As we continue to move through the uncertainty of the current health crisis, we are seeing the impact vividly in all areas of our lives, particularly in our Catholic schools and parishes. Our schools have been leaders in a tremendous effort of responding to this crisis with a quick turn-around in online, remote instruction. This has been no mere fete, especially for schools in urban, rural and other areas where resources and technology may have been limited. Yet, we are doing it and doing it well.
As we began getting a handle on instruction, we started experiencing the financial wave – unemployment impacting families and their ability to pay tuition (and of the effect on enrollment), loss of fund raising events and revenue, the question of refunding tuition, the decrease in or loss of parish support as Sunday collections decline, and the continuing roller coaster effect on investments. Sadly, schools that were facing significant enrollment and financial challenges prior to the crisis are now even more vulnerable and serious decisions are being made about their survival. The unfortunate reality is that some schools will have to close over the next several months.
As a former coach, I learned that you don’t win games on defense alone. You still must score points to win! Our focus now must be on sustaining all of the schools we can by moving from reacting and short-term adaptations and begin using our ability as smaller, more flexible institutions to consistently and loudly declare and demonstrate the value of a Catholic education. We need to continue building on our strong tradition of faith, prayer and community. We also need to build on the success of online instruction and embrace new approaches such as blended learning and perhaps hybrid instructional models with innovative daily or weekly schedules. We need to also embrace and enhance the new levels of collaboration among schools, teachers and families.
How will we adapt moving forward? One of my colleagues recently remarked, “The first semester next year could be messy.” If we consider all of the decisions we need to make by September, it could be somewhat “messy” and challenging, but also rife with potentially exciting and game-changing opportunities for our Catholic schools. It can and should be a new day for us. The conversations we have now to set up a prototype(s) for 2020-21 will provide an opportunity to try, readapt, readjust and lay the groundwork for a more strategic focus in adopting what could be a less messy “new normal” for the 2021-22 school year. In Part 2 of this blog we will look at more adaptations folks in the trenches are considering.