Principals explore the roots of Catholic education at statewide meeting

By Tim Bullard

MYRTLE BEACH — “Enhancing Catholic School Identity: A Distinctly Different Approach to Excellence” was the theme of a workshop for school principals held Sept.18-20 at Springmaid Resort.

Administrators attended the Catholic Identity Workshop for Principals sponsored by the Consortium for Catholic School Identity from the Diocese of Raleigh, the Diocese of Charleston and the Diocese of Charlotte.

Mimi Schuttloffel, Ph.D., of The Catholic University of America in Washington, gave a presentation rooted in scholastic research. Married with two sons and 30 years of experience in education — rural, urban and suburban — she guided the teachers through a discussion of Catholic identity.

“Catholic identity is a very hot topic in Catholic education right now,” she said. “What does it mean to be Catholic?

“As Christians, we must remember all spiritual leadership begins with a relationship with Jesus,” she said. “You can’t give what you don’t know. You can’t give what you don’t have.”

She asked the audience what ministry means and what leadership is about.

Schuttloffel shared several models of thought on various roles in education such as M. Van Manen’s model of Reflective Practices. To explore this model she asked the principals to think about how they came to be where they are as educators.

“It’s thinking about the repercussions that come from your thinking. Why do you choose to do the things you do? Why choose to be a principal at all? North Carolina and South Carolina, I doubt you are in it for the money. You have something you value, and you want to pass it on to the next generation.”

Students may know their Catholic principles; but on the street, living like a Catholic is different.

“What are we going to do about that transition?” she asked. “They are history makers. We are all history makers. We say we want children to be critical thinkers, but then we don’t ask them anything hard.”

She said that often the hardest part for administrators is listening. Getting caught up with daily tasks can distract educators from their original quest as Catholic educators, that is developing a well-formed, in values and knowledge, future generation.

Friday’s agenda included a keynote talk by James Relleke of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Maureen Dowling, Ph.D., of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Non-Public Education was the conference facilitator. Michael Fedewa with the Diocese of Raleigh worked in the Granville County school system, and now he’s witnessing growth in the Tar Heel state.

“We’ve been expanding a number of schools,” he said. There have been eight new schools opened in the last six years, according to Fedewa, who is also proud all his schools have been accredited.

A Michigan native, Fedewa said, “We need to do stuff like this on a continuous basis. With all the competition out there, we’ve got to be different.”

In the Diocese of Charlotte at St. Ann School, Sister Helene Nagle, principal and educator for 42 years, said her school is putting in weather equipment to train their students to be meteorologists.

Being different includes teaching students to learn academically as well as morally and socially.

“What kind of people do we want them to become?” asked Schuttloffel.

“Principals must be able to provide the Catholic leadership that is necessary in their schools,” said Margaret Adams, Ph.D., superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Charleston. “As Catholic leaders, they send messages to everyone who walk through their doors. The messages are in forms of symbols, signs, rituals etc. Dr. Mimi Schutloffel gave the principals many thought-provoking ideas on being the best Catholic school leader possible.”