By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published February 3, 2011
Each year the National Catholic Educational Association and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops jointly sponsor Catholic Schools Week to draw attention to the schools’ contributions. This year’s observance, Jan. 30-Feb. 5, has as its theme “Catholic Schools: A+ for America.”
Schools around the Archdiocese of Atlanta typically celebrate the week with Masses, open houses and activities for students, administrators, faculty, school staff, the community and families.
“Historically, Catholic schools are known for their high level of academic achievement, moral values and high graduation rates,” said Karen Ristau, NCEA president.
As part of Catholic Schools Week, The Georgia Bulletin recently posed some questions to Diane Starkovich, Atlanta’s superintendent of Catholic schools.
GB: What are the trends in this region for Catholic education? How do Southern Catholic schools differ from other areas of the country?
DS: The Southeast and Southwest regions of the U.S. have posted enrollment gains over other parts of the country the past few years. I think the economy has stabilized those gains this year in general. We, however, are still experiencing a demand in most of our schools. The outlying schools—Rome and Athens—are still facing enrollment challenges, but we hope they have stabilized.
We are experiencing relocations to the South with families who are Catholic and have a longstanding support and desire for a Catholic education. In addition, the Catholic population in general is increasing and with these increased numbers comes an increased demand for Catholic education. Lastly, our schools continue to offer an outstanding faith and academic education and the word is spreading that we offer programs that are a good match for many families.
GB: What effect has the GRACE program had on our schools?
DS: We have been able to offer an excellent Catholic education to families who never thought they could afford our schools. Since awards are need-based, we are able to offer scholarships in excess of what we normally were able to offer. We see an increase in single parent families and I believe we are more diverse in our student population due to GRACE. I also think middle income families have found they can afford a Catholic education through the increased scholarships we have offered through GRACE.
A few more interesting facts on GRACE: the average income of the current GRACE family is $46,000, 40 percent of the GRACE scholarship students come from single-family homes, and close to 40 percent of these students identify themselves as a race other than white. What we were hoping would happen has happened: We have made our schools more affordable and more accessible to those families seeking a Catholic education for their children.
GB: What effect has the economy had on our schools—both for students and employees?
DS: We have always tried to be good stewards of the funds we have received, but perhaps this year we are tightening our belts just a little more. We are experiencing little turnover in most of our schools, so I believe our employees are understanding the many challenges this economy has delivered. However, we still have 180 days of school for our students and our employees have not been furloughed. They continue to receive modest raises, and we are appreciative of their dedication to the children and families they serve.
GB: Can you share any future or upcoming news, trends or achievements from our Catholic schools?
DS: We will be moving toward district-wide accreditation, which will allow us to move from a secular-based accreditation model to one that places our Catholic faith at the center of all that we do—mission, philosophy and our Catholic beliefs become the point from which all decisions are made and from which all curriculum is delivered. This accreditation is sponsored through AdvancEd, which is the parent company of SACS (the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools). We will still maintain dual accreditation with SAIS (the Southern Association of Independent Schools) as well.
We continue to explore additional opportunities to infuse technology in our classrooms and the iPad initiative with five of our grade schools speaks to this commitment. We recently delighted in the announcement of Dr. Kathy Wood (principal of Queen of Angels School in Roswell) as an NCEA principal of the year. We continue to embrace continuous improvement initiatives in both religious and secular subjects and review our curriculum for strengths as well as opportunities to improve.
NCEA has selected Atlanta to offer a free professional development in-service for our teachers and administrators this fall. We look forward to this collaboration.
GB: Any additional comments?
DS: We are blessed to have excellent Catholic schools in Atlanta. These schools are supported by the archdiocese and our clergy with spiritual and financial assistance, for which we are most appreciative. We benefit from outstanding administrators who embrace our Catholic values and traditions. We could not reach our levels of achievement without the quality teachers in our schools and the parents who partner with us.
Last, but not least, our students are eager to learn, and they welcome and embrace our attempts to infuse our Catholic faith and traditions throughout the school day. As one principal states, “We have great kids!”