By Anne Marie Amacher
A desire to keep up to date on education in Catholic schools brings together thousands of school administrators and teachers each year. This year’s annual National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) convention, held in Boston last month, included several participants from the Diocese of Davenport.
“I came back from NCEA this year truly enlightened and grateful for the opportunity to serve Catholic educators in carrying out the mission of the Church,” said Lee Morrison, the Davenport Diocese’s superintendent of schools.
“In my work at the diocese I get to participate in many great liturgies. It is always great to kick off the conference with a community of thousands of fellow Catholic educators gathered in one celebration to pray together. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston was the principal celebrant and homilist. It was truly a time to pray that the gifts of the Holy Spirit fill our hearts and minds with vision to help shape a faith-filled future for Catholic education.”
Morrison’s favorite session, on principal essentials for creating all-star, spirit-filled schools, was led by Janet Eaton, principal from the Archdiocese of St. Louis. “It was a compelling 90 minutes of how to create and sustain a positive faith-filled school with over 100 ideas to make your school stand out from other options.” She emphasized that the principal is the person most responsible for the culture of the school, and identified six variables that a vibrant school principal needs: positive energy, high standards, visionary eyes, team work, love of faith and communication. “She insisted spirituality is the highest priority of all.”
Morrison also said he attended great sessions on increasing Hispanic participation in Catholic education, increasing enrollment in general, and telling the Catholic school story in a compelling way.
Father David Steinle, pastor of Ss. Mary & Patrick Parish in West Burlington whose parish supports Notre Dame Catholic Schools in Burlington, was another attendee.
“When I was full-time in Catholic schools, I attended the NCEA convention every year. Now that I am in parish work, I attend the convention every five years.”
He said he likes to attend to be updated on the latest NCEA publications and to meet people engaged in all of the Church’s education ministries – educators, catechists, administrators, pastors, parents and board members.
“One could easily experience that Catholic schools are a vibrant ministry of the Church. We must not lose sight that Catholic schools are extensions of the ministry of the parish. A good relationship between the school and the parish is important. I think it is important that Catholic school personnel attend parish council meetings and vice versa.”
One session that Fr. Steinle found of special interest dealt with the importance of a vibrant campus ministry program within the school. “In addition to an excellence in academics, our Catholic schools need to have a developed campus ministry program that includes liturgy, small-group prayer experiences, retreats and social-action programs.”
He is more strongly aware of “how important it is to have a developed program to market our Catholic schools within a local community and how important on-going strategic planning is in our Catholic schools.”
Celeste Vincent, principal at Regina Elementary in Iowa City, said the conference “is a phenomenal way to network with other Catholic educators and to gain new ideas to use in your building for instruction, motivation and more.”
She felt the speakers were very informative on timely topics in technology advances, social media and legal issues. Sessions she particularly enjoyed offered new ideas for curriculum, staff team-building and promoting Catholic schools.
She noted that Home and School sponsors an administrator and two teachers to attend NCEA each year. “This is a major portion of professional development. This conference with over 12,000 attendees brings together the best of the best to share ideas about how we can all continue to do God’s good work. I find the conference to be educationally stimulating, spiritually enhancing and a time to reflect on how blessed we are at Regina to have the school we have and to be called to be God’s hands and heart here on Earth. One of a principal’s greatest duties is to be an instructional leader and this gives me some time to concentrate on that aspect of the principalship.”