Back to School 2017

Over 600 Lay Leaders Help Govern 75 Academies

By Brother Ralph J. Darmento, F.S.C.

And then there were 75! When students and staffers return to their educational communities this September they will be greeted at 75 academies, seven parish schools and two private Catholic schools in Brooklyn and Queens.

Emerging from the diocesan strategic plan, Preserving the Vision, the academies were founded on the premise of involving lay leaders in the governance of Catholic school education. With a two-tiered structure composed of a board of members and a board of directors, these academies were “to enhance the mission of Catholic elementary schools by creating ‘multiple partnerships’ designed to strengthen every aspect of a Catholic elementary school’s life and to transform it into an academy that includes competent lay leadership in its governance.”

Research on effective school governance highlights the role of the board and directors who comprise the leadership. Today, nearly 650 individuals, mostly diocesan parishioners, serve on academy boards whose sizes range from five to 13. They bring to this governance ministry “a passion for Catholic education, relevant experience, a commitment of time, professional skills, attentiveness, and the desire to lead collaboratively and collegially.”

In a paper authored by Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, the governance model of the Diocese of Brooklyn is described thusly: “school-specific local boards have nearly complete authority in all areas of governance. The ecclesiastical board of members (Moderator of the Curia, host and aligned pastors, superintendent and deputy superintendent) oversees the Catholic identity of the academies, approves the selection of directors, and possesses reserved powers; otherwise the board of directors immediately supervises all other areas. The model clarifies leadership roles: the pastor can be the true pastoral leader, the principal the instructional leader, and the primary governing body can consist of individuals with the necessary expertise.”

The annual feedback survey completed by 67 percent of directors, 100 percent of principals and 25 percent of pastors, rank the academy boards’ effectiveness at 3.3 out of 4 on a Likert instrument scale.

Comments from some respondents included: “It is amazing to see how far we have come in four years; I never thought we would add so many new programs.”

“I am most pleased with the teamwork of the Board of Directors, principal and pastors; we are beginning to grow the academy and increase additional revenue through annual giving.”

“One of the biggest advantages of the governance model is including men and women whose expertise in finance, budgeting and tuition collection have taken our academy to fiscal viability and an increase each year in our fund balance.”

Thus far, 39 academies have completed strategic plans, 27 have engaged in financial planning and 10 academies have been granted accreditation through AdvancEd, a national accrediting organization.

Each year, 12 academies participate in a strategic planning process, through which community representatives participate in creating their preferred future to advance the academy. Another 12 academies, having completed strategic planning, undertake financial planning. The academy finance team develops a plan addressing the academy’s operational vitality from examining investments and revenue sources, to delineating costs and funding programs, through to communication within the community in a culture of good stewardship.

Two parish schools are preparing to transition to the two-tiered governance model for 2018, and five others remain as parish schools awaiting transition.
On the whole, Catholic academies of the diocese are moving from “good to great.” Graduates from 2017 have earned $4,316,291 in secondary school scholarships. These students will be going onto the finest Catholic and private secondary schools as well as prestigious specialized and magnet public schools. Most of all, they will be prepared for the challenges ahead because they have received an “education for the future and faith for a lifetime.”

To learn about joining an academy board, call Brother Ralph at 718-965-7300, ext. 5426.

Brother Ralph Darmento, F.S.C., is a deputy superintendent in the diocesan Office of the Superintendent~Catholic School Support Services.

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