By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
The Diocese of Dallas and the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) recently formalized a strategic partnership through June 30, 2017 with the goal of strengthening Catholic schools and building on the almost-20-year-long relationship between the diocese and ACE, said Bill Keffler, the diocese’s Chief Operating Officer.
“This has been evolving over quite a serious amount of time,” Keffler said. “Notre Dame was encouraged by the growth of the diocese and, with Notre Dame’s credentials as probably the most highly regarded Catholic university in the world, we thought that affiliating with Notre Dame would be a good thing for our diocese.”
ACE officials said that Dallas Bishop Kevin J. Farrell’s strong and constant commitment to Catholic education made partnering formally with the diocese a logical next step of what has been a productive collaboration.
“The stage was well-set to move forward,” said Sister Kathleen Carr, C.S.J., who is ACE’s Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships. “Bishop Farrell’s leadership and the fact that the diocese had a strategic plan for education led us to see opportunities. Priorities of that plan in Dallas—which had involved a lot of stake-holders in its strategic planning process—aligned with some of ACE’s priorities.
“We had a fine working relationship through our teaching fellows in Dallas, where we have the largest concentration of ACE fellows committed to one diocese and a large contingent of ACE graduates who have stayed in Dallas and serve in the Catholic schools.”
John Schoenig, ACE’s Senior Director of Teacher Formation and Education Policy, said that 10 ACE teaching fellows currently serve in seven schools in the Diocese of Dallas.
ACE, with about 180 teachers in more than 100 Catholic elementary and secondary schools in 30 U.S. cities, forms Catholic educators with a combination of intense academic courses and two years of classroom teaching, generally in under-resourced Catholic schools.
Keffler said that the new strategic partnership positions the partners to join forces to maximize the opportunities provided by prominent ACE programs including:
* The Latino Education Institute, which strives to increase Latino student enrollment in Catholic schools.
* The Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, which helps develop aspiring Catholic school principals.
* The Pastors Institute at Notre Dame, which offers summer workshops for pastors.
* The Play Like a Champion Today program, which provides coaches and parents with coaching strategies that reflect Gospel values.
Matthew Vereecke, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Dallas and an ACE graduate, called the strategic partnership a “tremendous gift.”
Vereecke said that the partnership underscores how profoundly Notre Dame and the Diocese of Dallas value Catholic education.
“This is a real statement on the part of Notre Dame and the diocese about how important Catholic schools are in Dallas,” he said. “Our schools were built on the backs of our teachers, principals, pastors and administrators. They are the reason that we have had so much success, and going forward we are going to need even more energy, support and ideas as we open additional schools and grow the Catholic education community in Dallas.”
Keffler said that the strategic partnership identified six schools in the diocese on which to focus resources initially: Mary Immaculate Catholic School in Farmers Branch; Santa Clara of Assisi Catholic Academy in Dallas; St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic School in Dallas; St. Mary of Carmel Catholic School in Dallas; St. Pius X Catholic School in Dallas, and Bishop Dunne Catholic School in Dallas.
“We picked them based on their percentage of Latino enrollment and the presence of ACE graduates these schools already have,” Keffler said. “A long-term goal is that a teaching and leadership pipeline will feed out into the other schools in the diocese. We will be focusing on results garnered from the impact we anticipate having with the ACE commitment to the six schools.”
Schoenig said that developing a talent pipeline distinguishes the strategic partnership.
“It’s really building a strong and vibrant pipeline to serve in the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Dallas starting with the fundamentals of teachers and leaders,” he said. “We’re capitalizing on an asset that was already there.”
Keffler said that the diocese and ACE will share costs, with the diocese providing the school settings and ACE supplying professional development.
ACE participants, who live in community houses while serving as teaching fellows, receive a stipend toward living expenses. Program graduates earn a Master of Education degree.
Michael Murray, a second-year ACE teaching fellow who teaches math at Bishop Dunne Catholic School, said that his experience has heightened his appreciation of Catholic values and education.
“The Bishop Dunne community has been extremely supportive,” said Murray, 24, who is from the Philadelphia area. “There’s so much thrust upon you as a first-year teacher. This was a really welcoming atmosphere, with so many people offering to help. That was really huge.”
ACE’s pillars of professional service, community and spirituality unite and inspire the program’s teaching fellows and graduates, said Patrick O’Sullivan, an ACE graduate and Remick Leader who serves as the principal of Christ the King Catholic School.
“Having an ACE teacher in your school reminds you of how and why you fell in love with teaching,” said O’Sullivan, who served as an ACE teaching fellow in Charleston, S.C., before arriving to teach at Bishop Dunne in 1997. “A lot of ACE teachers stay in Dallas because they’ve had such a positive experience.
“ACE changed my life forever.”