Category Archives: Catholic education

Name tags go high-tech in Gambrills

Visitor name tag from School of the Incarnation, Gambrills.

Last week, while spending some time at School of the Incarnation in Gambrills for a heart-warming story on homeless outreach, I was amazed by the Anne Arundel County school’s snazzy system for admitting visitors.

As soon as I was buzzed in, I was asked to present my driver’s license – which a receptionist electronically swiped and used to print out a name tag with an image from my license, along with the date and time I checked in and the purpose of my visit.

What I didn’t know, but was later told by Lisa Shipley, principal, was that each time the driver’s licenses of visitors are swiped, a computerized system instantly checks the sex offenders registry to see if any names match. Using a software program called “Raptor,” the system instantaneously notifies the school of potential problems.

“Parents are very happy with it,” Shipley said. “It’s an extra measure of security.”

Should the system identify a sexual offender, an alert is sent to Shipley’s cell phone and other responders. School officials immediately notify the police. The system also has a customizable feature so that if a certain parent does not have custody of his or her child, the school will know if that person is attempting to pick up that student.

Incarnation began using Raptor this year. The software costs between $400-$500 annually, plus expenses for the label printer and labels. In addition to driver’s licenses, it can scan passports and other government identity cards.

Shipley noted that the school has not had any problems with someone coming on campus who should not be there. The system cross checks birth dates and addresses so that those with common names are not misidentified. Photos of sex offenders with the same name as a visitor are shown on the school’s computer screen as another visual aid for confirming a person’s identity. Once a parent or other adult is scanned in the system, he or she does not have to provide the license again since the information is kept on file to be re-scanned with a bar code.

“Our staff uses it to sign in and out,” Shipley said. “It’s nice because we can see who is in our building at any time – staff or visitors.”

Sounds like a pretty good system to me.

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Voucher-fueled enrollment boom in Indiana

A new school-voucher program in Indiana is prompting a spike in enrollment among Catholic schools that were once on the verge of closing. Bloomberg Businessweek has the scoop:

Under a law signed in May by Gov. Mitch Daniels, more than 3,200 Indiana students are receiving vouchers to attend private schools. That number is expected to climb significantly in the next two years as awareness of the program increases and limits on the number of applicants are lifted.

The vouchers are government-issued certificates that can be applied to private tuition, essentially allowing parents to channel some of the tax dollars they would normally pay to public schools to other institutions.

Until Indiana started its program, most voucher systems were limited to poor students, those in failing schools or those with special needs. But Indiana’s is significantly larger, offering money to students from middle-class homes and solid school districts.

Nearly 70 percent of the vouchers approved statewide are for students opting to attend Catholic schools, according to figures provided to The Associated Press by the five dioceses in Indiana. The majority are in the urban areas of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend and Gary, where many public schools have long struggled.

John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, said it’s not surprising that Catholic schools are receiving so many of the vouchers, even though they make up fewer than half of the 415 schools in the group.

Most Catholic schools already had state accreditation, which some private schools lack. And they are more established and have more space available, he said.

John West, an attorney for a group suing to stop the Indiana program, said during a hearing on the issue that only six of the 240 private schools that have signed up for the voucher program are secular.

Our Lady of Hungary Catholic School in South Bend is among those institutions reaping the benefits of the vouchers. Just two years ago, it was threatened with closure by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. At the time, the bishop said several other schools were at risk of closing, too.

Now enrollment at Our Lady of Hungary has jumped nearly 60 percent over last year, largely because of an influx of voucher students. The halls are bustling more than they have in years.

“This has exceeded all crazy expectations,” Principal Melissa Jay said.

Read more here.

 


Man in the know thinks archbishop will be good fit for Holy Land

Bishop Denis J. Madden (second from right) joins archdiocesan leaders at an Aug. 29 press conference highlighting Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien's appointment to a Vatican office. (CR Photo/Bill McAllen)

Bishop Denis J. Madden knows something about the Holy Land.

From 1994-1996, Bishop Madden was the Director of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine office in Jerusalem before serving as director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association from 1996-2005.

Among his duties while with the CNEWA, Bishop Madden was the chief negotiator among the three ecclesiastical authorities responsible for repairing the dome of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem.

As Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien prepares to take on a new role defending Christianity in the Holy Land as pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order (Knights) of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, he will find a knowledgeable friend in Bishop Madden.

I asked Bishop Madden about the news of Archbishop O’Brien’s appointment and the challenges the archbishop will face in the Holy Land. Bishop Madden praised Archbishop O’Brien for showing courage in addressing difficult challenges in Baltimore. He also described the archbishop as a good fit for the Holy Land. Take a listen to Bishop Madden’s responses below.


Treat everyone as if they were good

Todd Whitaker speaks Aug. 22 at the Convocation of Catholic Schools in Baltimore. (CR Staff/George P. Matysek Jr.)

Do you know how you come across to others?  If you do, there’s a good chance you are highly effective in your job and other areas of your life.  If not, well, you might want to make a few changes.

In an Aug. 22 keynote address to more than 2,000 educators from across the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Todd Whitaker talked about what makes great teachers – and people – different from others. He challenged  educators to treat everyone as if they were good — even the so-called “crummy” kids, teachers or parents.

Whitaker is a professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University and author of the best-selling, “What Great Teachers do Differently.”

Here’s an audio clip from his talk, which was delivered at the Baltimore Convention Center.  While directed at educators, the message applies to everyone.  It’s worth a listen.  Whitaker is an engaging and funny speaker.

