By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Hundreds of Catholic School students returned to their classrooms the first and second weeks of August, but the work for administrators, faculty and staff started weeks prior to that. This year the Diocese of Jackson welcomes five new principals while another two administrators move into new leadership positions. The Office of Education is also working on unifying the Jackson area schools as one system and bringing all Catholic schools together with a shared vision and mission.
Natchez Cathedral and Greenville St. Joseph Unit schools as well as Clarksdale St. Elizabeth and Meridian St. Patrick hired new principals. Within the system, Dena Kinsey moved into the role of principal at Madison St. Joseph School while Jennifer David moved to Jackson St. Richard School as principal. Meet the new principals on page 9.
Earlier this year, a representative from the Pacific Institute Education Initiative came to offer a workshop called “Thought Patterns for Higher Performance.” Principals and a school representative from each school across the diocese attended a two-day session in July. The workshop focused on recognizing and changing thought patterns that hold people back from doing new things that might improve their lives.
Catherine Cook, superintendent of Catholic Education said offering the workshop was a starting point in her plan of uniting all the schools with one vision moving forward. “This was about inspiring leadership, getting everyone on the same page with a clear vision,” said Cook. “We wanted to provide them with the tools to take that vision and move forward with it,” she added. A coach from the institute will come back in September. The institute interviewed principals before the process started and will follow up with them during the year.
Cook explained that her office is leading an effort this year to help all the schools in the diocese become a more unified system. One means is through system-wide accreditation through AdvancEd, an agency formed from a merger of Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) with North Central Association and the later addition of Northwest Accreditation Commission. Initially, only the high schools were accredited by SACS, and later individual elementary schools applied for accreditation.
“This system (diocesan) accreditation will bring all of our schools into the one accrediting agency. AdvancEd recognizes the National Catholic School Standards that were developed by a task force of Catholic school educators and supporters in communication with the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and promulgated in March 2012,” explained Cook. “Whereas, previously our schools met the general school standards of accreditation with the freedom to have Catholic identity as an ‘add on’ component, this system-wide accreditation using the NCSS will integrate Catholic identity into our standards of operation,” she added.
Cook has asked each school to revisit its mission statement with an eye to making sure it is still appropriate and fits with the diocesan vision and Pastoral Priorities as well as the mission statement for the Office of Education. That work will be ongoing throughout the school year.
In addition to working with administrators, The Office of Education and the Department of Faith Formation offered retreats to faculty and staff at schools in Columbus, Jackson, Greenville, Meridian and Vicksburg. The schools in Holly Springs, Greenwood, Natchez and Southaven hosted their own spiritual kick-offs to the year.
The diocesan theme for the year is Living as Missionary Disciples: embrace, serve and inspire. Living as missionary disciples is what the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops selected as the catechetical theme for this year. The embrace, serve and inspire statement comes from the new vision statement for the Diocese of Jackson: embrace diversity, serve others, inspire disciples.
“When we select a theme, we always look around at what is going on in the life of the Church as a whole,” explained Cook. “We looked at the USCCB theme and it fit perfectly with the new Pastoral Priorities and the vision statement, so we saw an opportunity to tie it all together.”
Karla Luke, assistant superintendent for Catholic Schools, attended the retreat in Jackson, held at the Mississippi Ag Museum. “We learned how our different roles connect to our theme — what does it mean to live as a missionary disciple as a cafeteria worker or teacher or office staff,” said Luke. Fran Lavelle, director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson and Abbey Schuhmann, coordinator for youth ministry for the diocese, planned the retreats. In Jackson, they offered activities to help the staff and faculty from Jackson Sister Thea Bowman and St. Richard as well as Madison St. Anthony and St. Joseph Schools get to know one another better, including a pocket and purse scavenger hunt.
The spiritual component of the day centered on the missionary disciple theme for the year. Kim Brown, counselor at Jackson St. Richard said she enjoyed the day. “I felt like I am part of a bigger mission. It’s not just us at St. Richard – it’s the diocese and Catholic education overall. I am part of that bigger mission so I have a responsibility to do my very best.” She is also looking forward to working with other area schools. “You know, we work in our own little silos, so it’s nice to know there are others out there doing what we do. It was great to put faces to names,” said Brown.
By Maureen Smith