Restructure helps CSO to educate, transform the world

September 8, 2015

HOUSTON — As announced in the Herald last month, the Catholic Schools Office (CSO) of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has a new department structure to help emphasize the importance of Catholic education and improve support to its respective school staffs and communities. The CSO, the largest private school system in Texas with more than 19,000 students enrolled in 61 schools, is one of 60 ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF).

The mission of the new department structure remains the same: to assist educators in the Archdiocesan Catholic schools to call young people to holiness and prepare them to live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The office collaborates with families to teach values and traditions of the Catholic faith, serve the community and ensure academic excellence. These efforts support a commitment to the evangelizing mission of the Church to educate and form witnesses who transform the world.

According to Dr. Julie Vogel, superintendent for Catholic Schools, the reorganization of the Catholic Schools Office was necessary to achieve the mission. 

“In all of my meetings and discussions with shareholders, one theme emerged — shareholders want our Catholic schools to be the example of outstanding Catholic education in the United States,” Vogel said. “In order to achieve that goal, serious thought was given to the support our schools would need to ensure our students have everything they need for heaven, college and career!”

This summer Vogel brought in four new assistant superintendents with deep content expertise, practical experience in Catholic schools and an incredible love for living their faith. They participated in four days of intense principal training on “systemness” — working together to achieve academic excellence. 

“This work will help us shore up our foundation this year, keeping what works well, abandoning what does not and looking for innovative ways to provide the best educational experience for the students we serve,” Vogel said.

Specific areas of focus are teacher and principal recruitment and retention, stewardship, curriculum and assessment, and urban and rural achievement. In addition, an associate superintendent oversees the office and auxiliary groups within the Archdiocese that come from other community organizations, and a director of child nutrition helps minister nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunch programs to children each school day.

Brandy Sato, assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Assessment, works with the other CSO offices and school principals, teachers and support staff to ensure all schools within the Archdiocese are striving to be world-leaders in Catholic education and the premier educational choice for Catholic families and those living in the Houston area. 

“I am responsible for curricular and assessment leadership that creates, implements, maintains and enhances the academic excellence, scholarship, creativity and achievement for all students enrolled in the schools,” Sato said. 

The office led by David Mendel, assistant superintendent of Stewardship, implements and advises on policies regarding the allocation of economic resources that will lead to continuous strengthening of the financial position of the Archdiocesan Catholic schools. This involves collaboration on the creation of financial goals and mentorship in the matters of financial responsibility and accountability. 

“As the lead accountant/financial adviser for the Catholic Schools Office and principals, I accomplish this mission primarily by collecting, assembling, interpreting, assessing and disseminating financial data,” Mendel said. “I truly would like for this position to become a source of support to the schools in an area where school administrators usually lack experience or formal training, that being finances.”

Cathy Stephen, assistant superintendent of Excellence, leads the office that recruits and trains highly-qualified candidates for work with students in the classroom and in administration. This allows principals to invest richly in their staff and make improvements to their campus. 
Stephen said a new program planned for roll-out next summer is a 10-month first-year teacher induction program focusing on classroom management, lesson planning, community involvement and content knowledge, with added emphasis on faith and academic excellence. On-campus visits will document celebrations and areas of growth, and webinar-based discussions will be scheduled throughout the year to provide additional educational opportunities.

The office also is working on a principal formation program that includes a discernment process to determine the individual’s growth in leadership at Catholic schools. The program will help determine the principal’s soft skills of communication, leadership and interpersonal management, as well as hard skills such as faith, stewardship and excellence.

“Through an analysis of case studies, future principals will determine what skill sets would be most effective to address the needs of students in our schools,” Stephen said. “This process allows for consistency in leadership and rich conversation about systems, interdependence, coherence and balance.”

Lytia Reese, assistant superintendent of Urban and Rural Achievement, said the mission of her office is to ensure all students in the Archdiocese, regardless of where they live, have access to the highest quality education available. The office oversees and implements clear systems that improve the effectiveness and efficiency of administrative and operational services, allowing principals and teachers to focus on student achievement in the classroom.

“Our inner city and rural schools are committed to raising student achievement,” Reese said. “Working in conjunction with the other assistant superintendents, pastors and school principals, we will implement an academic plan for the inner city and rural schools to achieve academic excellence by guaranteeing all students have a high-quality, well-rounded Catholic educational experience that is rigorous, relevant and engaging.”

Reese said the office also helps cultivate strong relationships among principals, teachers, support staff, students, families and the community to ensure that every classroom has a high-quality effective teacher, principal and support staff. The office aligns resources to accomplish strategic priorities within a balanced budget, and plans intentional professional learning opportunities for new and veteran principals and teachers.

Nancy Macias, director of Child Nutrition, plans and directs the school nutrition services programs to ensure services are in compliance with state and federal regulatory requirements regarding nutrition, safety, sanitation and quality standards. With a mission to “Educate Mind, Heart and Spirit through Smart Nutrition,” her office’s main goal is to minister and help develop students’ health, well-being and promote lifelong dietary health practices. Currently, 1,300 out of 1,800 students are served within the 10 Catholic schools in the program.

“The purpose of the National School Lunch Program is to safeguard the health and well-being of the nation’s children,” Macias said. “An unfortunate reality often goes unnoticed because we are a private school sector, we assume that our students have the necessary funds to have a warm meal each day. Our families may not readily share that they don’t have food available in their homes.”

Macias said that through collaboration with principals, pastors, parents and students, this program helps fill the gap so no child in these schools has to learn on an empty stomach.

“We have dedicated personnel ready to serve with a smile anyone that goes through our cafeterias’ serving line,” Macias said.