By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 24, 2008
Diane Starkovich, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, recently spoke with The Georgia Bulletin to share her ideas and plans for Catholic schools in 2008—and the future looks bright.
Starkovich, who has more than 25 years of experience in education, both as a teacher and a principal, came to Atlanta in 2006 to take on the position. Previously serving as associate superintendent of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, Starkovich directly participated in overseeing the accreditation process for the Diocese of Fort Worth’s 19 schools, conducting searches for new principals, and developing a new teacher evaluation instrument and process.
According to Starkovich, the state of archdiocesan Catholic schools is positive, and it is expected to stay that way.
“We’ve got opportunities that other parts of the country would love to have,” said Starkovich. “We are not closing schools. We are looking at saying, ‘How do we address an increased demand? How do we meet the financial needs of our schools without overburdening parishioners or the parishes, and our parents as well who sacrifice?’ So there’s a lot that’s coming.”
There are 18 archdiocesan schools—15 elementary schools and three high schools—that educate more than 11,600 students in North Georgia, as well as six independent Catholic schools.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta is in the middle of a strategic plan, working with consultants from both the North Highland Group and Catholic University of America, and the first step in addressing the needs of archdiocesan schools begins with the education subcommittee.
These three entities have joined together to create a decisive plan for Catholic schools.
The subcommittee was formed as an extension of the Archdiocesan Planning Committee, a group started last summer by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. The purpose of the committee is to review the future pastoral, educational, social service and social justice needs of the North Georgia Catholic community.
Established to address specific needs with regards to education, the education subcommittee is set to look at several questions, with topics ranging from the opening of new schools to keeping current schools strong. But one of the most important issues, according to Starkovich, is tuition.
“We know that our schools are academically excellent,” she said. “That has to be a given in our Catholic schools. … We know that our schools are true to the teaching of our church. We are a very important mission of not only the local church but the national and international church as well. But our big challenge, our biggest opportunity, is how do we address the need for continued assistance for our parents? Tuition seems to just keep increasing at a higher rate than many families can afford.”
Starkovich said keeping schools academically strong, while keeping tuition affordable, is an ongoing effort that will not only take place in 2008, but one that will continue for many years.
Tuition is not the only issue being addressed however. One unique program that has been instituted since Starkovich’s arrival is the principal formation group. The program, which currently has 16 participants, hopes to train those already familiar with Atlanta’s archdiocesan schools for administrative positions in the future.
“We started a principal formation group, which is one thing we are very, very proud of,” Starkovich said. “We have excellent principals, but we know we will always have the need for others to take their place. I firmly believe in growing your own, so we bring them up from our own ranks.”
According to Starkovich, a teacher or assistant principal needs the recommendation of their current principal if they want to be included in the principal formation group. Last May, a preliminary meeting was held for anyone interested in the program, and 16 candidates who showed interest received endorsement from their administrator.
This is the first full year with the principal formation group, and Starkovich believes it will be interesting to see what happens when these teachers and administrators go through the program.
“We’re planting some seeds and building some foundations,” she said. “Let’s see where they go.”
Also planned for archdiocesan schools is a review of the current curriculum. This part of the plan was one of the motivations for the creation of the associate superintendent position, which was filled by Tom Campbell last year.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta Office of Catholic Schools will look at the issue through a reverse curriculum lens. According to Starkovich, a good way of reviewing the current curriculum is to ask, “What does a ninth grader need to know going into high school?” Addressing this issue helps prepare the eighth-grade curriculum. Then one asks the same question about eighth grade to address the seventh-grade curriculum, and so on.
“We’re reevaluating our curriculum and we’re writing new curriculum guides for all of our schools,” said Starkovich, who believes that this will create more consistency and uniformity from school to school.
“So if you are that student at St. John Neumann and your family moves down to Tyrone, that transition from one of our schools to the other will be minimal, we hope,” commented Starkovich.
This year, the Office of Catholic Schools will work on writing curriculum guides for social studies, science and math. Starkovich says they hope to write an additional three subjects each year until all of them are covered.
Also coming down the pike for Catholic schools is the resurrection of the Archdiocesan School Advisory Council. According to Starkovich, “the council will advise the superintendent and the archbishop on matters pertaining to schools.”
Advocacy is also on the radar. “Advocacy is an important issue for all of our schools,” commented Starkovich. She believes in supporting the parents’ right to select a school for their children and when legislative issues surface, to be organized to show support and interest with elected officials.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta Office of Catholic Schools will continue to be busy in 2008 as it addresses these important issues. Starkovich stresses that the process is continual and ongoing, and that the schools in the area will continue to remain strong as they look for ways to make them even better.
Starkovich recognizes the importance of celebrating Catholic schools here and throughout the nation, especially during Catholic Schools Week, which is sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association and takes place Jan. 27 to Feb. 2.
“I think it’s a very important thing for us to join the national efforts of recognizing Catholic schools,” she said. “There are about 2.5 million students celebrating Catholic schools across the country so I think it’s with great pride that we join national efforts with NCEA celebrating our Catholic schools. … We are small compared to many dioceses … but we are growing, and we have excellent schools, so I think it’s very appropriate to join in that celebration nationally with our sister schools across the country.”