"A New Model of Sponsorship and Collaboration": The University of Notre Dame ACE Academies

By Dallavis, Christian; Cisneros, Andrea | Catholic Education, September 2013 | Go to article overview

"A New Model of Sponsorship and Collaboration": The University of Notre Dame ACE Academies


Dallavis, Christian, Cisneros, Andrea, Catholic Education


Catholic schools in the United States historically have enjoyed strong pastoral and academic leadership. For two centuries, the educational opportunities provided in parish and diocesan schools have been made possible by the work of bishops, pastors, and religious communities charged with leading Catholic schools. Dioceses and parishes often contracted with religious communities to provide school leaders and teachers, and the charisms of those religious communities shaped the clear and coherent school cultures that held students to high standards of achievement and promoted strong faith formation and moral development (Cook, 2004).

In recent decades, however, the traditional model of parish schooling has faced a variety of challenges that threaten the sustainability of Catholic schools (Hamilton, 2008). In the absence of robust communities of vowed religious men and women dedicated to staffing Catholic schools, the leadership of urban Catholic schools has often fallen to over-worked pastors, or lay people who have not had the benefit of religious formation. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) suggested in its 2005 pastoral statement on Catholic schools, Renewing our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium, it has become increasingly difficult for bishops and pastors to ensure that teachers and school leaders "be grounded in a faith-based Catholic culture, have strong bonds to Christ and the Church, and be witnesses to the faith in both their words and actions" (p. 9).

More than 40 years ago, the bishops of the United States recognized that the traditional model of one-parish/one-school governance and sponsorship would eventually warrant revision. In the 1972 pastoral letter, To Teach as Jesus Did, the bishops presciently noted that the Church "must be open to the possibility that the school of the future, including the Catholic school, will in many ways be very different from the schools of the past" (USCCB, 1972, p. 35). In particular, the bishops (USCCB, 1972) encouraged openness to reconsidering the relationship between parishes and schools, suggesting that, in the future, "new models of sponsorship and collaboration" may be desirable (p, 35), and encouraging Catholic schools to engage in "partnership with institutions of higher learning" (pp. 33-34), a suggestion the bishops echoed three decades later in Renewing our Commitment (USCCB, 2005). The Notre Dame ACE Academy (NDAA) partnership initiative described in this article is one example of an innovative partnership between K-12 Catholic Schools and a Catholic institution of higher education.

Developing the Notre Dame ACE Academy Partnerships

In this article, we outline the development of the Notre Dame ACE Academy initiative, a partnership designed to serve as one such "new model of sponsorship and collaboration" that seeks to help dioceses and parishes ensure that school leaders and teachers are "knowledgeable in matters of our faith, are professionally prepared, and are committed to the Church" (USCCB, 2005, p. 10). We describe how the experience of Notre Dame's first foray into university-school partnerships, the Magnificat Schools initiative, informed the creation of the Notre Dame ACE Academy program. Next, we discuss how we developed the unique model of Catholic school governance utilized by the NDAA. We believe this model is a key lever for effecting comprehensive and lasting changes and improvements in Catholic schools.

The Notre Dame ACE Academies are K-8 schools that operate in partnership with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) and the University of Notre Dame. Currently, there are five NDAA schools in the United States: St. Ambrose, St. John the Evangelist, and Santa Cruz in Tucson, Arizona; and Sacred Heart and St. Joseph in the Tampa Bay area in Florida. The mission of the Notre Dame ACE Academies--to provide a Catholic education of the highest quality to as many children as possible--is designed to respond to the bishops' call to "provide an exceptional educational experience for young people--one that is truly Catholic and of the highest academic quality" (USCCB, 2005, p. …

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