As pandemic resurges, CSO, Catholic schools look to the future

August 17, 2021

A young student working on a coloring page during her Pre-school class. Catholic schools across the Archdiocese began the new semester. (File photo by James Ramos/Herald)

HOUSTON — As summer comes to a close, the 11 Catholic high schools and 45 Catholic primary schools in the Archdiocese have begun the 2021-2022 school year.

Due to the surge of COVID-19, especially the Delta variant, Debra Haney, superintendent of Catholic schools said in a Aug. 10 letter, “in an effort to ensure maximum learning time for students in the classroom, our Catholic schools will be requiring masks while indoors for all students in grades K to 12, staff and visitors.”

“Decisions regarding other mitigation protocols will remain with the pastor/president and the principal at each campus,” she said. “We believe this to be a temporary measure, and the pastor/president and principal will continue to monitor the status of COVID-19 and the variants; these reviews will occur frequently.”

Haney said one of the big projects this year is the implementation of a new formative assessment program for all of the parochial schools.

“We had about 10 schools pilot the use of the NWEA Map (Measures of Academic Progress) Assessment over the past two years, and we have decided to implement the program now in all of our schools,” she said. “The biggest change is that this assessment occurs over the course of the year multiple times rather than just once at the end of the academic year.”

Haney said that in 2019, the Archdiocese began to look at academic progress in a different way, intentionally moving the focus from student achievement to student growth.
“Reality tells us that all students cannot attain the same levels of academic achievement. Not every child is a straight A student, not every student can achieve above-average performance on classroom or standardized assessments, and not every student can cross the same finish line in an academic year,” she said.

Haney said a focus on end-of-year achievement does not consider where a student begins and has goals that are “one-size fits all.” Further, it does not account for individual strengths and weaknesses.

“As Catholic schools fulfilling our mission to educate all, we are acting upon our belief that every student can grow in their learning and academic success regardless of their academic abilities and past experiences,” she said.

Beginning this school year, Haney said students in grades first through eighth will take the MAP Growth assessments each fall, winter and spring in place of IOWA Assessments. MAP is a computer adaptive test that over 11 million students take nationwide, including students in many Catholic elementary schools.

Haney said a second project is working to support the sustainability of Inner-City Catholic Schools (ICCS). A third is the implementation of the new guidance program for Catholic schools.

“The counselors worked with the CSO to create this new curriculum guide for teachers and counselors to use in our classrooms to develop a student’s social and emotional health as well as their self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship and responsible decision-making skills,” she said.

Haney said all of the parochial schools have updated their technology and are learning about their new curriculum guidebooks. A new effort updates, revises and creates resources for the next-generation of schools in the Archdiocese.

She said the ongoing process guarantees “our Catholicity, raises the bar through rigor and incorporates 21st Century Skills in our classrooms across the Archdiocese,” adding that Archdiocesan curriculum documents are “the foundation that each individual school builds upon to develop their unique programs geared to the learning communities they serve.”

Haney said St. Francis de Sales Catholic School will be implementing a new computer lab and a STREAM (STEM with Religion and the Arts) lab.

Anne Quatrini, principal at St. Francis de Sales, said the school is pushing towards STEM education and STEM careers. Because of this, she said it is important to give students the opportunity to take what they are learning in the classroom and turn what can sometimes be an abstract concept and make it tangible with hands-on activities in the STREAM Lab.

She said the rotating use of the STREAM lab for all students supports different learning styles. Robots, circuits and coding kits are engaging new learning methods for the 21st century. Quatrini said that working as part of a team is a key component of the STREAM Lab and “we use the “Think - Make - Improve” model of instruction.”

Miguel Sanchez, principal at Our Lady of Fatima in Galena Park, said the school is partnering with Boston College University as a TWIN-CS school. This is a Two-Way Immersion Network for Catholic Schools that supports students in not only becoming bilingual, but bicultural and biliterate in a secondary language while continuing to practice their Catholic faith.

He said the secondary language that the school will incorporate is Spanish, beginning with the pre-kindergarten students this school year, and will follow the students through eighth grade.

Looking ahead, Haney said St. Peter Catholic (SPC), a career and technical high school, is in its final planning stages and will plan to open in the fall of 2023. It will be the first Catholic career and technical school in Texas and one of the few in the country.

She said the vision of the school is to offer a Catholic-centered, technical and secondary education for students wanting to develop skills that will help them enter the workforce right from high school.

The programming areas the school plans to open with are information technology; business, marketing and finance; education and training; and architecture and construction. It will be a state-of-the-art educational training facility, emulating the business/industry and college environments. Students will use business- and industry-standard technology, software, hardware and equipment. They will also be able to continue their education and training at a two- or four-year college after high school.

“Students will gain interpersonal skills necessary in the workspace including good communication, time-management, goal setting, problem-solving and team building,” Haney said. “SPC will support student activities such as career and technical education student organizations (CTSOs), which engage students in occupational content application. These organizations are another platform to develop students’ leadership skills and put learnings into practice.” †