Catholic Schools Are Neighborhood Schools

By Henry, George J. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 2, 1997 | Go to article overview

Catholic Schools Are Neighborhood Schools


Henry, George J., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


A higher percentage of St. Louis area Catholics choose Catholic schools than in any other part of the United States. Many non-Catholics also choose to send their children to Catholic schools here.

Why? What makes the Catholic schools here so attractive that almost 60,000 students attend them and make ours the largest school district in Missouri?

Catholic parish schools are focused on needs of their neighborhoods. Each parish elementary school is part of a Catholic parish that serves a specific area with its own flavor, demographics and needs. The school exists to serve that area and the people who live there. (Catholic high schools, by contrast, are run by the archdiocese or religious communities and serve students from parishes all over the region.) A strong academic program is built on a foundation of solid values. Caring teachers work closely with parents and the entire parish to meet individual student needs. High levels of parent and community involvement create a strong support system that comes from parents and parishes knowing that their parish school is really their school. Parish schools are locally run - not controlled by a central bureaucracy. There are 152 parish elementary schools, each operated by a parish or group of parishes. Parish communities have their own school boards, pick their own principals and are responsible for their own educational program. Leaders at the school level - not a central office administrator - decide what programs, curriculum and staff will create the best learning experience for students. They receive leadership and guidance as to what constitutes quality Catholic schooling. No wonder parish schools are strong anchors for their neighborhoods. The community importance of Catholic elementary schools was shown in a recent study for the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation, which found that the parish school was a very important reason that about three out of four residents stayed in city neighborhoods or moved to them in the last two years. The parish as the foundation and sponsor of Catholic elementary schools is a simple distinction - but a crucial one. Only by understanding that parish operation and neighborhood focus are at the heart of what makes parish schools work can sensible decisions be made about significant Catholic school issues. In recent months, an issue has been raised for our schools by some teachers calling for a union to bargain with the Board of Catholic Education. This request assumes the schools are operated centrally and that is just not the reality. Everyone who cares about the quality of our Catholic schools - as well as fairness for almost 2,500 dedicated teachers - would agree that we all need to work for better salaries and benefits for teachers. …

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