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‘Putting Christ at the center’ tops Catholic school priorities for 2017-18

September 14, 2017
Valerie Schmalz

Look for more emphasis on “putting Christ at the center” and a focus on helping Catholic school children understand reverence in the Archdiocese of San Francisco Catholic schools.

Lyons_Pamela - web 100x125“We talk a lot about putting Christ at the center of what we do. There is no greater way that we put Christ at the center than during the Eucharist,” said new Catholic schools Superintendent Pamela Lyons in an interview with Catholic San Francisco Sept. 8 to discuss plans for the new school year.

The 2017-18 school year is the first year of a three-year initiative around the Eucharist, Lyons said. Year one will include education for leadership and “challenging the schools to really look at their sacramental life and think of ways that they can increase the students’ participation at Mass, how often they are going. Maybe add (eucharistic) adoration.”

The Archdiocesan Catholic schools will also work on the idea of reverence with students, Lyons said. “Starting to get them to understand when they go to Mass and when they receive the Eucharist it is a very different experience than anything else in their lives and they need to behave accordingly.”

With an almost entirely new slate of administrators in the Department of Catholic Schools, Lyons said a top priority is getting to know each of the schools. A second goal, which overlaps, is data gathering in all areas. The schools department will set three- to five-year goals for the department by the end of the school year.

“A goal is to set goals,” Lyons said.

The goals will be in the areas of academic excellence, mindful stewardship, authentic Catholic identity and organizational vitality, Lyons said. A top priority is training and enrichment for the department administrators and for all those working in the Catholic schools, Lyons said.

As for specific goals for the 2017-18 year, in addition to reverence as a theme, the Department of Catholic Schools will work with each of the elementary school principals to incorporate the recently implemented STAR testing into each student’s learning plan by creating “data binders.” STAR testing is frequent short testing on computers that is designed to analyze a student’s strengths and weaknesses so educators can adjust the student’s academic work to enhance and remedy those. The educational assessment program was rolled out last school year.

“Each of the teachers is going to be creating a data binder,” Lyons said, with specific information, which will be passed on with the child as she or he goes through the grades “to see growth.”

Elementary school principals are reading “Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service” (Disney Institute 2011) about The Walt Disney Company’s approach to customer service, in a book study that began the week of Sept. 11. “One thing about Disney, everyone who works there buys into what Disney is selling. They make everyone welcome,” Lyons said.

Lyons, who was associate superintendent and with the department as an administrator for nearly three years, assumed the superintendent position April 1. Through attrition and retirement, most of the positions in the department were vacant by July and Lyons revamped the department’s organization.

As associate superintendents for elementary schools, Lyons hired former St. Brendan principal Carol Grewal as associate superintendent for faith formation and leadership, and former Oakland Catholic schools principal and curriculum expert Susana Lapeyrade-Drummond as associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Los Angeles transplant and former Carmelite Crespi High School principal Jonathan Schild interfaces with the four archdiocesan high schools and with the 10 independent Catholic high schools as associate superintendent for secondary schools and student services.

Melanie Morey, director of Catholic identity assessment and formation and associate superintendent for governance and administration, continues in her role.

The Department of Catholic Schools is also boosting its visibility on social media, with a new Twitter account https://twitter.com/CatholicEdSF and a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/catholicedsf/.

Lyons is taking over as archdiocesan Catholic schools undergo a leadership shift around the country with Baby Boomer retirements. Leadership has changed at one third of the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of San Francisco in the last five years, with 16 percent of schools getting new principals and presidents for 2017-18, Lyons said.

In the Archdiocese of San Francisco, she is leading a school district with 56 elementary schools including two archdiocesan, 46 parish, eight sponsored by congregations or privately owned; 14 high schools including four archdiocesan, 10 sponsored by congregations; and 21 preschools. Enrollment in the 2016-17 school year was 24,000 students.

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