2013, allowing every person in the diocese a chance to contribute.

There are also direct diocesan grants to elementary schools throughout the diocese which will help schools with about $3.3 million in the current school year.  This money comes from parishes throughout the diocese without schools. 

“While the diocese makes a major effort to support schools, we are especially proud of the help that various segments of the community are providing,” Latusek continued.

“These donors show an increasing awareness that Catholic schools represent a community asset,” he noted.

Among the examples of growing community support which Latusek cited were:

  • The Extra Mile Education Foundation provides significant support to two Pittsburgh area urban Catholic schools – St. Benedict the Moor in the Hill District and  Sister Thea Bowman Catholic Academy in Wilkinsburg. Since its formation in 1990, the Extra Mile Education Foundation will have given over $36million to the schools through the 2013-2014 school year.  This year the schools will have a total enrollment of about 450 pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students.

 

  • At East Catholic School in Forest Hills, Northside Catholic School in Brighton Heights and Saint Bartholomew, Penn Hills, the Board of the Extra Mile Education Foundation is also providing tuition assistance to approximately 130 students.

 

  • In another section of Allegheny County, committed individuals formed the North Side Friends and Neighbors Education Fund to financially assist Cardinal Wright Regional Elementary School, now the newly merged school Northside Catholic located at 3854 Brighton Road.  During the past 15 years, the fund has provided more than $1.1 million to support Catholic education in the North Side.  The North Side Friends and Neighbors group, co-chaired by Mr. Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Mr. Kevin McClatchy will host its sixteenth annual fund raising gala on Thursday, November 7, 2013 at Heinz Field.  The members to be inducted into the North Side Hall of Fame will be Congressman Michael Doyle and Dr. Robert L. Paserba, Secretary for Catholic Education.

 

  • The Crossroads Foundation continues to assist graduates from the two Extra Mile Education Foundation schools along with students from the former Good Shepherd School and the Northside Catholic School to pursue a Catholic secondary education.  Students who apply for Crossroads are required to attend these schools for at least four years and are awarded scholarships to assist them academically and/or financially in Catholic secondary schools.  They receive extensive support services as well, including mentoring and counseling.

 

  • Another important partner that helps us to support families at 18 of our elementary schools is the George and Mary Kremer Foundation.  Currently, each of the selected schools has been given $10,000 for this school year to be used for tuition assistance for needy families so that their children can attend Catholic schools.  Through the 2013-2014 school year, the Foundation will have provided approximately $2.3 million dollars to our families.

 

  • In May 2001 the PA General Assembly passed the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program.  This law enables businesses to receive a tax credit, or reduction in actual taxes paid, if they designate this money to an organization such as our Scholastic Opportunity Scholarship (SOS) program.  The response to this program in Pittsburgh and all of Pennsylvania has been gratifying.  Because so many members of the Pennsylvania business community recognize the value of our schools, the Diocese of Pittsburgh was able to attain about $30 million in tax credit funds from businesses for approximately 62,000 students during the past 11 school years.  About $3.8 million more will be awarded in 2013-2014.  All of this has been distributed to students with financial need in grants ranging from $100-$2,500 per student.

This year, the PA General Assembly has increased the amount in the EITC 1.0 program to $100 million and it has established a new program, the EITC 2.0 program with a limit of $50 million.  The EITC 2.0 program will be available to eligible families residing in the geographic area of the lowest 15 percent of the failing schools in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Tuition assistance will be provided to these students who choose to go to another public school or to a nonpublic school, with up to $8,500 for regular education students and up to $15,000 for special education students.  The diocese has received approximately 4446,000 in donations that will be awarded to eligible families.

Another important initiative Latusek noted, in the area of administration, was the Department of Catholic Schools’ undertaking in the year 2000, “to follow the mandates of Pennsylvania’s Act 48 of 1999 – continuing professional education of teachers and administrators.”  The Act involves teaching, administrative and superintendent certificates.  As a result of this Act, the Department for Catholic Schools became an Approved Provider for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. 

“Our application to continue to be an Approved Provider was tentatively approved by PDE for the period July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2015.  Our approximately 1600 professionally certificated educators in the Diocese of Pittsburgh have completed their thirteenth full year of in-service activities associated with this Act and all of them have not only attained the mandated hours and credits but have far exceeded them,” Latusek said.

Also, regarding our teaching staff, the eight Catholic high schools whose teachers are represented by the Federation of Pittsburgh Diocesan Teachers have a contract that expired August 31, 2013 and through mutual agreement negotiations continue to finalize a new contract.  In addition, the 31 elementary schools whose teachers are represented by the Federation of Pittsburgh Diocesan Teachers have a contract in place that extends through August 31, 2014.  St. Anthony School Programs, whose teachers are also represented by the Federation, has a contract that extends through August 31, 2014.

Latusek concluded his remarks with a reference to a central element of Catholic schools.  “The centerpiece of our work is faith, and it is supported by 185 consecutive years of quality education, working to educate not only the mind, but the heart and soul as well.”

“Excellent academics are important; instilling values is vital. But without faith, there is no reason for Catholic schools.  And by every account, parents are choosing our schools because they teach strong moral values in a disciplined environment – clearly a recipe for helping all children in our schools achieve their highest potential.  They become contributing members of their communities, implementing the values of caring, of service, of the dignity of human life they learned at home and in our classrooms.  As with our schools themselves, our graduates become a source of hope for the world.  And weare extremely grateful to our bishop, Bishop David Zubik, who provides tremendous leadership and great support for our Catholic schools.”

Latusek finally acknowledged “the tremendous leadership and dedication of Dr. Robert L. Paserba, Secretary for Education and Evangelization who will be retiring at the end of this calendar year after 50 years of service in education and 20 of those years here at the diocese.”