Catholic educators reminded of mission at NCEA conference

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – How do 31 educators and administrators get to the biggest gathering of Catholic educators in the nation? They ride a bus. The Office of Education for the Catholic Diocese of Jackson chartered a bus to take representatives from almost every school in the diocese to the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) conference in St. Louis April 18-20. Southaven Sacred Heart School garnered some national recognition at the conference as one of three schools nominated for an award in educational innovation (See sidebar for details).
“We were talking about how many people were going and how St. Louis was not that far away and I said, ‘we should get a bus,’” said Catherine Cook, superintendent of Catholic Schools. The offhand idea turned into a plan that saved money and allowed for some valuable networking time.
“We got to know each other. The principals are able to see each other at our meetings, but our teachers don’t always get to do that,” said Jennifer David, principal of Meridian St. Patrick School and bus rider.
“Professional development and supporting our educators is important, so we want to facilitate that in any way we can,” said Cook. The bus started in Jackson where teachers and administrators from Jackson, Madison and Meridian boarded and made a stop in Winona to pick up representatives from Greenwood, Greenville and Columbus. A second stop in Southaven allowed principals and teachers from Southaven and Holly Springs onboard. Other schools made their own travel arrangements.
David said the conference was amazing from start to finish. “It really fires you up for the mission of Catholic education. It unites us in that mission.” She said the message of the keynote speaker, Jonathan Doyle, resonated with her. “We all have different mission statements, but the mission is the same – to ensure future generations (of Catholics), to teach gospel values and to allow students to have an encounter with Christ,” she said.
Bridget Martin, principal of Southaven Sacred Heart agreed. “Overall the experience of being there with other Catholic educators is good. You can get bogged down in policy and day-to-day stuff. We need to remind ourselves of our mission,” Martin said. She commented on how each workshop kept that theme at the forefront. “For example, you might go to the data workshop, but we talked about how we are ‘data informed,’ but mission-driven,” she added.
David called teaching a vocation and said it is important to give teachers a chance to recharge. “It is no accident that God has called you to this vocation and no matter what, he will sustain you through it,” she added.
David said one of her favorite features was a lunch-and-learn with other administrators. The teachers had one as well. “They asked us what challenges we were facing today. Almost every single one of us had the same or similar answers,” David explained. The groups exchanged ideas and support for the entire session. “NCEA is going to type up all the answers and send them to all of us,” explained David.