By PAUL A. BARRA and JORDAN MCMORROUGH
CHARLESTON – The 1996-97 academic year was an exciting one for the 27 Catholic schools of the diocesan system. Lawrence Oleksiak, diocesan assistant superintendent of schools, talked about the busy and rewarding academic year with The Miscellany recently.
The school year ended with three principal positions open as well as an assistant principal post at Bishop England High School. All four positions have been filled. Administrators will meet with Dr. Gay Rowzie and Oleksiak for an orientation to the role of principal in a diocesan school later this month and will be introduced to all the other principals in early August.
He also discussed several other happenings in diocesan schools last year. One was the application by seven Catholic school teachers across the state for national board certification. The process, established by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, is both expensive and rigorous. It involves what the board calls “reflective practice,” Oleksiak said, and is a baptism for what professional education can be for the applicants.
“There are only about 500 teachers in the country who are nationally certified now. If any of ours are successful, they will form a core of excellence for our schools. They will conduct in-service programs for other teachers,” Oleksiak said.
Oleksiak, who is entering his 40th year in Catholic education, was also excited about the new process to assess a principal’s performance. It is a team approach which involves the diocesan principal’s job description in the three domains of leadership: spiritual, instructional and managerial; and involves the pastor, another principal and a member of the diocesan office.
“The idea is to assist the principal to understand his or her strengths and needs by reviewing their performance of the job description, achievement of local priorities and progress in professional development,” he said. “It seemed to work quite well in the pilot program held this past year.”
Three who helped develop the program were assessed in 1996-97 (Frank Cottone, Sister Christina Murphy and Harold Bayerl). Nine principals have been scheduled for the process each year to create a three-year cycle.
Also this year, six schools were accredited at the conclusion of their three semester self study using “Verifying the Vision.”
The process consists of a principal and three teachers selected from other diocesan schools (Oleksiak participates, if his schedule permits). The team receives the self study of the faculty of the school, and then, visits the school for three days to “Verify the Vision” found in the self study. The self study and team report are then linked into the school’s five-year plan.
Additionally, A Child Development Center Policy manual has been developed by the schools office and a revision of the schools policy manual is underway. And a team of three veteran religion teachers is renewing and revising the religion curriculum guidelines for the diocesan schools. Previously, science and math guidelines were reworked.
According to Oleksiak, the team is reviewing religious resources in light of current catechetical guidelines and standards. He stated that only three text services have been approved by the bishops as in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The role of the team, he said, is to make available a integrated curriculum, outlines, and resource listing to serve as “a guide and source of enrichment for teachers.”
Their efforts will be piloted this year in some schools before revisions are made.
Among other accomplishments from the past year, the assistant superintendent of schools listed the spiritual retreat for principals held in North Carolina, the continued progress of construction on the new Bishop England High School on Daniel Island, and the continuation of the ACE program in the diocese.
Four new teachers from Notre Dame will be coming to Charleston next month to teach at Charleston Catholic, Nativity, and Divine Redeemer schools. Previously, schools in Columbia also took part in the program, but this coming year, only two openings for teachers were available, and Notre Dame requires placement of at least four persons in a particular location.
The recently ended year was also a challenging one which featured the pain and difficulty of closing The Sumter Catholic High School.
“The closing of The Sumter Catholic High School was truly difficult for all those involved,” Oleksiak said.
After the decision was made to finally close the school, which could not improve enrollment after years of trying, it fell to the diocesan offices of Finance and Christian Formation to officially inform parents, vendors, certifying agencies, banks and other schools.
“We had to arrange for the transfer of records and to set up priorities for dispersing the school’s equipment. Then we asked it the local parishes, other parishes, or schools if they could use any of it. I had to make surprisingly few decisions (about what went where) because of the priority system we established.”
The parishes and schools which requested items from the inventory came to Sumter Catholic on June 16 to pick up the items which were allocated to them.
The Cursillo movement of the diocese, which had been housed at Sumter Catholic, had to find new quarters and St. Anne School increased its size to include middle school again. It had given up sixth, seventh and eighth grades so that the high school could expand into them.
All of the records of The Sumter Catholic High School are now housed at the Office of Christian Formation in Charleston, and the Office of Finance is in charge of the future of the building.
“It’s been a very busy year,” Oleksiak said.