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The Future of Boston's Catholic Schools

by Thomas Carroll, Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Boston, for The Boston Pilot

As the new superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Boston, I have enjoyed meeting countless people committed to the future of our schools -- principals, teachers, parents, students and clergy. The passion I have seen is nothing short of inspirational, and I look forward to visiting every school in the Boston Archdiocese.


Despite this passion, these are indisputably challenging times. Since the 1960s, enrollment in Catholic schools has dropped from a peak of more than 5 million students to just over 1.7 million students today.


Against this backdrop, the obvious question is: How can Catholic education in the Boston Archdiocese chart a more successful future? After two months as superintendent, a few tentative thoughts come to mind.


In my view, the future belongs to schools with a clear vision and a keen understanding of the local educational landscape of their community.


School leaders need to understand -- from a parent's perspective -- what the other options are in the same community. Since many of these options -- namely, district and charter schools -- are free, the Catholic schools that will survive will be those that offer parents something the free schools don't. This could be higher quality, smaller class size, stricter discipline, or a distinctive school design or curriculum.


Some Catholic school leaders wrongly believe that they should de-emphasize faith as they seek to market their schools in a broadly secular society. This is a mistake. Given competition from free district schools and free charter schools, a Catholic school will not prevail by positioning itself as a tuition-charging secular (non-religious) school. Our schools can "go further with faith." What Catholic schools offer is something more transcendent than any secular school can ever offer. This is our strength, not a weakness.


Several Catholic schools in the Boston Archdiocese understand all of this, including Bellesini Academy, Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School, St. Benedict Classical Academy, Sparhawk Academy, and St. Paul's Choir School. These schools are very different from each other, but each offers a clear vision, strong Catholic identity, and strong academics.


Bellesini Academy, a grade 5-8 Nativity school in Lawrence, has a small-school environment, strong Catholic identity, extended school days and an 11-month school year that provides students with almost twice the instructional time of public schools, and a unique advisory program that helps its graduates navigate high school and college.


A few blocks away is Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School. Under the Cristo Rey model, developed by the Jesuits, high school students work one day a week in an internship with a local company or nonprofit. These internships provide students with valuable work experience as a supplement to their academic studies. As importantly, the students are trained to shake hands, look people in the eye when speaking, show up on time, and complete assignments with reliability.



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