Catholic education – responding to changing times

JoAnn Tier, Superintendent of Catholic Schools

FROM THE MONITOR

By JoAnn Tier, Superintendent of Catholic Schools

The launching of the 2019-2020 school year was officially recognized the week of Aug. 12 as orientation days provided a road map for key administrators and teachers. With formal workshops and informal conversation, these individuals learned that central to the teaching and learning process is the immersion of the Catholic faith in the lives of students. Administrators and teachers understand the importance of forming students in the Catholic faith and deepening their faith life. This is the reason Catholic schools exist. Daily prayer, liturgies, prayer services and service to others are part of this foundation.  

This year, four principals, three vice-principals and 56 teachers took part in orientation days. Camaraderie, enthusiasm and new friendships were realized as expectations for teaching and reaching each student unfolded. The commitment of these individuals is replicated in that of the administrators, teachers and staff in each of the 29 elementary and six secondary schools in the Diocese of Trenton. We salute our educators as they embark on a profession that will form students in the faith and influence lives.

It is amazing to note that research in education began in earnest in the 1960s. Prior to that time, little attention had been given to the environment conducive to educate students, to the way the brain learns and processes information or to the best methods of teaching.

In reflecting on the issues that face the global economy with a world population of 7.7 billion, how do teachers prepare students for a future that is undefined?

Health issues, fragile economies, world tensions, food and water shortages, damaged ecosystems and climate change will constitute a sampling of problems that will be addressed by minds that are being formed today.  Problems that have been created by one generation will be the responsibility of a new generation to address and solve.

Educators are coming to the realization that critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity and innovation are required to prepare today’s students for a future constantly changing and unfolding. These 21st century skills will be utilized to solve problems that elude resolution by the same thinking with which they were created.

In considering additional challenges to be faced in New Jersey, demographic changes are among those most salient. Enrollment trends show continued decline, prompting consideration of necessary changes to ensure quality Catholic education that is affordable.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau via the New Jersey Business and Industry Association (NJBIA), a total of 1,057,097 millennials left the state from 2007 to 2016. New Jersey ranks first in the nation for out-of-state migration. Job markets create a lure to high-tech industries located in several states, including California and Texas. However, the high cost of living and the impact of property taxes are the major reason for the exodus. New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the entire country.

Changing demographics have prompted school communities to consider new models. The formation of Mother Seton Academy in 2019 as a merged school supported by two parishes represents the out-of-the-box thinking required for Catholic education to reinvent itself.

In Burlington County, conversations and focus groups have begun to address new possibilities. Pastors, principals and school communities will discern enrollment trends and required funding in Catholic education. Initial meetings will consist of brainstorming and exploring new models that may provide a needed antidote to the realities of demographic change and enrollment decline.

In preparing students for the challenges they will face as tomorrow’s leaders, a change in standardized assessment will take place and include assessment for learning.

The Renaissance Standardized Assessment will be utilized in all elementary schools in the 2019-2020 school year. Renaissance Assessment has provided more than 30 years of innovation and is utilized in more than 70 countries. It is a computer adaptive test that will be administered three times a year in October, January and May to identify learning and progress so that needed adjustments can take place in teaching and learning.  Teachers will have the tools to track student learning and provide re-teaching as may be needed to ensure that all students are on the path toward progress.

As we welcome a new school year, a renewed commitment is made each day by administrators and teachers alike to provide an educational environment that will guide students who will be tomorrow’s leaders. They will be moral and influential leaders who will exhibit the capacity and goodwill to collaborate on a global arena to address world issues demanding resolution. While the familiar structures for delivery may require change, the mission continues to educate students in the faith, to form their minds, to touch their hearts and to prepare them to be contributing members of society.  

JoAnn Tier is diocesan superintendent of Catholic Schools.

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