Diocese emphasizes stability in Catholic schools
Strategies are highlighted at news conference
Dr. Robert Paserba (Left), secretary for Catholic education and evangelization with Superintendent of the Department for Catholic Schools Dr. Michael Latusek (Right), highlighted the gifts that Catholic schools bring to southwestern Pennsylvania during the annual news conference marking the new year.
"We are very proud of our Catholic schools, and we are gratified by the recognition of the larger community for our values-based, faith-filled and academically excellent educational program," he said during the conference Sept. 12 at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Downtown Pittsburgh.
While final enrollment numbers are not yet complete, some 21,000 students were expected to be enrolled in the 81 pre-K through elementary and 11 secondary schools in the diocese for the 2012-13 school year. The figures will include some 3,000 preschool students, some 14,000 K-8 students and approximately 4,000 students in grades 9-12.
Paserba pointed out that the figures on the secondary level have been stable for the past decade.
Average tuition for the first child in elementary schools will be about $3,450, an increase of $150 from last year. At the high school level, it will be approximately $8,950, an increase of $600 from last year.
In noting the theme for the year will be "Catholic Schools Raised the Standards," Paserba listed a number of programs that support the schools.
He spoke of the ongoing partnership with Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania. In May, 68 schools were recognized by JA for involving their entire student body in JA programs last year.
He also noted the Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl Scholarship program, established by JA in 2005. The program provides a $3,000 scholarship to eighth-graders in diocesan schools who wish to attend a Catholic high school. In the past eight years, 216 students have received $648,000 in scholarships.
In addition, Paserba announced formation of the Bishop David A. Zubik Scholarship program. It will support Catholic high school students who participate in JA programs.
Another program highlighted was the Catholic/Jewish Educational Enrichment Program, which is in its 12th year. The program brings rabbis from Pittsburgh area synagogues into Catholic high schools and Catholic educators in Jewish schools and youth programs to engage in a dialogue with students.
Paserba said one of the most important initiatives recently completed under the direction of Bishop Zubik and the Secretariat for Catholic Education and Evangelization was a series of 16 listening sessions held in fall 2010 and spring 2011.
Organized by the Department for Catholic Schools and an Alliance for Catholic Education team from the University of Notre Dame, the sessions documented the input of almost 1,000 participants. Implementation of the recommendations began in fall 2011.
There will be further and ongoing dialogue this fall in each of the four vicariates of the diocese. The dialogue will include parishes with schools and those without them, with the goal of the reorganization of Catholic elementary schools to ensure their long-term viability.
Among the outcomes of the strategies, he noted, have been the formation of two "Consortium of Parish Model" schools -- East Catholic School in Forest Hills and Mon Yough Catholic in White Oak.
East Catholic involves six parishes now supporting the school, along with the inclusion of students from the former Word of God in Swissvale and Good Shepherd schools in Braddock. It opened the year with some 363 students in grades K-8.
Mon Yough involves eight parishes now supporting one school, which includes students from the former St. Angela Merici in White Oak and St. Joseph Regional schools in McKeesport. It opened the year with some 331 students in grades preschool-8.
Paserba noted that the strength of the model is that it involves all parishes, not just those that formerly had schools. It gives all of them the opportunity to share in financial and marketing plans and to embrace the schools as their own.
"It won't be so much closing schools, it will be more like a consortium," he said. "It will bring stability."
It is a model. he said, that will be a focus for the future.
Paserba outlined the progress on Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School, which will open in Cranberry Township in fall 2014. It is expected that some 1,000 students in grades 9-12 will enroll in the school over the first several years. The cost of the project will be $71 million.
An important note regarding the curriculum framework, he said, is the formation of the Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School Education Planning Commission, a cross-section of professional educators and Catholic leaders.
Beginning this fall, the work of the commission will be complete with the distribution of materials and enrollment packets that describe the program at the new school, and answer questions that parents and students may have.
"Not only will the new CWNCHS be a state-of-the-art facility, but it will include a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) certification program, 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 importantly, the faith dimension grounded in the five characteristics of the Marianist tradition," he said.
Paserba listed a number of other issues, including the financial stability of schools in the diocese. He said the diocese has fully implemented the elementary school financing policy, which requires that 60 percent of total school cost is funded from tuition yield, 25 percent from parish subsidy, and 15 percent from fund-raising, development and other sources, including diocesan subsidy.
The parish subsidy figure, he noted, is down from some 54 percent 15 years ago.
"We made certain that budgeted guidelines were met," he said. He credited Charity Sister Mary Jo Mutschler, newly appointed associate superintendent for Catholic schools, for her work on the guidelines.
Among the initiatives aiding diocesan schools is the Bishop's Education Fund. Paserba said the fund has awarded more than $10.2 million to almost 38,000 students in the past 18 years. This year, grants from the fund will total more than $680,000.
In addition, direct diocesan grants to elementary schools will total about $3.3 million this year.
Paserba also noted that proceeds from the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program will help award some $2.9 million to students with financial needs this year. Through the program, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has attained some $30 million in tax credit funds from businesses in the past 10 years. More than 62,000 students have benefited.
He closed by noting that the heart of Catholic education is faith.
"Excellent academics are important; instilling values is vital," he said. "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."
Paserba recognized a number of school officials in attendance, including Dr. Michael Latusek, newly appointed superintendent for Catholic schools.