By Matthew Vereecke
Special to The Texas Catholic
My first job as a principal was at St. Pius X School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a traditional parish school that was passionate about Catholic education within a community context.
We had fantastic parents and a dedicated faculty, but the school was facing threats of a changing neighborhood, the 2007 housing crisis, and an aging population.
To say the least, everyone was concerned that we were witnessing the beginning of the end, and it would only be a matter of time before the school closed or looked very different from the one that the community had known.
I was acutely aware of this concern, and so at the very first faculty meeting I brought our teachers together and handed out a stack of neatly printed “To Do” lists with only two items: first, Save Catholic Education, and second, Go to Lunch. To half-smiles and somewhat bewildered looks, I assured the faculty that if they just did these two very simple things each day, we were going to be just fine.
Especially at the dawn of a new school year, I think about those meetings. The message I was trying to send was simple — we needed to constantly be thinking about the big, audacious goals, while still taking moments each day to sustain ourselves. This lesson is even more important in a place like the Diocese of Dallas.
We start each school year with incredible goals that will influence Catholic education here and throughout the country. That will include pushing for 100 percent graduation rates, ACT and SAT scores far above the local averages, and schools that absolutely eliminate the poverty gap. With history as a guide, we will achieve all of those goals, just as we do every year.
Despite this, those goals are not enough. We also have a responsibility to form new schools, and we will be launching a feasibility study to see how we can better serve the 12,000 school age children in greater Colin County that currently need to drive at least 30 minutes one way to access one of our Catholic schools. We will also be formally launching the Halo Initiative, a new effort that will be focusing on financial aid for students, operational support for schools and instructional improvements across the diocese.
Finally, we will continue the outpouring of support that we are giving families who need access to Catholic schools by building on the 30 percent increase in available funds that we have been able to develop over the last three years.
Efforts to save Catholic education, should they stop there, would ultimately be for naught. While it is important to have a strong school system, it means nothing if our students are only getting a better education. We must provide them with a better life.
It is for that reason that even while we focus on these big goals, we remember to eat lunch — to do the basic things each day to bring about change. That is ultimately what the St. Cecilia’s, the Cristo Rey’s, the Bishop Dunne’s, the St. Elizabeth’s, and the St. Joseph’s of the diocese are doing. It is also the reason that I have a new poster on my wall here in the diocese. It is two goals for our students: one, College, and two, Heaven.
Matthew Vereecke is the superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Dallas. Find more back-to-school coverage in the Aug. 24 print edition of The Texas Catholic.