Each of Archdiocese of Detroit’s schools to develop strategic plan by start of 2018-19 school year

DETROIT — In an effort to strengthen and refocus Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Detroit, Catholic schools in the six-county archdiocese will be asked to develop a strategic plan by the start of the 2018-19 school year, the archdiocese announced.

The plans will be part of a broader effort to re-envision how Catholic schools function and live out their mission of forming disciples in accordance with Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, said Deacon Bill Kolarik, project manager for Catholic schools strategic planning for the archdiocese.

“Unleash the Gospel has given us a new charter in the Archdiocese of Detroit," Deacon Kolarik told The Michigan Catholic. “Our Catholic schools, according to the archbishop, should be centers of evangelization. We’ve had some issues over the years with declining enrollment and other factors, and it’s time to look at our Catholic schools differently."

In a statement, Archbishop Vigneron reiterated that Catholic schools are a cornerstone of the archdiocese’s efforts to evangelize, saying that “when Catholic schools have evangelization and discipleship as their highest priority, they offer an unparalleled opportunity to form joyful missionary disciples. We would not be the Church that Jesus wants us to be without Catholic schools available to assist our families in this kind of formation for our children."

Similar to the process used to set the table for Synod 16, the schools planning process will use a “bottom up" rather than “top down" approach, Deacon Kolarik said, which will allow schools to take ownership of their future.

Each school will evaluate itself based on its Catholic mission and identity, governance and leadership, academic excellence and operational vitality — “the same national standards and benchmarks for Catholic schools that are used in accreditation," Deacon Kolarik said — taking into consideration how the school has performed in each area and offering self-critique on areas of strength or improvement.

While each school will be responsible for drafting its own plan, the archdiocese will work with the planning teams to develop a strategy that makes sense for each school, leaving no one behind, Deacon Kolarik said.

Unleash the Gospel has shown us that accompaniment is very important. We are not leaving our schools to do this on their own or figure it out for themselves. We want to accompany them," Deacon Kolarik said. “The question is, how do we make our schools better? How do we change the vision of the schools in the Archdiocese of Detroit so we all can succeed?"

Schools will submit their plans to the archdiocese for evaluation and input from the Catholic Schools Council and Office of Catholic Schools before they are forwarded to Archbishop Vigneron for his approval or critique.

While some schools might have a strategic plan already in place that can be revamped, many schools have never implemented a plan and can benefit from a process designed to identify strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities for overall growth, Deacon Kolarik said.

“Every school is required to go through accreditation in which they are measured in some fashion against those standards and benchmarks," Deacon Kolarik said. “But this is a reset. Normal strategic planning, if they’ve done it in the past, is not going to have the inspiration of Unleash the Gospel. That’s why this is a lot different."

To help guide the process, the archdiocese is seeking input from parents, teachers, school staff and even students themselves, seeking to discover what works and doesn’t work, and how the administration of Catholic education can be improved in the archdiocese. A survey will be distributed at each school during Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 29-Feb. 2, with a second survey distributed to pastors and parishioners of non-school parishes in the coming months.

One of the charges of the archbishop’s pastoral letter is to ensure that any family that wants a Catholic education for their child is able to get one — a long-term goal, but one the archdiocese takes seriously, said Kevin Kijewski, the newly appointed superintendent of archdiocesan schools.

“The archbishop wants to make our Catholic schools accessible and affordable, and that’s one of the primary things we’re going to pursue," Kijewski told The Michigan Catholic.

Identifying specific financial and governance models to achieve this goal is going to be part of an ongoing conversation both at the school and the archdiocesan levels, Kijewski said.

Still, making Catholic schools more affordable is only part of the puzzle, he added.

“I’m convinced that even if Catholic education were free like in past generations, we wouldn’t be able to fill up our schools if we don’t have a value proposition," Kijewski said. “We need to make sure our children are not only properly formed in the faith, but have a superb academic preparation and education."

In working to shape their strategic plans, each school will appoint a planning team that includes the principal, pastor, at least one parent of a student in the school, a parent who does not have a child in the school, and a representative of a neighboring non-school parish, Deacon Kolarik said.

Pastors and principals were notified of the plan in November, and regional meetings are currently taking place to assist school planning teams with best practices and to facilitate reflection on Unleash the Gospel.

Like with the synod, Archbishop Vigneron has not set specific expectations for what each school’s plan should look like, except that “we simply cannot continue to do schools the way we are doing them," Deacon Kolarik said.

“Our schools were founded on a system where nuns came in to teach. They weren’t paid, but came in and did this as part of their ministry," Deacon Kolarik said. “We don’t have that anymore, except in rare cases. We can’t continue that same model going forward."

Deacon Kolarik called the planning process a “capstone" project for the archdiocese, noting that steps have been taken in recent years to shore up parishes, ministries and Central Services, and “schools are next."

“The archbishop has said we have many fine elements and great things in our Catholic schools that should continue, but we need to find those things that are not helpful and get rid of them," Deacon Kolarik said.

For any project or undertaking to be successful, especially one as significant as this, prayer and faith are essential, he added.

“We need to bring the Lord into this in a much more profound way than perhaps we’ve done in the past," Deacon Kolarik said.

Unleash the Gospel is setting a path for everything we do now in the Archdiocese of Detroit. That, I think, is what people need to understand."

Archdiocese to survey parishes, schools

In conjunction with the Catholic schools strategic planning process, the Archdiocese of Detroit will distribute a survey during Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 29-Feb. 2, asking parents, faculty, staff and students in fifth grade and above their thoughts on the current state of Catholic schools in the archdiocese. The survey will be distributed via email to each of the archdiocese’s schools. A second survey will be sent in the coming weeks to all non-school parishes in the archdiocese.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story indicated that all 89 schools within the archdiocese’s six-county border would draft a strategic plan. However, only archdiocesan schools (not religious-run institutions) will be asked to do so.