Catholic Schools Office committed to classroom excellence as ‘witnesses of Christ’s love’

February 27, 2018

Catholic Schools Office staff meet with Houston Astros’ Orbit during a school choice event at Minute Maid Park Jan. 27. File photo by Jo Ann Zuniga/Herald.

HOUSTON — Despite many challenges the Catholic Schools Office (CSO) of the Archdiocese has faced this school year, the office is taking measures to ensure that success in the classroom remains the number one priority.

According to Superintendent Debra Haney, unexpected changes in leadership in the office last summer, the devastation caused by the floods following Hurricane Harvey, and the lost school days due to unique weather situations have all had impacts.

“These challenges have given us the opportunity to be good listeners and to be flexible in our responses to the things that we hear from our pastors and principals,” Haney said. “The opportunities we have been given through the experiences related to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey are multiple and beyond words. We have been witnesses of Christ’s love at work through His Church and the people that are His hands and feet at this time in history.”

One of 60 ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF), the CSO currently serves well over 20,000 students, teachers, support staff and principals each day in Catholic schools located in the Archdiocese, in addition to their parents, guardians and other ministries of the Church that work in related areas. The CSO’s main mission is to support the school principals and school communities as they call young people to holiness and prepare them to live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The office collaborates with families to help teach the values of the Catholic faith and tradition, serve their communities and ensure academic excellence.

Haney said three key programs help the CSO to ensure excellence remains in the classroom, which includes a formation program the help teachers and principals in their roles at the schools.

“Principals participate in monthly professional learning communities where they engage in a professional book study, set collective goals and develop action steps to achieve those goals, and share best practices,” Haney said. “We also have monthly webinars for teachers that address issues, such as classroom procedures, student engagement, differentiating instruction, managing time and responsibilities at varying times of the school year, and assessment of students. We are constantly looking for ways to provide additional opportunities to help our teachers gain their catechist certificates while discussing how they can integrate our Catholic doctrine and tradition into their lesson plans throughout all content areas.”
Haney said that the CSO also hosts meetings and trainings for faculty members that provide support services for students: nurses, counselors, instructional specialists, school administrative secretaries, bookkeepers, food service personnel, before and after school care directors and athletic directors.

“Lastly, the CSO leadership team is available to guide principals when they are managing difficult situations that may involve a concerned parent or serious discipline issue, or the principal just needs a thought partner to brainstorm ideas for projects they are working on or handling issues related to students or personnel,” Haney said.

Several principals expressed their appreciation for the CSO’s efforts and variety of programs.

“As a new principal to the Archdiocese and to Catholic schools, the CSO has been instrumental in helping me better understand and navigate the nuanced and beautiful world of Catholic schools,” said Jeff Matthews, Principal of St. Cecilia. “From operational guidance, to legal advice, to professional development for teachers, the Catholic Schools Office has helped make my first year smooth and successful.”

“The CSO contributes to the quality of the academic program by facilitating standardized test analysis, implementing curriculum initiatives, providing teacher training and supporting administration through a variety of avenues,” said Marianne Mechura, Principal of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Richwood.

Barb White, CSO volunteer, commented on the quality of people who serve as staff and volunteers to make these programs and services possible.

“CSO has done a tremendous job of developing committees to work on curriculum tasks,” said White. “These committees are formed by ‘giants’ in their field of expertise, which allows the members to use a specific talent to lead, guide and move our diocese to excellence. It is a privilege to serve with so many faculty, staff and administrators with Catholic Identity and a servant, insightful and progressive spirit.”

Another contributing factor to the CSO’s success is those who support the DSF each year.

“DSF provides the monies that pays for training for our teachers and principals, capital needs of poor parishes and the salaries of those working in the CSO, as well as tuition assistance for students in our Catholic high schools,” Haney said.
She said the DSF provides ministries like the CSO with an opportunity to form the Church of the future and prepare these youth for the leadership that is needed today.

“DSF allows God’s people to be served by those that have answered God’s call to work in the Church and live out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy each day,” Haney said. “It is such an honor and a privilege to serve as a member of the CSO with such dedicated, faith-filled, professional and amazing people. Witnessing first-hand the work that is done on behalf of our students and school employees through collaboration with the Archdiocesan offices, parishes and schools is awe-inspiring to me.”