FALL RIVER — After a year and a half of extensive research and work, the Diocese of Fall River Task Force on Catholic Education has issued its Final Report, providing an assessment of diocesan schools and a range of recommendations to strengthen them and the diocesan school system as a whole.

Collectively, the recommendations call for a more coordinated school system, enhanced professionalization, and an infusion of capital to ensure long-term sustainability.

“The document sets forth an aspirational vision for our Catholic schools that calls for excellence at all levels, and makes recommendations for investment and changes that we as a Task Force believe are necessary to embark on the path to realizing that vision,” write the co-chairs of the Task Force, the Very Rev. George A. Bellenoit, pastor of St. Pius X School in South Yarmouth, and Kathleen Carney Larisa, executive director of the Carney Family Charitable Foundation, in their introduction to the Final Report.

The report is intended to be the starting point of a multi-year comprehensive initiative. It does not recommend the closure or merger of any schools at this time.

Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., has commended the Task Force for its exhaustive work and expressed his support for its Final Report, saying it “provides a hope-filled pathway for building a sustainable and viable school system.”

To begin to move down that pathway, Bishop da Cunha is very pleased to announce a gift of $1 million from the Carney family to help with the cost of initial implementation of the Task Force Report. That gift will be matched by an additional million dollar contribution from the diocesan Foundation for the Advancement of Catholic Education or FACE.

“On behalf of Patrick and Lillian Carney and the Carney Family, I was so honored to be part of the Task Force the Bishop appointed.  As we concluded our work, it became clear that new investments would be required to successfully jumpstart our implementation.  Therefore, to help grow enrollment and ensure accessibility for those children and families desiring a Catholic school education, we have made a million-dollar investment in scholarships to the Foundation to Advance Catholic Education,” Carney Larisa explained.

“It is our hope that this early investment will inspire others to participate in this exciting renewal of our schools.”

In accepting the gift, Bishop da Cunha said, “I am truly and deeply grateful to the Carney family for their generous contribution, making it possible for us to begin this process of revitalization of our Catholic schools. I cannot thank them enough.”

The Bishop convened the Task Force in March 2015 with diverse membership from schools, external educational institutes, diocesan leadership, business, and parish communities. Its task was to study the health, vitality and long-term prospects of Catholic schools in the Fall River Diocese.

Using extensive data, input from a range of constituents, and the services of TDC, a non-profit consulting firm, the Task Force assessed schools in four critical functional areas: academic excellence, enrollment, finance, and governance.

Its Final Report includes many positives about diocesan schools, notably the dedication of administration and staff; the warm and welcoming qualities of school communities and the “deep culture of Catholicity” that defines them; and overall strong academic achievement. In addition, when compared with other private schools, tuition levels at diocesan schools remain highly affordable.

Conversely, the report also identifies significant needs and deficiencies among schools in each area of study which, left unaddressed, will pose increasing challenges going forward.

The essence of the Final Report is an extensive series of recommendations to address them:

  • In the area of academic excellence, key recommendations call for clear diocesan-wide standards for academic quality at each school level and uniform accountability measures; stronger support for schools that enroll students with special education, social-emotional, and ELL needs; continued investment in instructional quality and school leadership; and specific criteria to identify academically-distressed schools and responsive strategies to improve them.
  • In enrollment, consistent investment in the quality of each school on multiple levels, i.e., capital improvements, technology, curriculum, and staff; strategies to stabilize and grow enrollment; development of approaches to mitigate barriers to enrollment; alignment of marketing and outreach activities; and a diocesan-wide shared responsibility for promotion of Catholic schools.
  • In finance, the creation of a uniform system-wide process for financial management and reporting; defined tuition and financial aid policies/opportunities to optimize revenue and access to enrollment; pursuit of external funding opportunities; and development of a financial plan with performance targets for schools in financial distress.
  • In governance, expansion of staff at the Catholic Education Center (CEC) to deliver effective support to diocesan schools and consistent implementation of recommended policies and practices; establishment of a central Catholic School Board to set system-wide policies and to oversee implementation and progress of Task Force recommendations; and leadership training to heads of schools, pastors of schools, and school advisory board members.

Bishop da Cunha has already appointed an Implementation Team to begin to put in place those recommendations considered priority and foundational to the overall success of schools. The team will be led by Dr. Mary Pat Tranter, president of Coyle and Cassidy High School, Taunton, and Father David A. Costa, pastor of St. Mary and Sacred Heart Parishes in North Attleboro and director of St. Mary-Sacred Heart School there.

Once established, the Central School Board will oversee the implementation process, which will continue over the next three years with costs prioritized and budgeted.

It will take time, Bishop da Cunha acknowledges, “so it’s urgent that we begin to take action now to preserve and strengthen Catholic education for our children and for those in generations to follow.”

Read the Final Report here

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