We at Meitler had the opportunity recently to participate in the Catholic Higher Education Collaborative’s (CHEC) conference focusing on how Catholic institutions of higher learning can “support dynamic and effective school organization and governance structures in PreK-12 schools.” Hosted by the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Education Consortium (GMCEC) at Marquette University, various innovative structures were presented from around the country.
Much is being said about the future viability of Catholic schools owned and operated in the traditional parish school model. We at Meitler agree there are many circumstances making the parish model difficult and in fact there are many cases where the traditional approach will not be sustainable. New governance structures are necessary to keep Catholic schools available and accessible in situations like rural areas where small enrollment creates an unaffordable cost per pupil, or urban areas where individual parishes do not have the financial wherewithal to provide subsidy, or in suburban areas where schools are too costly for one parish but affordable with multiple parishes. So where are these alternative models? Actually alternative models have been in place for many years, the “WINGS” program is an example worth watching.
The “WINGS” program initiated in the Diocese of Grand Rapids took three small rural elementary schools and merged them into a virtual, multi-age program on three campuses under one governance, business and administrative structure. The new governance model functions with a board of directors who act as a board of limited jurisdiction with a canonical administrator who is pastor at one of the parishes. The model of a virtual merger of several small schools on at satellite sites produced right sized sustainable classrooms, an enriched student centered learning environment, wider talent from which to recruit board membership, students being educated within their own parish communities, and higher enrollment retention than in a traditional merger. In this case, the connection of the three sites by means of blended learning allowed Catholic school education to continue where the parishes and communities may not have been able to sustain their individual programs.