Participants search for solutions at the diocesan-wide congress on schools

COLUMBIA—The Diocese of Charleston Schools Task Force came one step closer to a final plan to revitalize and strengthen schools at a diocesan-wide congress held June 24 at St. John Neumann.

At the congress, additional teachers, parishioners, parents and department heads joined the task force for a last brainstorming session. They looked at the challenges identified over the year-long process and divided into groups that were encouraged to think outside the lines.

Sandra Leatherwood, director of Catholic education, said the work is near complete and expects to present a final report to Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone in November.

Since the process began in September 2014, the task force has identified key challenges facing the school system in each of four categories: Catholic identity, academic excellence, government and leadership, and financial vitality. It has also come up with some overall solutions to help the school system as a whole.

For example, Leatherwood said they have proposed establishing a marketing director that will serve on a diocesan-wide level plus help individual schools with their unique challenges.

The point of the congress was to disseminate all the gathered information thus far and cast the net one more time for creative solutions. Each group was charged with narrowing their list of challenges down to the top five, along with their top five solutions.

Some of the categories face more challenges than others. For example, financial vitality has 24 items listed, while government and leadership has five, academic excellence has eight and Catholic identity has nine.

Members of the task force said financial issues are naturally more numerous because it provides for all other areas. One of the challenges listed is for the diocese to identify reliable sources of future revenue.

During discussion, a participant in the financial vitality group asked if some schools might be closed.

“We are not recommending we close any of these schools,” said Jeff Rehling, a marketing director at the University of South Carolina’s school of business and member of the task force steering committee. He said they are providing the state of the schools and identifying those that are not financially sustainable over a five-year period, in their current state.

Leatherwood noted that church schools can’t just look at financial viability; they also have to consider the unique community they may serve and whether those students and parents can be served elsewhere.

Bishop Guglielmone, who celebrated Mass at the event, said they would take a close look at each school to make sure they are healthy.

Erik Goldschmidt, a task force consultant from the Institute of School & Parish Development, said it is a complicated process that has to look at individual circumstances plus how they can all benefit from collaboration.

Regina Haney, a consultant with the National Catholic Educational Association, said implementing even a few of the task force’s ideas will have a real impact.