Click here for complete Catholic Review coverage of the convocation.


Mayoral candidate might be on to something with voucher proposal

Otis Rolley unveils an education voucher proposal June 13 in Baltimore. (CR/George P. Matysek Jr.)

Otis Rolley is trying to shake things up in his bid to succeed Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as the next mayor of Baltimore.

During a June 13 press conference outside public school headquarters on North Avenue, Rolley said he wanted to close the city’s five worst-performing middle schools and give $10,000 education vouchers to the affected students. The vouchers could be used at Catholic and other nonpublic middle schools in Baltimore. (See The Catholic Review story here).

During the news conference, I asked Rolley what he thought about the contributions made by Catholic schools in the city.  I was impressed that the former Baltimore City director of planning viewed Catholic schools as allies – not enemies – in the common goal of educating children.

“When I think of city kids in city schools, it’s public, parochial and independent schools,” he said. “All of these kids are our kids. All of these schools are our schools.”

That’s a sentiment that’s not always popular in some education circles – although Dr. Andres Alonso, current Baltimore public schools CEO, has gained kudos from Catholic school leaders for keeping lines of communication open between the systems and for serving on Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Catholic education.

Rolley’s plan isn’t perfect, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

Pamela Sanders, principal of St. Ambrose School in Park Heights, pointed out that it will face stiff opposition from teachers unions and others. Rolley will also have legal issues to overcome in appropriating $25 million from the city schools’ budget for the voucher program.

Ellen Robertson, associate director for education with the Maryland Catholic Conference, said there might be some challenges with the candidate’s requirement that enrolled children maintain a consistent level of achievement to be eligible for vouchers.

“These students are coming from underperforming schools to start with,” said Robertson, who was eager to see more specifics in the Rolley plan. “It might be putting a lot of pressure on them.”

Yet, as both Sanders and Robertson pointed out, it’s a step in the right direction for a candidate to put vouchers squarely on the line for public debate.

“At least people are talking about it,” Sanders said. “Putting the question out there raises awareness.”

Catholic schools in the city have consistently produced students who go on to earn college degrees and become productive citizens. Yet, because of increased expenses and declining enrollment, they have struggled to stay open in recent years. Vouchers could be a way of bolstering Catholic schools, while also improving educational opportunities for kids stuck in underperforming public schools.

It will be interesting to see whether Rolley’s proposal gains any traction. In the coming months, The Catholic Review will followup on the plan and explore where the other candidates stand.

Rolley deserves credit for including Catholic and nonpublic schools in his vision for making Baltimore a better place.

“I know defenders of the status quo will attack me and my ideas,” Rolley said. “My plan provides hope to parents of current students.”


Dr. Nancy Grasmick’s retirement is a loss for Catholic schools

Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick, superintendent of Maryland public schools, meets with Dr. Ronald J. Valenti, former superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, in 2006. (CR file photo/Owen Sweeney III)

Today’s announcement that Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick is stepping down as the longtime superintendent of Maryland public schools may well be a loss for Catholic schools as much as it is for public ones.

During her 20-year tenure, Dr. Grasmick has been a consistent ally of the Catholic school system – a rarity in a nation where public and private systems often view one another with suspician.

With her support, Maryland’s private and parochial school athletic associations approved standards of competition for athletics, with the state sanctioning Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association events.

Dr. Grasmick’s department has long administered the state program that provides nonreligious textbooks in nonpublic schools. She also supported a plan that allows teachers in the Catholic school system to process their re-certification requirements through the archdiocesan superintendent’s office.

For the last several years, Dr. Grasmick has served on Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Catholic Schools that has examined ways of strengthening Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick visited Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore in 2006. (CR File/Owen Sweeny III)

I interviewed Dr. Grasmick in 2006 after she spent some time visiting Archbishop Curley High School. She was investigating the Baltimore City school to gain insights that might be applied to the reform of public high schools.

Dr. Grasmick told me that some of her counterparts in other parts of the country react with “pure shock” when they learn of her cooperation with private schools.

“In most states, it’s a very contentious relationship between the public schools and the nonpublic schools,” she said. “There’s no communication and little respect. It’s like a competition.”

The superintendent said she believes that education, whether offered in public or private schools, must benefit all children. 

For the good of education throughout the state, let’s hope Dr. Grasmick’s successor feels the same way.


Parents say summer vacation matters too

Not everyone is pleased with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ decision to extend the academic calendar by 20 days in its Catholic elementary schools.

Ava Baldwin, a former presdent of the Parent Teacher Organization at St. Joseph Elementary School, says any lengthening of the school year should be made after consulting with parents. "The vast majority of us don't see the need," she said. (Stephen Carr/Press-Telegram)

Nancy Brown, whose children attend St. Cornelius Catholic School, 3330 Bellflower Blvd., said time out of the classroom, for traveling, summer camp and family outings is just as important.

“The church has always said its focus is on the child as a whole,” she said. “There’s more to a child than just the academic production.”

“We prize our time with our children,” added dad Alex Fraga, whose two children attend St. Cornelius.

Paul Regan, whose children attend St. Joseph, said the diocese should consider adding 45 minutes to the school day, which would amount to the same time as a 20-day increase.

“Twenty days is too long; they’re basically adding another month,” he said. “There should be another way.”

The tuition increase will vary from school to school and the diocese has said it would work with low-income families.

The increase from a 180-day to a 200-day academic calendar will affect most of the diocese’s 210 elementary schools and more than 52,000 students in the archdiocese’s area, which includes schools in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Long Beach’s Press-Telegram has more here.


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